Host Jimmy Kimmel smiles sheepishly onstage at the Oscars

Jimmy Kimmel Slammed for Inappropriate Malala Joke

The Oscars can’t exist without controversy, and this year’s host Jimmy Kimmel delivered on that promise once again. While bantering with a few of the guests in between awards, Kimmel approached Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist Malala Yousafzai, who was in attendance as an executive producer for Stranger at the Gate, nominated in the Best Documentary Short Film category.

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What should have been a lighthearted interview moment quickly turned into chaos, however, as viewers watching the show at home took to social media to express their outrage. Some branded Kimmel a “national disgrace”, while others called him “tone-deaf”, stating Kimmel’s question was “cringeworthy”, “patronizing”, and “utterly disrespectful.”

What did Jimmy Kimmel say to Malala at the Oscars 2023?

So, what exactly did Jimmy Kimmel say to spark such online vitriol?

Remember spit-gate? If you don’t, allow us to refresh your memory. Don’t Worry Darling, the thriller starring Florence Pugh, Chris Pine, Harry Styles, and Gemma Chan, and directed by Olivia Wilde, endured a rather chaotic press tour. One of the strangest and most infamous moments of Don’t Worry Darling’s promotional run included an incident in which it appeared Harry Styles spit on Chris Pine.

All parties involved have vehemently denied it ever happened. The internet got over it, and the world had moved on. But it’s an Oscars tradition, of sorts, to poke fun at the big and weird Hollywood news stories of the past year, so perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised that Kimmel would bring it up during the ceremony.

Reminiscing about it while talking to Malala Yousafzai, however, may not have been the right choice. The joke was framed as being a question from a viewer. Kimmel started by praising Malala’s record as an activist, saying, “Your work on human rights and education for women and children is an inspiration.” All true, of course.

Kimmel then asked: “As the youngest Nobel prize winner in history, I was wondering, do you think Harry Styles spit on Chris Pine?”

Yousafzai seemed somewhat uncomfortable, and the joke garnered some awkward and forced laughter from the attending audience. The wonderfully eloquent Yousafzai, after taking a moment to collect herself, responded: “I only talk about peace.”

In an effort to salvage the scene, Kimmel ended the segment with, “You know what, that’s why you’re Malala and nobody else is. That’s a great answer, Malala. The winner is Malala-land, everybody.” But the damage was already done.

Later, Malala tweeted a video of the exchange, with the caption “Treat people with kindness”, including a peace emoji. This resulted in widespread praise for how she handled the situation, with many calling her a hero and icon for responding to Kimmel’s odd joke with such grace.

So why did Kimmel decide to direct this question, specifically, at the activist legend that is Malala Yousafzai? Who knows. But there’s something to be said for knowing your audience, and if he felt his spit-gate joke was absolutely necessary (I’d argue it wasn’t), it might have landed better had he picked literally anyone else in that audience to ask about it.

(via Mirror, featured image: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)


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El Kuiper
El (she/her) is The Mary Sue's U.K. editor and has been working as a freelance entertainment journalist for over two years, ever since she completed her Ph.D. in Creative Writing. El's primary focus is television and movie coverage for The Mary Sue, including British TV (she's seen every episode of Midsomer Murders ever made) and franchises like Marvel and Pokémon. As much as she enjoys analyzing other people's stories, her biggest dream is to one day publish an original fantasy novel of her own.