In keeping with the growing tradition of performers using high-profile awards shows as
platforms for political commentary, Beastie Boy Adam Yauch and Fugees leader Wyclef
Jean spoke out against perceived prejudices towards Muslims and Haitians during the
15th annual MTV Video Music Awards ceremony.
An avowed Buddhist who has organized three Tibetan Freedom Concerts and raised
millions to aid the people of that mountainous country as well as the cause of
nonviolence worldwide, Yauch launched his impromptu criticism of U.S. military strikes
against Afghanistan and Sudan as the rap-rock trio was accepting their Video Vanguard
award from Public Enemy leader Chuck D. The Vanguard award recognized the
Beasties' 15-year career of groundbreaking music videos.
"It's kind-of a rare opportunity that one gets to speak to an audience this big," the
mild-mannered Yauch said as he bent down to speak into the microphone. "I think it was
a real mistake that the U.S. chose to fire missiles in the Middle East."
The rapper was referring to the bombings carried out in retaliation for a pair of terrorist
attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on Aug. 7 that left 263 people dead.
"Those bombings that took place in the Middle East were thought of as retaliation ... and
if we thought of what we did as retaliation, certainly we're going to find more retaliation in
the Middle East -- from terrorists specifically, I should say, because most people in the
Middle East are not terrorists," Yauch added.
While no official comment on Yauch's rebuke was available, a representative at the
Beastie Boys' publicity firm, Nasty Little Man, said of Yauch, "As a Buddhist, he believes
very strongly in nonviolence."
"Another thing that America really needs to think about is our racism," Yauch said as his
two bandmates stood silently behind him. "Racism that comes from the United States
towards Muslim people and toward Arabic people, and that's something that has to stop,
and the United States has to start respecting people from the Middle East in order to find
a solution to the problem that's been building up over many years."
Similarly, the outspoken Wyclef -- whose R&B/rap side-band's name, the Refugee Camp
All-Stars, is a reference to the status of Haitian immigrants caught in limbo in such places
as the U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- took time at the podium to tackle a
political issue. Accepting an award for Best R&B Video for the All-Stars track "Gone Till
November," Wyclef addressed the estimated 24-million-person viewing audience about
his feelings regarding the recent film "How Stella Got Her Groove Back."
"I went to see the movie ... you know I did a song with Stevie Wonder on the soundtrack
["Mastablasta '98"]," Wyclef said, "and as a proud Haitian man I was saddened and
offended to see my country used as the brunt of an AIDS joke in the movie."
Wyclef was seemingly referring to a line in the film, based on a novel by
African-American author Terry McMillan, that refers to Haitians and the deadly AIDS
virus in the same sentence. "As artists, we have lost so many of our own to the tragic
disease, we should know by now that AIDS ... is a crisis and not a mother-freakin'
comedy," Wyclef added sternly. "We should be workin' on it, not laughin' at it."
A representative for the film's distributor, 20th Century Fox, could not be reached for
comment by press time.
The issue is a sensitive one for people of Haitian descent, according to Steve Oriol, who
has worked with the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians on several
"There was a time when people of Haitian background couldn't [even] donate blood [in
the U.S.]," Oriol said, referring to a time early in the AIDS crisis when many associated
the disease with Haitians. "This is not about the movie having a stupid line in it; it's about
consistent, negative stereotypes of people of Haitian descent."