Disability Culture Watch

25 Feb


It has been eons since I’ve posted to Disability Culture Watch, but I am moved to post by the events of the last week. Namely, the protests in Los Angeles and around the country at the decision by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to grant the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award to Jerry Lewis.  Many members of the disability community were alarmed and outraged by their choice. You can read about our mobilization efforts, the letter we wrote to the Academy, the letter we got back from Executive Director Bruce Davis etc at thetroublewithjerry.net site and you can follow that for updates on press coverage and ongoing trouble-making (I’ve provided a lot of info here – but it is not complete pix). 


A significant number of us were able to make the trip to LA in advance of the Oscars – from Texas, Colorado, Chicago, Bay Area, New York, D.C. and other hot spots. Our issues:

> Lewis’ defamatory public statements make it clear that he lacks the kind of character and integrity the Academy is committed to honoring. For example: “…if you don’t want to be pitied for being a cripple in a wheelchair, don’t come out of the house.” (for more examples of his bigotry, go to defamatory-remarks section on site.

> Ostensibly, the reason he was being given this award was because of the money he has raised for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). But, The Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon frames people with disabilities as objects of pity living on the margins of society, unable to contribute to the common good.

So, on Friday, February 20th, we gathered outside the headquarters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in Beverly Hills. We were a robust and noisy crew:


Simi Linton of New York protests the humanitarian award for Jerry Lewis. Photo by Tom Olin.   


Check out this article, with an 11 second video of us shouting our best chant: No award for Jerry Lewis http://www.radaronline.com/exclusives/2009/02/jerry-lewis-oscar-protest.php 

After about an hour on the street, chanting, singing, leafleting, we entered the lobby of the Academy and planted ourselves in the midst of the flurry of preparations for a pre-Oscar party scheduled for that night. Guards, security guys, secretaries tried to reason with us. We would not be moved. We chanted louder and louder. At one point the receptionist said, to no one in particular: “This is a place of business, you must be quiet. We are trying to do business here.” I replied: “So are we, sister.”

Our goal was to deliver our petition, signed by over 2600 people, to the Exec Director of the Academy. We were told no one was at the office. After about 45 minutes two Beverly Hills policemen showed up, and they had no luck evicting us. A third arrived. She had no luck. Finally, Bruce Davis (the man who was supposedly not there) came down to the lobby. He was as snarky and dismissive in person as his letter to us lead us to expect. But we kept him down there and insisted that he, and others gathered around, listen to us. We got what we demanded: Delivery of petition to the Exec Director.

At one point, the cops said if we didn’t leave, they would start taking names. Laura Herhsey said: “Are you going to arrest us?” The cops were squirming. “No one said anything about arrests.” The cops met their match in these seasoned activists, and each tactic they tried was unsuccessful. It amuses me, in retrospect, to think that the Beverly Hills cops were issuing warnings to us on Friday, and then the filmic representation of a Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy, presented the award to Jerry Lewis two days later. Another musing: If we had gotten arrested, and then went to trial, I wondered if we would have been known as “The Beverly Hills 30″ (Doesn’t have quite the political bite of “The Chicago 7″, or “The Catonsville 9″ – would school children in the future wonder if we’d been arrested for maxing out on our credit cards on Rodeo Drive?)

On Saturday, we focused on the crowds flowing past The Kodak Theatre. An anecdote:

At one point on Saturday, we were passing out flyers in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Blvd. We struck up a conversation with a man who stopped to read our flyer. His wife and two young children stood by.

He said, with clear outrage: “He actually said these things? No wonder you are protesting.”

He read further. “This is terrible. They shouldn’t give him that award.” Then the man added: “And didn’t he marry his 13 year-old cousin?”

We worked hard not to laugh. “No,” we said “that was Jerry Lee Lewis.”

“Oh. So who’s Jerry Lewis?”

A reporter for the Newark Star-Ledger did a full article on our protest. Lisa Rose took a great deal of time, took care and put forth a terrific piece


I went back to New York Saturday night, and did not get to join the Sunday Academy Award action. Check out this Associated Press video featuring Lawrence Carter Long http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOBXCLmR1QA

On Sunday, I joined a hearty group in the cold rain in front of ABC Headquarters in New York. They did not send any press out to cover our demo – though the ABC affiliate in LA did cover our LA activity – but I don’t have that link yet. AbleNews was there in New York, and I assume they will post on their site: http://www.ablenews.com/

Check out Jerry’s acceptance speech on YouTube (I can’t locate it right now). The best line of the speech: “The humility I feel is staggering.”

There were times as I was planning to go, and while shlepping through airports and such, that I wondered if it was worth it to go to LA. Was the issue important enough to warrant the expense and difficulty of the trip? Once I was on the ground, and in the trenches with this righteous band of crips, doubt slipped away. It was, in part, the opportunity to vent and take the moral high ground in the face-off with the Beverly Hills police and Academy Exec Director, Bruce Davis. Ultimately, though, it was the numerous “aha” moments that I witnessed as people stopped to read our flyers and talk with us. The shift in thinking. The way the whole notion of “charity” was called into question by our stance. The protest got to the heart of our matter:

> That we need to control our message

> That Lewis’s (and others) pity-mongering defeats us and impairs our every effort to achieve equal rights and social integration

> That our pursuit of our happiness needs to be on our terms.


