COMMENTARY | By now, you’ve probably seen or heard about the tweet satire website The Onion posted about 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, star of Beasts of the Southern Wild and the youngest-ever Oscar nominee. The website received a flood of emails and phone calls following the offensive tweet, which the site claimed was taken down within an hour of publication. It may have been longer, or shorter, but the fact of the matter is that it never should have been posted. Period.
CEO Steve Hannah issued an incredibly formulaic “apology” the next day. Not only that, but he sent the exact same “apology” to the hundreds of people who leapt to the actress’s defense. Because nothing says “We screwed up” like an insincere, copy-and-pasted response that has probably been recycled a dozen times over from any number of controversies that have plagued The Onion over the years.
Perhaps Hannah really was appalled by the tweet and is legitimately sorry that it got out there for the world to see on what was the biggest night of this little princess with the puppy purse’s young life so far. Perhaps it was just a bad apple who needs to be immediately dismissed from the company. Perhaps these new guidelines will ensure that no more child actresses get called the c-word … at least not on any social media websites. Who knows what they’ll be saying in the office.
But at the end of the day, no amount of apologizing is going to make this go away. Needless to say, The Onion has probably lost more than a couple of readers because of the tweet, and it’s entirely their own fault. But the writers are adults, many of whom have most likely been in the business longer than Quvenzhané has been alive. They have developed the thick skin necessary to survive in the media industry.
But Quvenzhané, who has just recently scored her second leading role in the upcoming remake of Annie, has not. Though she has clearly been groomed to handle the myriad of mispronunciations of her name, and has even called out a reporter for being too lazy not to learn how to properly say it — it’s Kwe-VEN-zhah-nay, in case you were wondering — who could have predicted that she would need to be taught about such an ugly word at such a young age? Her career has just begun and, sadly, this little stunt by The Onion will follow her for as long as she decides to remain in Hollywood.
How will her parents explain this to her? Or will they try to shield it from her until she is old enough to understand how terrible it is to call a woman, let alone a child who hasn’t even hit double digits yet, a word that begins with c and rhymes with bunt? However this plays out, sadly, that word will follow her forever. Even if no one ever says it again — and please don’t let that be wishful thinking — it’s already out there. There is no magic wand to wave and make it disappear. The Internet has a long memory, and screenshots of the tweet will remain in cyberspace long after the joker who thought it was OK to call a child such a vile word is long gone.
Has Quvenzhané displayed a maturity well beyond her nine years? Absolutely. But she is still 9 years old, and has not been in the business long enough to understand that there are some who will see her self-confidence as anything and everything but. She cannot understand that there are those who would see her pumping her fists in the air as cocky — I’m looking at you, Chrissy Teigen. But here’s what I think. At 9 years old, Quvenzhané has already accomplished more than most people will in an entire lifetime. If that isn’t a reason to be cocky — which is not a word I would associate with her by any stretch of the imagination — then I don’t know what is.
What I do know is that it is tasteless for adults to belittle a child. What I do know is that, unfortunately, this will not the last time Quvenzhané encounters hardships. But what I hope is that, when the time is right, her parents will sit her down and explain this whole situation to her. What I hope is that she won’t let the negativity stop her from rising even higher than she already has in such a short amount of time.
And when that happens, I hope The Onion is still around to see it.