Oscars win awards for sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and racism

Was anybody else offended by the not-very-subtle onslaught of sexist, racist, homophobic and anti-semitic “jokes” at the Oscar ceremony on Sunday night?

It seems as though the Oscar writers think that Hollywood is so liberal that it can get away with making offensive comments because everyone knows that they are “just joking.”

I don't agree.

At a time when America is facing an epidemic of gun violence and debating how to limit the spread of assault weapons, host Seth McFarlane thought it would be clever to make a joke about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

“Daniel Day-Lewis is not the first actor to be nominated for playing Lincoln,” McFarlane said. “Raymond Massey portrayed him in 1940′s Abe Lincoln in Illinois. I would argue, though, the actor who really got inside Lincoln's head was John Wilkes Booth.”

[ANOTHER TAKE: Seth MacFarlane: Not an anti-Semite]

Perhaps hoping to win an award for “most racially insensitive” comment, McFarlane joked about Lewis' habit of staying in character during the filming of Lincoln, even when the cameras were off. “If you bumped into Don Cheadle in the studio lot,” McFarlane said, looking at Lewis in the audience, “would you try and free him?”

McFarlane also made outrageous remarks about Adele's weight, gays, women, Latinas, and Jews.

It would be difficult to pick a winner in the “most sexist comment” category. McFarlane sang a juvenile song, “We Saw Your Boobs,” about movie scenes where former Oscar nominees posed topless. Referring to the decade-long quest to find Osama bin Laden by Jessica Chastain's character in Zero Dark Thirty, McFarlane said it was an example of women never being “able to let anything go.” To those women who lost weight before attending the Oscar ceremony, McFarlane said: “For all those women who had the 'flu,' it paid off … lookin' good.”

Referring to Latina actresses Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek — both of whose English is impeccable — McFarlane said: “We have no idea what they're saying, but we don't care, cause they're so attractive.”

After singing the “We Saw Your Boobs” song with the Los Angeles Gay Men's Chorus, MacFarlane made a point of explaining that he wasn't actually a member of the chorus, as if being gay was something to be ashamed of. MacFarlane also observed that the show's producers had invited the cast of Chicago to perform on the telecast because “the [Oscar} show isn't gay enough yet.”

Perhaps the most offensive comments were made by “Ted,” the talking stuffed bear who bantered (through McFarlane's voice) with actor Mark Wahlberg about Hollywood's domination by Jews. If putting those words in the mouth of a talking bear is supposed to make these remarks cute and cuddly, it didn't work with me.

The set-up was Ted's desire to gain acceptance with the Hollywood “in” crowd — which he said were the Jews — so he could attend a post-Oscar orgy party. After Ted begged Wahlberg to tell him where the orgy would be held. Wahlberg spilled the beans, saying that it would be “at Jack Nicholson's house.” This was a not very subtle — and not very funny — reference to a 1977 incident that occurred at Nicholson's home, where director Roman Polanski raped a 13-year-old girl. Polanski pleaded guilty but fled to Paris before he was sentenced.

Remarking on all the talent assembled at the Oscar ceremony, Ted said to Wahlberg: “You know what's interesting? All those actors I just named are part Jewish,” referring to Joaquin Phoenix (who has a Jewish mother), Daniel Day-Lewis (ditto), and Alan Arkin (whose parents, in fact, were both Jewish).

“What about you?,” Ted asked Wahlberg. “You've got a 'berg' on the end of your name. Are you Jewish?”

Wahlberg explained that he is Catholic. Ted responded: “Wrong answer. Try again. Do you want to work in this town or don't you?”

To gain favor with the Hollywood crowd, Ted claimed that he was Jewish, that he “was born Theodore Shapiro,” and that “I would like to donate money to Israel and continue to work in Hollywood forever.”

When Wahlberg called Ted an idiot, Ted responded: “We'll see whose an idiot when they give me my private plane at the next secret synagogue meeting.”

Ted's (or, in reality, McFarlane's) remarks about the “secret” Jewish cabal that controls Hollywood, discriminates against non-Jews, and is tied to Israel were not clever and witty. They were anti-semitic.

I'm certain that many film industry folks sitting in the audience were uncomfortable with the barrage of offensive comments throughout the evening. I'm not a prude and I believe it is OK to make fun of one's foibles. But McFarlane’s (and Ted’s) comments did not simply poke fun at specific individuals. They targeted entire groups. Sunday night's Oscar show crossed that invisible line between satire and bigotry.

