Green Card Joke toward Mexican Filmmaker Reflects Discrimination at Oscars

October 10, 2016

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s triumph at this year’s Academy Awards stirred much discussion; but not all necessarily for good reasons. Before announcing the winner for best picture Sean Penn asked, “Who gave this son of a bitch his green card?” Although this comment was intended to be a joke, the controversy that it generated perhaps detracted from González Iñárritu’s well-earned win and highlighted to the older-white-male dominated nature of the Oscars.

In this acceptance speech, González Iñárritu stated, “I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico. I pray that we can find and build the government that we deserve. And the ones who live in this country who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.”

In addition to winning best motion picture for Birdman, González Iñárritu also won the award for best director earlier in the night, but made no mention of immigration or of his native Mexico in his first speech. For better or for worse, Penn’s comment may have unintentionally inspired González Iñárritu to think about his roots and mention his desire for respect.

The backlash from Penn’s comment began to surge on social media, and many hispanic celebrities spoke out against the blatant racism. González Iñárritu stated that he found the joke to be funny, but others were not so willing to let Penn off the hook.1

Via Twitter, several television personalities including Mariana Atencio, Nina Terrero, and Mario Lopez questioned the fact that González Iñárritu had been targeted as an immigrant, while Eddie Redmayne, a British actor did not (and most likely would not) receive such comments.

Mario Lopez tweeted, "’Who gave this guy a green card?’ Sean Penn talking about a Mexican dude to a room full of British & Australian people…”1

The Oscars have received increasing criticism in recent years as audiences grow tired of not seeing everyday diversity portrayed on screen. This year, the four main acting categories were represented by the least diverse group of actors since 1998.2 Black female director Ava DuVernay did not receive a nomination for her highly acclaimed film Selma, contrary to popular expectations. In the past 87 years, only 32 Oscars have gone to black winners.

Minorities who are nominated for the awards often play stereotypical roles such as Octavia Spencer’s role in The Help. Although this in no way delegitimizes their performance, it continues to promote racial stereotypes in Hollywood. Actor David Oyelowo (who played Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, and who was also seen as having been robbed of a nomination) stated, “We as black people have been celebrated more for when we are subservient, when we are not being leaders or kings or being in the center of our own narrative driving it forward.”2

This year the awards drew in 36 million viewers, but that number was the lowest that it has been in six years.3 Perhaps outraged protestors have been slowly making a difference in the viewership numbers.

Oscars draw millions of views each year, which would allow the ceremony to be an influential stage to celebrate diversity and break cultural stereotypes, rather than place to make insensitive jokes based on race or nationality and ignore the larger issues at hand.


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About Author(s)

Madeline Townsend's picture
Madeline Townsend
Madeline is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh. She is pursuing a degree in Spanish and Global Studies, with a focus on the Latin American region. She plans to present an honors thesis on visual representations of the internal conflict that occurred in Peru between 1980 and 2000. She also studies Portuguese and Film Studies as minors and works as one of the Panoramas interns.