Public Enemy not pleased that Oscars used song ‘Fight the Power’

Public Enemy
(Clockwise from bottom L) Flavor Flav, Professor Griff, Terminator X, S1W and Chuck D of the rap group Public Enemy pose for a portrait in 1988. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

If you watched Sunday’s Oscars ceremony, you may have noticed the song that book-ended the show: Public Enemy’s Fight the Power.

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.

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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.

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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.

“[We wanted to] really set the tone for what the night was going to be and do something that was representative of Chris [Rock], and who Chris was, and the vibe and tone Chris wanted to set for the evening,” Phillips told Entertainment Weekly. “There was obviously nothing more perfect than Fight the Power for that.”

He also sought to give the show some “edge,” something Oscars ceremonies in the past have sorely lacked.

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“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.

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“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.

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