What will Chris Rock say?
That's one of the main questions surrounding the 88th Academy Awards, which have already become engulfed in an international debate over racial diversity, with the Feb. 28 ceremony still more than a month away.
Reginald Hudlin, who is co-producing the telecast on ABC, told "Entertainment Tonight" that Rock, hired last year as host, had blown up his originally planned monologue as the #OscarsSoWhite controversy has raised awareness about the lack of black nominees in major performing categories.
"He and his writing staff locked themselves in a room," Hudlin said of Rock. "As things got a little provocative and exciting, he said, 'I'm throwing out the show I wrote and writing a new show.'"
That led to buzz that Rock was planning to lob some scorching one-liners about the debate. Charlotte Rampling, Michael Caine and Ian McKellan are among the stars who have now waded into the controversy, and some household names, such as Will Smith and Spike Lee, have said they won't attend the ceremony. Pressure even built on Rock himself to bow out.
But Rock's spokeswoman dismissed the speculation about the monologue, saying that Hudlin, "nor anyone else, speaks for Chris."
"Chris has made no decisions about the content of the show. All will be revealed on February 28," publicist Leslie Sloane wrote in a statement Monday. An attempt to reach Sloane for elaboration was unsuccessful, and representatives from ABC and Oscar organizers did not respond to a comment request by deadline.
Rock has expressed his (seemingly relatively moderate) views about Hollywood and diversity in the past. In a 2014 essay for the Hollywood Reporter, he wrote: "It's a white industry. Just as the NBA is a black industry. I'm not even saying it's a bad thing. It just is."
All this makes it anyone's guess what Rock will actually say at the show. But as a veteran Oscar host, he has experience working the room and serving the dual audiences of industry types and regular, at-home viewers.
"If anyone can succeed at a high-wire act that could either deal with the gravity of race relations in the United States, and using the Oscars as a microcosm of that, or just the silliness of Hollywood taking itself too seriously, Chris Rock can pull that off," said Tom Nunan, a veteran producer and network executive who teaches at the School of Theater, Film and Television at UCLA.
But there's an irony.
"Of all the hosts that the academy could end up selecting, fully a year out from the nominations, the irony that they would pick Chris Rock, in a year that is so lily white, is pretty remarkable," Nunan added.