It’s Dionne’s World, We Just Live In It

By now almost all of the hype surrounding Chris Rock’s Oscars is over. But there is still one moment I cannot shake. It has nothing to do with perfect human Brie Larson, precious cargo Joe Biden or endless meme generator Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s the bizarre appearance of Stacey Dash. What was Dionne from Clueless doing at the Oscars?

In case you missed it (how could you?), watch the clip below.

Like Chrissy Teigen, you cringed. I cringed. We all cringed.

Coming at the end of Rock’s monologue, which was either legendary or divisive depending who you ask, Dash is introduced as the Academy’s new Director of Minority Outreach.  You can hear the crickets in the audience as Dash walks on stage and awkwardly proclaims, “I can’t wait to help my people out! Happy Black History Month!” It’s a kind of joke that seemingly bombed and served no purpose.

It may be one twisted symbiotic relationship but Dash’s appearance is kind of genius. It’s subversive and weird and politically in tune with the entire monologue.

Stacey Dash is an intriguingly polarizing figuring. She played arguably the greatest black female teenager in an iconic teen comedy that introduced feminism to a generation of millennials. (I’m one of them.) Dionne is the best friend but never the sidekick. She makes Cher tolerable and keeps Murray in his place. She’s fierce, gutsy and inimitable.

clueless-dionne-murray-woman-w724

But Stacey Dash is not Dionne. As a Fox News contributor, her controversial opinions about race and diversity lack self-awareness and always become buzzworthy. Her endorsement of Mitt Romney in 2012 made her conservative beliefs public. For Clueless fans, it is disheartening to accept that Dash is the polar opposite of Dionne. (Though, real talk, the Dionne of Bronson Alcott High would probably be a batty Real Housewife star today.)

But back to the original question: what was the point of Stacey Dash appearing at the Oscars? First, leading up to the Oscars, she spoke out against Black History Month and the BET Awards, now infamously saying “If we don’t want segregation, then we need to get rid of channels like BET and the BET Awards and the Image Awards, where you’re only awarded if you’re Black.” In liberal Hollywood, Stacey Dash stands out as a conservative black woman who is the antithesis of #OscarsSoWhite.

Yet her appearance can also be read as a comment on the “sorority-racist” white liberals still misunderstand the point of #OscarsSoWhite. There are not-very-famous Academy members who vote for and attend the Oscars. These not-very-famous members are not pleased with being called racists and object to the hashtag activism changing the industry.

(Who knows if the Academy’s sweeping membership changes will solve anything. Hollywood’s problems are deeply systemic and have little to do with actual AMPAS membership.)

So enter Stacey Dash. She is a divisive figure within the black community, making her opinions easy for both audiences and Hollywood to mock. Why not make her the punchline of a joke and bring her out as the Director of Minority Outreach? Yes the joke fell flat because Dash’s awkward delivery, lack of self-awareness, and the sheer absurdity of her presence. But if you didn’t grasp why she was at the Oscars, then maybe ask yourself how closely have you been following #OscarsSoWhite to begin with.

Yet it is unclear if she understood that she was the joke. On Patheos, the world’s largest English-language religious website, Dash wrote about her Oscars appearance:

“Which brings me to the joke. When they added ME to increase the diversity, I’m sure many black people rolled their eyes. I’m not “black enough,” they say. But guess what? I’ve heard that all my life. I would rather be a free thinking, black than a cookie cutter black who thinks – and votes – just like all my friends.”

With this statement, however out of touch it may be, Dash is further asserting herself as the go-to industry insider to comment against liberal Hollywood ideologies.

What’s probably more fascinating is the media spectacle surrounding Dash’s Oscar appearance. It garnered her more immediate and viral attention than any of her Fox News segments. For someone like Stacey Dash, whose newfound conservative brand depends on controversy, this is much-welcomed publicity.

Since her Romney endorsement, Dash has been building a brand – from Clueless to conservatism. This is literally the title of her upcoming memoir, which would have been implausible until she announced her status as a conservative black woman in liberal Hollywood. She is using her most public image as Dionne from Clueless to make a profit and she’s doing it quite well.

stacey dash oscars

This is just the start of Stacey Dash expanding her brand. Unless she says something utterly revolting, there will be more books and television appearances. Maybe there will be a headlining appearance at a conservative conference or a run for public office. Wherever it takes Dash next, this is a smart strategy and that’s just how it is.

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