As a progressive and a Jew, I found these comments outrageous, and I'm confident that many of the millions of Americans watching the show on TV were also offended by the bigoted stereotypes about women, gays, Latinas, and Jews throughout the broadcast.

Of course, there were no hooded sheets, burning crosses, N-words, or “fag” jokes. But bigotry comes in various shades. Sunday night's Academy Awards ceremony was ugly and unfunny.

Peter Dreier teaches politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy department at Occidental College. His most recent book isThe 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012).

Nanny & Me

“Ana,” a Catholic Latina nanny working for a Jewish family
in Studio City, was afraid to ask her employers whether she could buy a holiday
gift for their young son. She was torn between wanting to give the child a
present and worrying about insulting the family. Like many foreigners, Ana (not
her real name) was unsure of proper holiday protocol.

“It’s hard for these women to know where to draw the line,”
said Davina Klein, who teaches a class at Adat Ari El in North Hollywood for Latina
nannies working for Jewish families. “They don’t want to ask questions because
they don’t want to rock the boat. I think that comes from a different

The working relationship between Jewish families and Latina
women who care for their children often presents a unique communication gap —
and it’s not just the language.

Nannies or maids care for just under 10 percent of Jewish
children ages 5 and under — some 2,400 children — according to a 1997 survey of
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles service area (which does not
include the San Fernando Valley, Long Beach or East Los Angeles), said Pini
Herman of Phillips & Herman Demographic Research. Herman estimated that
more than 90 percent of the women who work as caregivers for this group of
children are Latina. While many speak fluent English, cultural differences and
stereotyping between Jews and Latinos often create conflict in their
employer-employee relationships.

Klein, a young Jewish mother with Cuban roots and a
doctorate in educational psychology, teaches “Me & My Nanny,” a pilot
program at Adat Ari El’s early education center. The 12-week, one-hour class is
like a Spanish version of “Mommy & Me,” only with Latina nannies and Jewish
toddlers. In the first half of the class, Klein leads the nannies and children
in playtime, art, singing and Jewish holiday celebrations. In the second
half-hour, she holds a discussion in Spanish where the nannies get to ask
questions and compare experiences. Topics vary from week to week, focusing on
toddler development, fostering self-esteem, setting limits, toilet training,
sleeping, eating and playing. The goal of the class is the bridge the cultural

An expert in early education and the Latino culture, Klein
said that some of the most common issues between Latina caregivers and their
employers revolve around setting limits, eating, sleeping and gender roles.

“Americans in general have an idea that kids should be
independent, while the Latino culture is much more nurturing,” she said, adding
that many Latino families sleep in the same bed, rather than encouraging a
child to sleep by himself. This closeness, she said, fosters security. Along
the same lines, the Latino culture favors holding and comforting a child
whenever he or she cries, while many Americans view the ability to self-soothe
as an important step in becoming more independent.

Gender roles are more skewed for Latinos. The idea that
little boys shouldn’t cry and the concept of hitting a child as punishment are
widely accepted. Rina Gonzalez, a 35-year-old nanny from Valley Village, has
worked for a Jewish family for the last seven years and has noticed the
difference in mentality.

“Instead of spanking,” Gonzalez said, “[Jewish families] let
the child use more words. [In Guatemala] we tend not to let them express

When one 34-year-old Jewish mother from Santa Monica was
hiring a Latina nanny to care for her then-infant son, she had certain concerns
because of her childhood experiences with housekeepers and nannies.  As a
result, she was very specific in instructing her employee to limit her son’s
intake at mealtimes.

Esther Matalon, the owner of Nana’s World, an agency for
caregivers in Sherman Oaks, said that 50 percent to 60 percent of her clients
are Jewish and that many of the women she employs are Latina. As a Sephardic
Jew from Chile, Matalon feels that many Americans are uninformed about the
Latino culture.

“People are so ignorant here,” she said. “When they say
‘Latin,’ they think it only means Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.”
Many of her nannies come from the “European countries” within South America,
including countries like Argentina, Chile, Spain and Portugal. These women, she
says, are often highly educated. As a result, many clients are happily

On the other end of the spectrum, many nannies have
predisposed beliefs about Jews. Sandy Algaze, owner of Family Matters, an
agency in West Los Angeles, said that 60 percent to 70 percent of her clients
are Jewish. While many of the caregivers embrace Jewish customs, Algaze admits
that some request to not be placed with a Jewish family.

