So the Oscars are over. Unlike past years, it wasn’t pure torture to watch. This is coming from someone who likes (used to love) to watch award shows. Hello, ALMA, GLAAD and Country Music Awards. They are usually a chance to see once in a lifetime collaborations, performances and tributes.
Despite the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and even if Chris Rock weren’t hosting, I would’ve tuned in. I’m glad he did, and I’m glad I did. Rock, in his white jacketed tux, didn’t disappoint. He attacked the lack of diversity in Hollywood head on. Any real Chris Rock fan knows that last night’s jokes weren’t a stretch for him. He addresses racism in all his stand-up comedy concerts, like Bigger & Blacker, Never Scared, Bring the Pain and Kill the Messenger. It wasn’t glossed over on Everybody Hates Chris, the sit-com based on his childhood.
I love how Rock point blank stated that Hollywood is racist, but not in the blatant, hurtful ways of years past. He compared Hollywood’s treatment of Blacks to sororities on college campuses: “We like you, but you’re not a Kappa.” Rock joked that had it been up to the Academy to nominate hosts, he wouldn’t have a job. Coming back from a commercial break, he exclaimed, “Ah, we’re black!” instead of “back.” He also commented that not everything is racism, just like not everything is sexism.
Rock was fair in his ribbing of people by also picking on Black actors, namely Jada Pinkett Smith, making the point that boycotting something to which they’re not invited makes little to no difference, and that only unemployed people tell working people not to work. Although he thought about not hosting, he opted to accept the gig so as not to lose another job to Kevin Hart. Had he refused to host, the Oscars still would have gone on.
One joke that seemed to fall flat, but that I understood, was when Rock introduced Stacey Dash as the new Director for Minority Outreach Program for the Academy Awards. The joke being that the FOX commentator doesn’t believe Blacks should have special channels like BET, awards like NAACP Image Awards, or even Black History Month.
In the March 2016 Essence magazine cover article featuring Rock, he states that even if he doesn’t do well, Kevin Hart might be pegged to host the show next year. His monologue was peppered with references to Hart and his success these past few years. I think he planted a seed by introducing Hart as the “host of next year’s Oscars.” I wouldn’t mind seeing that. For his part, before introducing The Weeknd to sing “Earned It,” Hart took a moment to address the lack of diversity and to encourage actors of color to continue working on their craft. Then he cracked jokes about expecting the Academy to seat him in the front row as an attempt to make up for the lack of diversity.
Rock made plenty of uncomfortable, but necessary jokes, pointing out that in the 88 years of the Academy Awards, the majority of its past nominees and winners have been nearly exclusively white. During those times, Blacks were too busy dealing with much more serious issues of fighting for civil rights and being lynched to worry about protesting an awards show. Addressing police violence, he stated the “in memoriam film would feature blacks shot by the cops on the way to the movies.”
There were spoofs of some of the nominated movies that inserted black actor/comedians like Whoopi Goldberg mopping the floor in Joy and Tracy Morgan in a dress playing Eddie Redmayne’s part in The Danish Girl. Since Straight Outta Compton was only nominated for best screenplay (which it lost), Rock taped a segment outside a Compton movie theater and asked Black patrons about white actors and movies.
Obviously, the award show wasn’t just about Chris Rock. Leonardo DiCaprio finally won his first Oscar for his starring role in The Revenant, and used most his short time time to talk about global warming. Lady Gaga gave a powerful performance of the emotional song Til It Happens to You, co-written by Diane Warren. My heart sank when the curtain lifted to reveal the silhouettes of dozens of sexual abuse survivors who moved forward to surround Gaga’s white piano. The men and women had phrases like “Survivor,” “Unbreakable,” and “Not Your Fault” written on their arms. I also liked The Weeknd’s performance. Sam Smith never disappoints, and in his acceptance speech for The Writing’s on the Wall, he hoped to dismantle the belief that no openly gay man has won an Oscar. As a proud gay man he hoped to serve as inspiration to the LGBT community. Chris Rock joked that he had no joke because he didn’t want to get in trouble.
I think Chris Rock did an excellent job of hosting the show, including the part when he had Girl Scouts sell cookies to audience members in an attempt to help his daughter outsell a member in her troop. One of my favorite quotes from an acceptance speech was delivered by the Pete Docter, the director of Inside Out: “There are days you’re gonna feel sad, you’re gonna be angry, you’re gonna feel scared. That’s nothing you can choose, but you can make stuff. Make films. Draw. Write. It’ll make a world of difference.”
Just before the credits rolled at the end of the program, Rock gave a shout out to the Black Lives Matter movement and his hometown of Brooklyn. While Rev. Al Sharpton led a protest blocks away from the gathering, Chris Rock used his voice and his platform to speak to Hollywood on behalf of himself and other minority actors, actresses, directors and producers: “We want opportunity.”