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oscars 2015

So that ‘green card’ joke from last nights Oscars…nope. Not at all. I wasn’t feeling it.

I instantly knew that Sean Penn was delivering an inside joke to (now) fellow 2-time Academy Award winner Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, but right after he announced Best Picture with “Who gave this son of a bitch a green card? Birdman!” someone might as well have passed me plate of throw-up, in which I would’ve promptly gazed upon with a grimace.

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My mood shifted to the antagonistic. After watching Common and John Legend soar with “Glory” and Lady Gaga‘s beautiful tribute to The Sound of Music , I found the “joke” insensitive and uncalled for, but as I navigated through the hills of fire burning up in my mind about, I paused. Was I overreacting just a little bit? I’ve heard jokes like these before. One of my favorites films ever To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar had plenty of them and I’m also the daughter of immigrants now naturalized citizens, so I’ve heard about the green card struggle. Yet I have specific resources for why my contempt for Penn’s ill attempt at turning the Oscars world stage into a comedy club was more frustrating than usual.

When I wrote a news post about the shocking halt of President Obamas DACA Act some days ago, my heart crushed a little for the 5 million immigrants in America that were being treated like cattle. Texas judge Andrew Hanen voted against the act, which aimed to allow immigrants who’ve been in America for five years and more, and without a criminal record, to sign up for citizenship. I felt sad and powerless as I wrote about the wrath against foreigners, a majority of them of Spanish-speaking descent. The hate disguised as American reform is a level of disrespect sometimes too much to witness and the temerity that’s displaced when lawmakers actually refer to immigrants as “aliens” really bothers me. They are not aliens. They are human beings. They live, breathe and chew just like you. I urge you to watch the film El Norte, a Spanish-speaking film that really shows the struggle of a Guatemalan girl and boy trying to escaping the war zone of the Guatemalan Civil War. Nothing about it was campy and funny like how Eddie Murphy‘s travel to Queens, New York in Coming to America was. Such an ambitious and scary goal of stepping on U.S. soil, through the unsympathetic eyes of people like Hanen, is often a thankless journey.

So many immigrants in America, of Spanish-speaking and African countries, and China, are the same people who at some point have watched over celebrity children and cooked the meals of the stringent diets of Hollywood’s elite. If they’re not in Hollywood, they are working the super low-wage jobs that most of us wouldn’t even want to imagine swiping in a timecard for. Why make fun of them when they have been at your beck and call, just to be able to provide for their own families? Penn is a known Democrat and patron of political causes. While accepting his Best Actor statue for his role in Milk, he name dropped President Obama as a “classy man.” He was a charitable voice and volunteer for Hurricane Katrina and is currently the Ambassador at large for Haiti. The green card joke, against the complications with DACA appeared out-of-pocket and out of character for Penn.

Able to look past his friend’s “hilarious” joke (the two worked together on his film 21 Grams) Gonzalez Inarritu, a native of Mexico City, used the stage like Penn did to send a message. But his words sounded a lot more like leadership than mockery, naturally:

 I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans. I pray we can build a government we deserve. And the ones living in this country who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country. I just pray they can be treated with the same dignity and respect as the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.”

We all make jokes about race and sex and cultures with our closest friends but we’re not in a suit and tie in front of millions of people. Penn chose at the behest of his own amusement to say that kind of joke on national television.  It was the type of joke that could be perfectly misconstrued because America is still learning how to talk about race and resolving issues about it, Penn’s joke added to the uncertainty. The audience had to already endure lighter versions of the race-bait jokes from SNL40. It would’ve been great to see Penn stand with his friend and ask the government and lawmakers to be more sensitive to the legacy and work of so many immigrants that have served America. If you must practice free speech through provocative comedy, do it with some tact.

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Why Sean Penn’s Lame ‘Green Card’ Joke Struck A Nerve With Immigrants  was originally published on hellobeautiful.com