Last night during the Oscars, spunky 9-year-old child star and Best Actress nominee, Quvenzhané Wallis became the target of a cruel tweet by The Onion, referring to her as the distasteful "c" word.
The tweet was live for an hour before the backlash mounted against the satirical website, known for successfully touching on sensitive subject matter and making people smile in the process.
Keith Olbermann, a former MSNBC host, and Wendell Pierce of The Wire called out The Onion, with Pierce asking the editors for an apology: “Identify the writer. Let him defend that abhorrent verbal attack of a child. You call it humor, I call it horrendous.”
The Onion issued an apology this morning: “I offer my personal apology to Quvenzhané Wallis and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the tweet that was circulated last night during the Oscars. It was crude and offensive — not to mention inconsistent with The Onion’s commitment to parody and satire, however biting,” CEO Steve Hannah said in a statement published on Facebook.
The mocking humor site added that it said it has since instituted tighter rules on Twitter posts and seeks to discipline those responsible for the tweet.
Last night was an overall rough night for jokes masquerading as satire gone terribly wrong, even Oscar’s host, Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy and Ted lit up Twitter with backlash after he made numerous unsavory jokes taking jabs at the stars in attendance, including Wallis, taunting her in a roast and toast called, “Here’s to the Losers."
All of this begs the question: When has satire gone too far?
In this digital age, often under the guise of anonymity, a Mean Girls culture has been bred where any offensive statement is acceptable as long as it is followed by #justjoking #satire #humor.
The Onion’s tweet was clearly inappropriate not only because they targeted a 9-year-old, let alone any adult actress, but it also carried with it blatant disrespect and a tinge of racism.
Blogger Elizabeth Hawskworth suggested there was a racist undertone, tweeting: “Quvenzhané Wallis is a nine year old woman of colour. Let's let what @TheOnion did sink in and remember that Dakota Fanning never had this.”
Hawksworth raises a good point. Other child stars like Dakota Fanning were never made the brunt of a hostile joke like Wallis was last night.
In fact this tweet dredges up sour memories of the offensive tweets that abounded last summer when Hunger Games fans expressed outrage that a black child actress in her break-out role was casted as the character Rue from “The Hunger Games.”
Is it a coincidence that two young, talented, and black stars have been senselessly targeted? Maybe, maybe not.
It has been speculated that the child actress, whose name means “fairy” in Swahili, was called out because she is sassy and often corrects people who mispronounce her name. Quvenzhané is pronounced “Qui-ven-ZHEN-ay.” It has been suggested that the tweet was meant to parody how precocious Wallis is.
Or perhaps it seems someone working behind-the-scenes at The Onion might be a tad bit resentful that the black actress is the youngest-ever nominated for the Best Actress category and has proven that she's more than a one-hit wonder, recently signing on to star in the remake of Annie.
As for The Onion, even if it may be one of the funniest publications around, any “jokes” aimed at actors, particularly child actresses like Wallis, that refers to them in a derogatory manner is best left unpublished because very few find such name-calling “cute” or “funny.” It’s a sure fire way to alienate your burgeoning fan base.