Academy Awards host Chris Rock started in on the #OscarsSoWhite controversy as soon as the ceremony began, just like viewers knew he would. Taking the stage after a montage of the movies of the year, Rock said, “Man, I counted at least 15 black people during that montage.” Then, he added, “You realize if they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job. Y’all would be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now.”
Racial inequality in Hollywood was the topic of the night. For the second year in a row, no actors of color received Oscar nominations, despite strong performances by Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation, Michael B. Jordan in Creed, Samuel L. Jackson in The Hateful Eight, Jason Mitchell in Straight Outta Compton, and Will Smith in Concussion. The across-the-board omissions resulted in official boycotts of the Academy Awards from Spike Lee and Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith — as well as an unofficial one from Creed director Ryan Coogler (who should have been a nominee this year) and Selma director Ava DuVernay (who should have been a nominee last year), both of whom opted to help organize an event in Flint, Michigan, on Oscars night.
As soon as the nominations were out, all eyes were on Rock: Might he even back out as the telecast’s host? In the end, Rock chose not to boycott. As he put it Sunday night, “I thought about quitting. I thought about it real hard.” Then, he said, “The last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart.”
During his 11-minute monologue, Rock skewered the academy (“If you want black people every year at the Oscars, just have black categories: Best Black Friend.”); the conventions of the Oscars ceremony (“This year in the In Memoriam package, it’s just going to be black people who were shot by the cops on their way to the movies.”); and called Hollywood “sorority racist” (“It’s, like, We like you, Rhonda. But you’re not a Kappa”).
He also, almost earnestly, addressed the subject at hand. Rock delivered his most pointed joke when he noted that there have been dozens of years when there were no black nominees, particularly in the 1950s and ’60s. “Black people did not protest. Why? Because we had real things to protest at the time,” he said. “We were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won Best Cinematographer. When your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about Best Documentary Foreign Short.”
Later, Rock said, “We want opportunity.” He added: “You guys get the great parts all the time.”
Rock also made fun of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith for not attending the Oscars, taking particular aim at Pinkett Smith. “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited,” he said. (If Rock conjuring Rihanna’s panties seemed off, so did his random attack on #AskHerMore, the quest to get women to stop having to answer questions only about their clothes on the red carpet.)
Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, announced radical changes eight days after the nominations in January to try to make the organization’s membership and voting body more diverse. Boone Isaacs’ goal is to double “the number of women and diverse members of the academy by 2020.”
But for now, Rock was left with things as they are. At the end of his monologue, he said, “You want diversity? We’ve got diversity. Please welcome Emily Blunt and somebody whiter, Charlize Theron.”
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