The song has long been considered a black-power anthem, and has often been used to embody the black struggle against a racist system. Academy Award ceremony producers used the song to coincide with the undertones that dominated the broadcast, led by host Chris Rock and his trademark racial humour.
Needless to say, members of the ’80s-’90s rap group Public Enemy aren’t pleased that the song was used without their approval, claiming that its message differs greatly from what the Oscars ceremony was trying to achieve.
Group member Professor Griff told TMZ that “the show can’t claim the blackness of Public Enemy’s message,” and the show was just paying lip service to black protesters. Public Enemy is all about radical change, he asserted.
Lead rapper Chuck D, another Public Enemy member, seemed less-than-impressed on Oscar night.
Originally written for Spike Lee’s movie Do the Right Thing, Oscars music supervisor Byron Phillips included it to frame the “tone” of the ceremony.
He also sought to give the show some “edge,” something Oscars ceremonies in the past have sorely lacked.
“A lot of Oscar award show music hasn’t been super aggressive,” Phillips says. “We wanted just, overall, the music to be more aggressive in the show this year.”
It turns out that host Rock endorsed the song choice, according to Phillips.
“I really had a debate whether or not Chris wanted to come out that aggressively with it,” Phillips said. “Chris was like, ‘Nuh-uh, I want to do Fight the Power.’ There was no hesitation.”
Public Enemy’s Fight the Power
The rights to Fight the Power are owned by Universal Music, so Public Enemy band members don’t have any say as to when or where the song is used.
This year’s Oscars were contentious, especially around the topic of diversity in the showbiz industry. The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite went viral in the weeks after the nominations were announced: every person nominated in the major acting categories was white.