Host Billy Crystal surprised viewers of the 84th Annual Academy Awards when he wore controversial blackface in an opening movie montage, reviving his Sammy David Jr. impression in a bit honoring the film “Midnight in Paris.”
Crystal opened the 2012 Academy Awards ceremony with a movie montage featuring the films nominated for Oscars this year. In clips from different movies, Crystal played characters in the nominated films.
In one brief clip from Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” Crystal played Gil, the young American screenwriter waiting to be transported into 1920s Paris.
A carriage pulls up to the waiting Crystal and – to his surprise – Justin Bieber peers out. Bieber makes a brief cameo in an effort to reach the 18 to 24 demographic, before heading off to “hang out with Hemingway and Fitzgerald.”
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Another character, sitting across from Bieber, also peers out of the carriage. It appears to be Crystal wearing blackface and playing Sammy Davis Jr.
“And then we’re going to go kill Hitler,” the blackfaced Crystal says.
While the audience laughed uncomfortably at the bit, viewers reacted differently.
“Octavia Spencer’s win shows just how far we’ve come since Billy Crystal performed in Blackface,” Twitter user Paul Scheer wrote with a nod at the Oscar nominated film The Help.
“If you doubted that Hollywood is an old white man’s town, remember that last night’s Oscars celebrated a silent movie [and] featured blackface,” another user Mark Campbell wrote.
Crystal, who hosted the awards for the ninth time this year, famously impersonated Sammy Davis, Jr. throughout the 1980s on Saturday Night Live while wearing blackface. Many wonder if his decision to revive the impersonation at Sunday's Oscars was in poor taste.
The use of blackface, theatrical make-up historically used by white actors to portray stereotyped caricatures of African Americans, has come under fire in recent years. The make-up has racist associations and is used limitedly today, mostly to perform social commentary or satire.
Watch Billy Crystal's 1986 Sammy Davis Jr. Impersonation:
Watch Billy Crystal's opening movie montage here.