This year’s Academy Awards boycott was about as well-understood as Bizzy Bone’s verse on “Notorious Thugs.” Reports harnessed the movement’s spirit only in the most oblique ways, paying lip service to the lack of diversity among Oscar nominees but seldom speaking to the systemic issues that created that imbalance. Those who enjoy their neighbors’ Oscar party were happy to believe this was all about an upset Will Smith not picking up a nomination for his sappy concussion movie. That there were 20 white faces among 20 nominees in the acting categories was just a fluke. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled is convincing the world he doesn’t control the red carpet.
The boycott was not a handful of black actors rebelling because their own performances weren’t acknowledged. This was a protest against a rigged game that Hollywood continues to host. The American movie industry is a sleek, ultra-modern machine with antique hardware griding underneath its shell. From the constant whitewashing of roles, to whiteness being the default character setting for leading parts, people of color are hugely underrepresented on the big screen. If you dream of stardom but were born into a different race, you’re automatically three steps behind the likeminded white kids. Let’s be honest though: that’s just a microcosm for America and the western world.
I come from Ireland, Earth’s version of Eregion, where white people are forged. I’m half-Asian, but on the street, in the context of an overwhelmingly white population, I pass for Irish. The sad truth is it’s probably made my life easier. How do I know? Because my Asian heritage is the only facet of my identity that gets targeted. No one has ever called me out on Twitter for being a half-white, straight male aged 18-55. Once I start writing about race relations in this country, though, they’re in my mentions like zombies—I’m something different, something other. An abomination to people in our society that value antique blood lines as a gauge of worth.
Hollywood, for me, doesn’t do anything to defeat that message. Only 1 percent of Hollywood leading roles go to Asian actors. Jake Gyllenhaal stars in The Prince of Persia. Angelina Jolie’s skin is darkened so she can play half-black journalist Mariane Pearl. These blockbusters play all over the world. The casting almost always tells you that in the west, the default position will always be white. That white will always be the most glamorous race, the most sought-after race, the most beautiful race. White will always be right, it doesn’t matter what the question is. If you want to tell me this is down to economics, I’ll see you in the Fight Club basement.
Dumbfouded knows this all to be true. On “Safe”, the LA rapper of Korean descent is ready to burn Tinseltown to the ground and leave Universal Pictures’ execs for dead. He’s Jason Voorhees, back in the city of his birth to lay waste to those who fucked him over. Maybe there’s a hidden reason the villain was forced to cover his face.
Dumb hits Hollywood like Clubber Lang once clobbered Rocky. “The other night I watched the Oscars and the roster where the only yellow men were all statues,” he gnarls, calling out the industry circle jerk as “a room of fuckin’ 1 percenters laughing at you.” He purposely stomps all over the stereotype that Asians are docile by swearing violence if nothing changes, and calls on the spirit of Ol’ Dirty Bastard by fighting alongside him. You might not like the tactic, but great protest music is rarely born out of anything other than raw anger.
The beat is the creepily minimalist. The hook has a simplistic, almost nursery rhyme flavor, like the kind of tune a deranged madman sings to himself before he does some crazy shit. Dumbfounded even recites the kind of mantra you here from shocked friends and family when their loved ones unexpectedly do bad things. “He was always quiet keeping to himself/Never messed with anybody else.” Russell Crowe might never sleep soundly again.
The video accentuates Dumb’s concept. The dreamy family setting sees him sinking into a familiar portrait of white utopianism. The reward: visions of himself in the kind of iconic film and TV roles Asians never see. “I ain’t never heard of none y’all fools/I can do whatever every one of y’all do,” he asserts and I believe him. This is a guy whose YouTube videos get more hits than your favorite rapper does. Dude is photogenic too. In a better universe, you could see him fronting some of the blockbusters he’s parodying. With “Safe,” the frustration at why that’ll never be possible comes through in iMax 3D.