Wanting in on the Eddie Murphy smackdown, The Envelope‘s Tom O’Neil is recalling some some righteous/conten- tious thoughts that Murphy passed along at the Oscar podium exactly 20 years ago (which would be….uhm, 1987). Murphy “told the audience that he originally planned to refuse the Oscars’ request to present the award for best picture,” O’Neil writes, “because ‘they haven’t recognized black people in the motion picture industry‘ — noting that only three African-Americans had won an acting award over the past 60 years.

I’ll probably never win an Oscar for saying this,” Murphy remarked. “Actually, I might not be in any trouble because the way it’s been going, it’s about every 20 years we get one, so we ain’t due until about 2004.”

I don’t see how this throws any kerosene on the fire, frankly. More like water. I respect Murphy for standing up and saying what he did — anybody would. But that was then and this is now.

It may be pointless to try and further explain myself, but I’ve just been saying what any veteran of this town would acknowledge and then chuckle about at a party, buzzed or sober. Murphy is a pissed-off, guarded, obviously gifted comic performer who has never laid it on the line in terms of heavyweight acting, and there’s no absolutely way he’s laying it on the line in Dreamgirls. Like Peter Howell said, he’s doing his SNL James Brown shtick. Plus the part isn’t written with any third-act payoffs. It’s one of the most bizarre and groundless acting nominations in Oscar history.

It’s not just the calibre of a performance — substantial character construction and some kind of semi-meaningful arc (or journey) have to be there also. And the writing in the Dreamgirls script that would accomplish this just isn’t there. James Thunder Early is an amalgam of famous black performers — barely a character, and certainly not a character with any intriguing turns, deepenings and/or crescendo moments — this is who I am, what I want, what I need, please love me, I don’t care if you love me…anything along those lines.

The Oscar nom is much more of a referendum on Murphy himself — some half-assed notion of a career comeback, his likability in the early to mid ’80s, his current asshole-ishness (see the Razor item), the p.c. positiveness that comes with giving an Oscar to any person of color, etc. And in that light, the thought of him winning the Oscar almost gives me indigestion. I’m serious…I can feel the turbulence building in my stomach as I write this. And the Oscar goes to….Norbit!

Anyway, O’Neil’s thing works for today, there’s the New York Post story (allegedly) coming out tomorrow…but then what? Burnout, most likely.