“This is a very prejudiced business where people are quite
honest about who don’t want to work for,” Algaze said. “I think there are some
stereotypes that Jewish people are more demanding. They know exactly how they
want the children to be raised and they’re very into education. They’ll set a
certain agenda of what they expect of the nannies.”

Matalon has had similar experiences with her own business.
“Some of these women hate Jewish people,” she said, explaining that she’s
gotten complaints of poor sleeping quarters, low pay and leftover food.

“If [someone is] good enough to take care of your family,
they’re supposed to be good enough to live a normal life with you and not get
treated like [they are] three steps down,” Matalon said.

Still, many nannies have great relationships with their
Jewish employers.

Annemarie Raizman, a mother of three, has nothing but
positive feedback about her nanny, Gonzalez.

“She feels like part of the family,” said the former teacher
from Valley Village. Because she worked with a Jewish family before the Raizmans,
the family was impressed with her knowledge of their traditions.

“She knows the Shabbat prayers and my son is teaching her
Hebrew right now,” Raizman said. “She’s very open to [learning about Judaism]
and enjoys doing that with my kids because it’s part of who they are.”

Rhea Turteltaub of Encino has had a similar experience with
Silvia Virula, who has worked for her for almost five years.

“I’ve learned a great deal from her and she tells she learns
from me,” said the mother of two, who works at UCLA. In fact, the Turteltaubs
have attended Virula’s family celebrations, including her daughter’s Quinceanera
(Sweet 15) party. Virula, who is affectionately called “Bibi” by Turteltaub’s
young sons, has embraced the Jewish holidays and songs.

Gonzalez and Virula spend time together each week at the “Me
& My Nanny” class.

While both the nannies and parents involved rave about the
new class, Matalon is skeptical that sooner or later the nannies might compare
notes regarding pay and opt to leave for higher-paying gigs. Still, it’s hard
to put a price tag on what, for many, can deepen from an employer-employee
relationship to a family relationship.

After discussing Jewish holidays and the concept of
gift-giving in class, Ana decided to give the child she cares for a holiday
present during Chanukah. In addition, the idea of open communication with the
parents is a little less intimidating.

Cultural barriers aside, some parents still feel that
actions speak louder than words. Turteltaub notes that Virula was the least
proficient in English of the nannies she interviewed to take care of her
newborn four years ago. “No one else came close to [Silvia] in the amount of
love they had in their eyes when holding our son,” she said.

For information about the “Me & My Nanny” class at Adat Ari
El’s Rose Engel Early Education Center, call (818) 766-6379.   

Waking Up With Giselle

Even a casual viewer of KTLA’s “Morning News” knows this much about co-anchor Giselle Fernandez: she’s informed, attractive and very proud of her Latina and Jewish culture.

Since she joined the breezy, ratings-leading Channel 5 newscast in October to replace founding co-anchor Barbara Beck, Fernandez — who helms the 7 and 8 a.m. editions with Carlos Amezcua — has felt at home on the multiethnic program. She has found a place on television where her ethnic beauty and her dual heritage are actually an asset.

“I just kibitzed naturally,” Fernandez told The Journal of the trial shows that snagged her the job over five other candidates. “They’re very talented, goofy, real,” she said of the other members of the “Morning News” team.

For Fernandez, the program heralds a return to broadcast news after having left for a few years to create Latina-empowering Internet ventures and seminars.

“I hadn’t done live TV in a while,” Fernandez said, but added that she had no problem getting her news groove back.

If the high-profile program is a major comeback for Fernandez, it is perhaps a bigger coup for KTLA. The Emmy-winning newswoman — a seasoned veteran at just 40 — brought with her two decades of on-air experience as an anchor, host and correspondent. Her career highlights include work on NBC (“Today,” “Nightly News”), CBS (“Face the Nation,” “CBS Evening News,” “48 Hours”), “Access Hollywood,” The History Channel (“This Week in History”) and anchoring and stringing gigs for local news stations in Miami, Chicago and Santa Barbara. Fernandez has gleaned valuable experience covering the Gulf and Bosnian wars, the 1993 World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings, and a rare English-broadcast interview with Fidel Castro. Not that she ever anticipated any of this.

