Chris Rock’s ‘other’ Oscar slap

Rock described the “Summer of Soul’s” creative team as Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and “four white guys.” One of those “guys,” Joseph Patel, is South Asian.

SHARE Chris Rock’s ‘other’ Oscar slap
Best documentary feature winners for “Summer of Soul” (L-R) Joseph Patel, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, David Dinerstein and Robert Fyvolent pose in the press room during the 94th Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on March 27, 2022.

Best documentary feature winners for “Summer of Soul” (L-R) Joseph Patel, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, David Dinerstein and Robert Fyvolent pose in the press room during the Oscars.

AFP via Getty

Chris Rock really got under that Academy Award winner’s skin with that joke at the Oscars.

No, not the “G.I. Jane 2” wisecrack that led to the now-infamous slap.

Right after the stunned Rock regained composure from the unexpected encounter with Will Smith, the comedian presented the best documentary feature award to the filmmakers behind “Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised).”

Rock, in announcing the Oscar, belted out the same one-liner he delivered at another event in Los Angeles the night before, describing the “Summer of Soul” creative team as Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and “four white guys.”

Rock’s math was off. There are only three producers attached to director Questlove’s tribute to the Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969: David Dinerstein, Robert Fyvolent and Joseph Patel.

More importantly, only Dinerstein and Fyvolent are white. Patel, if you can’t deduce by his last name, is South Asian.

Columnists bug


In-depth political coverage, sports analysis, entertainment reviews and cultural commentary.

An upset Patel criticized both Smith and Rock for spoiling the moment in a now-deleted Twitter thread.

Patel called Smith “selfish” but was especially livid with Rock for characterizing him as white.

It was “a sh––––, disrespectful thing to do,” the Indian American said, noting he was one of three South Asians who won an Oscar that night.

Patel went on to say he couldn’t stomach turning on a recording of his big win and probably won’t ever watch it because of Rock’s bit.

“Thank you, Chris — you absolute f–––––– d–––,” Patel tweeted.

I reached out to Patel. He politely declined to comment further on the matter.

I don’t think Rock, whose stand-up I usually find humorous and on point, intended to cause harm.

But as a fellow Indian, I get why the jab stung Patel.

“Summer of Soul” showcases long-forgotten footage of a music festival many had never heard of until the documentary was released last year. While the mostly white Woodstock, held that same summer, has been revered as one of America’s most iconic moments in pop culture history, the Harlem Cultural Festival, which celebrated Black music, fashion and activism, was largely ignored.

Perhaps Rock, a Black man who is no stranger to providing biting commentary on race, was playing on this slight by propping up Questlove, an African American musician, and dismissing the rest.

But in doing so, he erased Patel’s Indian identity.

Indians, along with other Asians, have been unfairly painted with a broad brush as “model minorities.”

On the face of it, being viewed as intelligent and hard-working may seem complimentary.

But the model minority myth has caused more damage than harm by obliterating the diversity among Asian American groups and individuals, minimizing racism against our communities and pitting us against Blacks and Hispanics.

Making things worse is the chokehold that colorism — a poisonous byproduct of colonialism — has on many South Asians.

As a result, sadly there are plenty of South Asians, including those in positions of power, who would relish being classified as white.

If you need evidence, take a look at the constituent-painted portrait former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal had hanging in his office. It’s as if Jindal overdosed on skin lightening cream and morphed into a poor man’s Jon Hamm.

Patel, Jindal and I all came of age in the 1980s — a time when Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi kids who wanted a taste of high school popularity distanced themselves from their cultural and religious backgrounds.

The rest of us squares certainly struggled with our identities, but we vowed to never go full coconut or potato: Brown on the outside, white on the inside.

When my South Asian friends and I tease each other for being white, it is often a harmless dig at a habit or preference that doesn’t fall in line with what an average desi would do or like. But change the tone, and the accusation, especially coming from a person of color, screams “sellout.”

I’m guessing that is why Patel found Rock’s “white guys” quip highly problematic.

Opinion Newsletter

The producer, who said he was made fun of by his classmates for his Indian first name Monish, said he was proud to be the first Patel to win an Oscar.

He should be.

Without the efforts of Questlove, Patel and yes, the two “white guys” Dinerstein and Fyvolent, many Americans would never have known the Harlem Cultural Festival existed.

It is because of the film’s reverberating power that officials last week announced a reimagined version of the festival for 2023.

That slaps.

Rummana Hussain is a columnist and member of the Sun-Times editorial board.

Send letters to

The Latest
Robertson was a familiar presence in American living rooms because of his “700 Club” television show.
Antwon Harrison, 24, allegedly fired a weapon at officers from a vehicle fleeing the scene of a shooting in Englewood on Monday. The driver was also arrested.
Eight Republican-led states have pulled out of the nation’s bipartisan electronic system that checks voter registration records for accuracy. More states could choose to pull out. It’s a threat to the integrity of our elections.
Though the grandmother has a history of hogging attention at family events, the betrothed woman’s mom wants her involved with wedding activities.
The Biden administration says cannabis consumers should not be treated as criminals, but continues to defend a federal policy that punishes them by taking away their Second Amendment rights.