Ireland at the Academy Awards: The Glitz and Glamour of Anti-Irish Comedy

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Four weeks after the 95th Academy Awards, Ciara Whelan calls attention to the repeated attempts to overshadow Irish excellence and achievement through ridicule and stereotypes.

It’s been over a month since the ‘Green Wave’ flooded the 95th Academy Awards. March 13th saw a range of Irish film talent honored with a nomination arrive at the famous Los Angeles Dolby Theatre for the ceremony. An Cailín Ciúin made history as the first Irish-language entry ever nominated for Best International Film, while Paul Mescal received his very first Best Actor nomination, making him the youngest actor nominated in the category this year. Banshees of Inisherin overwhelmed the ballot with a monumental nine nominations that included Best Film, Best Actor for Colin Farrell and three other acting nominations for Brendan Gleeson, Barry Keoghan, and Kerry Condon, and finally Best Director and Best Screenplay for Martin McDonagh. The producers of An Irish Goodbye were honored with the golden statuette for Best Live-Action Short Film, while Irish animator and visual effects supervisor Richard Baneham was among those awarded for Best Visual Effects with Avatar: The Way of Water. Wins and losses aside, the cream-carpet event was a showcase of Irish talent never before seen in the history of the Academy Awards. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, this would-be night of celebration and pride for the Irish film industry was punctuated and overshadowed by shallow ignorance and poor attempts at comedy. 

Jimmy Kimmel opened the show with a monologue that poked fun at the film stars in attendance, before getting to the Irish in the audience and harking back to last year’s incident of ‘The Slap’. He commented:  “Five Irish actors are nominated tonight, which means the odds of another fight on stage just went way up.” Later in the show, Kimmel repeated praise of Farrell’s nominated performance from ‘a fan,’ but asked him to clarify just what exactly he was saying the whole film. These comments made by Kimmel during the show echoed the bigotry of a Saturday Night Live sketch that aired the previous night. In a parody of a pre-show carpet interview, the sketch presented caricatures of Farrell and Gleeson with thick and unintelligible Irish accents before the mock presenters remarked: “Wow! And they haven’t even started drinking yet.” Beyond mobilizing weak and outdated colonial-era stereotypes about the fighting and primitive Irish, the offense of the sketch lies in its total ignorance of Farrell’s recovery from alcohol addiction. In short, a landmark moment in the history of the relatively up-and-coming Irish film industry was degraded on the basis of cheap humor over the Oscars weekend by the American comedians in attendance. One need only look to the phenomenal Irish talent that premiered at the Dublin International Film Festival this year, which included a number of fantastic student films, to understand that the country’s wealth of talent deserves more than to have such a significant moment overshadowed by ignorance and cheap comedy. 

I hesitate to make the argument that these comments would not have been made with regard to any other ethnoracial group in the current social and political climate, when comparing the Irish experience and its history to that of other minority groups would be both sensationalist and senseless. I will argue, however, that the precarity of Irish whiteness which is inferred by comments made over the weekend is a blatant attempt to project cultural instability onto an ethnic ‘Other’ and secure the identity of Americans by comparison. In an era marked by the rise of extreme conservative politics, the Military/Prison-Industrial complexes, and unprecedented rates of gun violence, the comments made by Kimmel and the cast of SNL are another instance of scapegoating the Irish among other ethnic groups for the increasing violence and backwardness of modern America. The criticisms made by the Irish public and media in the days and weeks after the ceremony indicate that those invested in the future of the Irish film industry remain impervious to its detractors. Despite the discouragement that is blatantly borne of ignorance, this year’s Academy Awards should really signal the bright future ahead for Ireland’s national cinema.