“Is Hollywood racist?” asked Chris Rock in his opening monologue at the 88th Academy Awards. He quickly answered his own question. “You damn right Hollywood’s racist.”
Sunday night’s Academy Awards had an activist undertone, capping one of the most controversial Oscar seasons in history. Rock used the bulk of his 10-minute monologue to immediately address the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, which resulted from the lack of diversity among nominees in the acting categories.
It set the tone for a night in which Leonardo DiCaprio spoke of the dangers of climate change, Vice President Joe Biden addressed sexual assault on college campuses, singer Sam Smith dedicated his original song Oscar to the LGBT community and “The Revenant” director Alejandro G. Inarritu dreamed of a world without prejudice.
It wasn’t all so topical. In one lighthearted bit, Rock paraded around the Dolby Theatre audience trying to sell Girl Scout cookies for his daughters. In another, he went to a movie theater to interview filmgoers about their favorite flicks. Spoiler alert: They weren’t nominated for Oscars.
Here are some of the night’s most memorable moments -- and an awkward one.
The monologue: Rock gave a pointed, incendiary stand-up routine, one that poked fun at actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who said she would boycott the Oscars, and even took aim at those who argue that asking actresses about fashion is sexist. “Hey, everything’s not sexism. Everything’s not racism,” Rock said during his monologue. “They ask the men more because the men are all wearing the same outfits, OK?”
The jabs at Smtih were far harsher. “Jada says she’s not coming. Protesting. I’m like, ‘Isn’t she on a TV show.’ Jada’s gonna boycott the Oscars? Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.”
For the record, 2:15 p.m. Feb. 29: In an earlier version of this post, Rihanna’s name was misspelled.
And sometimes Rock got straight-up political. “This year, the Oscars, things are going to be a little different. Things going to be a little different at the Oscars. This year, in the In Memoriam package it’s just going to be black people that were shot by the cops on their way to the movies.”
“This film was really born from watching our kids grow up, which is not easy,” he said.
He then had a positive message for all those suffering through the daily dramas of coming of age. The film, he said, is dedicated to “anyone out there who’s in junior high, high school, working it out, suffering. There are days you’re going to feel sad, you’re going to feel angry, you’re going to be scared. That’s nothing you can choose, but you can make stuff. Make films. Draw. Write. It’ll make a world of difference.”
Biden and Lady Gaga take a stand: The vice president, introducing Lady Gaga at the Academy Awards, gave an impassioned speech dedicated to reducing sexual assault on college campuses. “Despite significant progress over the last few years, too many women and men on and off college campuses are still victims of sexual abuse,” said Biden.
The White House in 2014 launched It’s On Us, a campaign designed to reframe the conversation around sexual assault. The initiative aims to bring increased awareness to the issue.
Moments later, Lady Gaga would perform "Til It Happens to You,” a song written for the film “The Hunting Ground,” which documents the prevalence of rape on college campuses. Lady Gaga was joined onstage by survivors of sexual abuse. It was a stark and fiery rendition of the song.
“Let’s change the culture,” said Biden. “We must change the culture, so that no abused women or man, like the survivors you will see tonight, ever feel they have to ask themselves, ‘What did I do?’ They did nothing wrong.”
The Weeknd: Claustrophic and vulnerable, the Weeknd’s performance of “Earned It” was at some times elegant, at other times sexy.
Beginning, forebodingly, with an aeriest, which hinted at award show decadence, the dancer-acrobatics throughout the song closed in one Abel Tesfaye, heightening the tension in the song. After a sleepy performance from Sam Smith, the string-soaked “Earned It” was the ballad at its most taut.
The cast of Best Picture winner “Spotlight” takes a selfie backstage at the 88th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Actress Stacey Dash speaks onstage during the 88th Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre on Feb. 28, 2016.(Kevin Winter / Getty Images)
Michael Keaton and the cast and producers of “Spotlight” celebrate after winning the Oscar for best picture.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
The production team and cast of Spotlight celebrate the award for best picture.(Mark Ralston / AFP/Getty Images)
Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu, winner of Best Director with Tom Hardy(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Whoopi Goldberg(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Mark Rylance thanks Steven Spielberg before accepting his Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Marcos Taylor as Suge Knight(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Adam McKay, front, and Charles Randolph with their Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Leonardo’s activism: DiCaprio, who won the lead actor Oscar at Sunday night’s 88th Academy Awards for his role in “The Revenant,” spoke of the dangers of climate change during his acceptance speech.
The film, in which DiCaprio plays frontier tracker Hugh Glass, had a harrowing shoot in remote wilderness locations. The production was nearly jeopardized when filmmakers had to scour the world to find snow.
“Making ‘The Revenant’ was about man’s relationship to the natural world, a world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in record history,” he said. “Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow. Climate change is real. It is happening right now.”
DiCaprio added that climate change is the “most urgent threat facing our entire species.” He called on the audience to back politicians who are outspoken on issues of global warming.
“Fight the Power": Rock came out swinging, at least in regard to his music choices. Rock’s walk-on song was Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” a song tied to Spike Lee’s 1989 film “Do the Right Thing.” Many looked to Rock to address the lack of diversity in Hollywood and at the Oscars, and he did so before even saying a word, choosing a song that still feels revolutionary.
And the night’s awkward moment: Following a bit in which Rock bemoaned the lack of opportunity for black actors in Hollywood, he brought out everyone’s favorite Fox News correspondent, Stacey Dash, to wave to the audience and wish everyone a happy Black History Month.
Dash made headlines when the #OscarsSoWhite controversy began, stating that Black History Month shouldn’t exist, nor should BET or anything that focused on celebrating black culture specifically.
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