“You know the old adage, ‘Life is what happens after you’ve made your plans,'” Fernandez asked rhetorically. “Nothing has turned out how I planned.”

Fernandez grew up in both Los Angeles and Mexico City. Her father was a flamenco dancer from Mexico when he met her mother, an Ashkenazi Jewish Angeleno.

Fernandez, who was born part-Catholic, practices Judaism.

“I’ve always felt so at home with Jews,” she says. “I felt comfortable with their commitment to family, food.”

A turning point in Fernandez’s life came in 1991, during a month-long assignment in Israel. From her taxi drive from Ben Gurion Airport, it was Judaism by fire. As Iraqi Scud missiles rained down on Tel Aviv, Fernandez watched her Yemenite driver abandon their cab. A citizen gave her a gas mask, and she hid under a bench during the attack.

The assignment not only won Fernandez an Emmy, it developed her connection with her Jewish side. Upon her return to the States, she began studying intensely with Rabbi Howard Bald. Fernandez found the experience “active and cerebral and engaging and exciting. It taught me how to think in a different way. I consider it some of the greatest study I’ve undertaken, in the greatest way. It was not just memorizing. I know more about halachic law than most Orthodox Jewry.”

Fernandez, who spent Passover with Moroccan Jews from Spain reading the haggadah in Hebrew and Ladino, said that she prizes her Jewish Latino friends of Mexican and Argentine descent, as well as the good friends she made while in Israel.

“I can discuss a tomato with them and it will be fascinating conversation,” Fernandez said. “I feel way at home culturally with my friends in Tel Aviv.”

The laid-back style of “Morning News” may not be for everyone, but it is original. In the 1950s, before video, when television still relied on kinescope, KTLA, with Hal Fishman and Stan Chambers, pioneered serious television news. In 1991, KTLA pioneered once again with the light-hearted “Morning News,” introducing a ratings-grabbing format that has since been replicated nationwide.

Producer Rich Goldner observed that the format could only have emerged from Los Angeles’ early 1990s tumult — the riots, the Northridge earthquake, the Malibu fires, the floods, the O.J. Simpson trial. “The anchors had an opportunity to ad-lib so much,” Goldner said.

There are viewers who might find the tone of the broadcast — where entertainment fluff is often sandwiched between sobering, tragic stories — too glib or flip. Fernandez doesn’t mind the contrast, which she adds reflects life itself.

“It’s been a family of characters for 11 years,” Fernandez said. “While it has weekly irreverence and deviations, it also has a strong commitment to news.”

Executive Producer Marcia Brandwynne, who calls the show “a breakfast club,” believes that deeper, analytical coverage should be reserved for outlets such as The New York Times and The Jim Lehrer Report. She doesn’t make any apologies for the airy program, especially with capable professionals such as Fernandez behind the desk.

“It’s light at heart,” Brandwynne said, “but when it takes the news turn, she’s smart. She asks the right questions. She brings a great presence to every interview. She does a lot of homework.”

Goldner noted that Fernandez comes to KTLA with more than just an impressive resume.

“We weren’t looking for just a news reader,” Goldner said of Fernandez, who is at home doing one-on-ones with Sting or Kobe Bryant as she is conversing with heads of state.

“She’s really raised the bar with that type of breadth of experience,” says KTLA News Director Jeff Wald. “She has been to most of the places she’s talked about, and brings with her that insider knowledge. She’s also brought more male viewers into the tent. They find her appealing.”

So which type of male does Fernandez find most appealing? The vivacious Latina, who has alluded to her single status on the air, told The Journal that she is still looking for Mr. Right. But the majority of guys out there who would love to wake up next to Fernandez every morning can turn on their bedroom TV sets — she will not settle for anything less than her ideal.

“I want a man who can add to my experience,” she said, “and has a sense of life and adventure, an intellect. Someone who can spice up my life. I know I can spice up his.”

If KTLA’s “Morning News” has brought any spice to its medium, it is news mixed with personality, spontaneity, honesty, self-deprecating humor and ethnic diversity — all of which Fernandez’s colleagues say describe the newswoman herself.

“She’s an informed anchor, and totally unafraid to be Jewish on the air,” Brandwynne said. “There was a time when it wasn’t such a hot idea to admit that you were Jewish. We’ve come to another place.”

“I love our history, our perseverance, our individuality and devotion to family,” Fernandez said. “I’m very proud of the Jewish people and [their] contributions to society and world culture.”