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Oscar noms bring amusing gaffe, diversity concerns

(Editor’s Note: This is my new column about gaffes in the media. It is meant to be humorous though I’m not sure it has achieved that goal yet. With each column I will analyze one recent blunder made by a public figure; these will often be politicians, though not always, as can be seen from this first column. In periods where there is no new gaffe that tickles my fancy, I reserve the right to write retrospectively about an older gaffe and its effects on either its perpetrator’s career or its impact on modern media.)  

The nominees for the 87th annual Academy Awards were announced this week, and they’ve already provoked a host of analyses across the media over a myriad of issues, from the way “Selma” director Ava DuVernay was shut out of being the first African-American woman nominated for Best Director, to the news that every award category will be included in the telecast this year, to the snubbing of “The LEGO Movie.”

In addition to those reasonable and justified bones of contention, however, there is one other matter about the Oscar noms announcement that’s been gathering controversy: the Dick “Poop” Fiasco (“Dick,” here, being a first name – settle down.)

The situation was this: Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, while listing the nominees in the category of Best Cinematographer, mispronounced the last name of nominee Dick Pope, responsible for cinematography on “Mr. Turner,” a biopic about the British painter J.M.W. Turner. Instead of “Pope,” she said “Poop.” She corrected herself immediately, but the damage was done. Within seconds the Twitterverse was set collectively sniggering.

Comparisons have run rampant between this incident and John Travolta’s hilarious mispronunciation of Idina Menzel’s name (“Adele Nazeem”) at last year’s Oscars, because that’s the last time a celebrity or quasi-celebrity made a verbal error like this. And by “verbal error like this” I mean the sort of verbal error anyone could make any day – because, let’s not mince words, that’s exactly what this sort of thing is. Who hasn’t innocently mispronounced something in the presence of that archetypal friend who takes particular relish in correcting people? For prominent folk like Travolta and Isaacs, the situation is no different, except that their annoying friend is everyone with a TV and/or an Internet connection.

In an interesting twist, Isaacs has, since the Dick “Poop” debacle, become the de facto spokesperson within the Academy on this year’s aforementioned race problem(s) among the nominated films. (In addition to the aforementioned Ava DuVerney upset, there were also no African-Americans nominated for any awards in any of the acting categories, nor any women nominated in categories for writing and directing.) Though she initially denied the Academy had a diversity problem (which is probably a bigger gaffe than mispronouncing “Pope”), Isaacs, following the criticisms of the Academy, told the Associated Press that she saw this as a needed opportunity to “pay attention to… the diversity of voice and opinion and experience, and that it doesn’t slide, it doesn’t slide anywhere except for forward.”

Will mistakenly saying “Poop” instead of “Pope” hurt Isaacs career in any lasting way? It certainly shouldn’t, and I doubt it will. I doubt the joke will last even as long as ridicule over Travolta’s mispronunciation has. But will her under-the radar flip-flopping on the issue of diversity tarnish her reputation? (Isaacs is, by the way, a member of the NAACP Image Award Hall of Fame.) If it does, it will be less a referendum on Isaacs than on the rear-end-covering instincts of the Academy and its Public Relations apparatus, which is presumably vast, and which has probably dictated each of her conflicting comments on the diversity issue, much more so than she has herself. I guess my point here is that, among mistakes Isaacs made this week, only one was honest, only one was really hers (I’m talking about the poop thing.) Everything else has been part of the job.


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