MORE LINKS and some choice quotes:

Check out Beth Haller’s blog for ongoing coverage:


From Rochester, NY, where Diane Coleman and Steven Drake and a hearty band protested in the cold, and got some pretty darn good press coverage: http://www.rnews.com/mediaplayer/players/wmplayerlite.aspx?sid=69642

Art Blaser’s article on Independence Today site http://www.itodaynews.com/december2008/jerrylewis.htm

A quote from Chicago Sun Times about Jerry’s backstage behavior”
“Given his poor health, Jerry Lewis “needs to be forgiven,” said a Hollywood matron, practically knocked on her kiester by the impatient comedy legend as he angrily stormed around the Governors Ball. “Come on!” he barked at several people he thought were blocking his way through the ballroom. “Get out of my way!”

“But then,” said the woman, staring at the drink Lewis’ jolt had caused her to spill down the front of her gown, “You’d think the guy who won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award would be a little more polite.”

From USA Today:

Still ‘Nutty’ after all these years

The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Oscar was given to the original Nutty Professor by a new generation’s Nutty Professor.

Eddie Murphy was stoic backstage before presenting the honor to Lewis. Murphy stood by himself, not smiling, not talking, but pacing briefly, maybe nervous. He had never appeared as a presenter on the show.

Lewis, on the other hand, was a jokester. The comedian walked to the wings of the stage as Murphy walked out, and stage manager Dency Nelson presented him with a place to sit, a stool with a leather cushion.

“Aww, are you serious? For the old man,” Lewis said, sitting down.

“You gotta joke about the padded stool,” Nelson said.

Lewis laughed. The bait was too easy. “Well, I’ve done it before.” Then he took a sip from his water bottle and feigned a choke with one of his signature high-pitched, tongue-wagging sound effects.

As he came offstage after collecting the honor, he let out a little “woohoo” and walked to his wheelchair in the back hallway and sank into it.

He cursed. “It’s great to get old.”


For those of you who can’t get enough, here are links to news items and blogs that include mention of the award and Lewis:

The Oscars as seen from the Kodak Theatre audience
The Associated Press
Jerry Lewis, who is being bestowed with a prestigious Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, and his family have their own box on the orchestra level. … See all stories on this topic

Backstage Oscar pass: Secret celebs, jokes, tension
USA Today - USA
One of the first stars to arrive backstage was Jerry Lewis, who would receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. Looking somewhat stooped and a bit frail … See all stories on this topic

As expected, ‘Slumdog’ sweeps to Oscar victory
San Francisco Chronicle - CA, USA
The one genuine touch of pathos came when a visibly frail Jerry Lewis accepted the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. Over the past decade, the academy has … See all stories on this topic

Quotable Oscars: Award-Winning Stars Speak
Sky News - UK
Jerry Lewis was in reflective mood after receiving the Jean Hersholt humanitarian award: “For most of my life, I thought that doing good for someone didn’t … See all stories on this topic

Soaring ‘Slumdog’ fetches 8 awards
Newsday - Long Island,NY,USA
Accepting the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, a somewhat winded Jerry Lewis kept his speech brief - “The humility I feel is staggering,” he noted - but … See all stories on this topic

Romance blooms and heels break at the Oscars
The Associated Press
___ LOS ANGELES (AP) — A relaxed Jerry Lewis joked with photographers backstage before accepting Oscar’s annual Jean Hersholt award for his humanitarian … See all stories on this topic

Oscars: It’s not an honor just to be nominated
Chicago Sun-Times - United States
… had caused her to spill down the front of her gown, “You’d think the guy who won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award would be a little more polite. … See all stories on this topic

Jerry Lewis: Jean Hersholt Award Oscar Speech (Video) | Bitten and …
By Meg
Comedian Jerry Lewis was the 2009 recipient of the Jean Hersholt Award. The presentation took place during the 81st Annual Academy Awards. SPEECH VIDEO, PHOTO.
Bitten and Bound - http://www.bittenandbound.com/

Live for Films: Oscars 2009 Acceptance Speach - Jerry Lewis - Jean …
By Live for films
Oscars 2009 Acceptance Speach - Jerry Lewis - Jean Hersholt Award. Discuss in the Forum. Posted by Live for films at 23:12. Labels: awards, Eddie Murphy, Jerry Lewis, Oscars. 0 comments:. Post a Comment. Older Post Home … Live for Films - http://liveforfilm.blogspot.com/

Jerry Lewis Winns Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award 2009
Jerry Lewis gestures after winning the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award during the 81st Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 22, 2009. Jerry Lewis, whose success as a philanthropist relie.

jean hersholt | Popular News
By admin
Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award | Oscar Statuette & Other Academy … The Jean Hersholt Award is given from time to time at Academy Award ceremonies for outstanding contributions to humanitarian causes. … Popular News - http://proinvest24×7.com/

Jerry Lewis: Jean Hersholt Award Oscar Speech (Video) - Celebrity …
Feb 17, 2009 … Jerry Lewis: Jean Hersholt Award Oscar Speech (Video) - Comedian Jerry Lewis was the 2009 recipient of the Jean Hersholt Award .

Oscars 2009: Jerry Lewis Receives the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Jerry Lewis the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award on February 22, 2009 during the 81st Annual Academy …

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