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.’”
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.”
A few of the nominees for the top awards -- picture, director, actor and actress -- and other selected categories at this year’s Academy Awards.()
Winner: Picture | Original screenplay. Nominations: Supporting Actor - Mark Ruffalo | Supporting Actress - Rachel McAdams | Director - Tom McCarthy(Kerry Hayes)
Winner: Actor - Leonardo DiCaprio | Cinematography | Director - Alejandro González Iñárritu. Nominations: Picture(Kimberley French / Twentieth Century Fox)
Winner: Actress - Brie Larson. Nominations: Director - Lenny Abrahamson | Adapted screenplay(Ruth Hurl / Element Pictures)
Winner: Original score. Nomination: Supporting actress - Jennifer Jason Leigh(Weinstein Company / TNS)
Winner: Supporting actor - Mark Rylance. Nominations: Picture | Original Screenplay(Jaap Buitendijk / DreamWorks)
Winner: Animated feature. Nominations: Original screenplay.(Handout )
Winner: Visual effects. Nominations: Original screenplay.(AP)
Winner: Sound mixing | Sound editing | Film editing | Costume design | Production design | Make-up and hairstyling. Nominations: Picture | Director - George Miller(Jasin Boland / Warner Bros.)
Winner: Supporting actress - Alicia Vikander. Nomination: Actor - Eddie Redmayne(Agatha A. Nitecka / Focus Features)
Winner: Adapted screenplay. Nominations: Picture | Supporting actor - Christian Bale | Director - Adam McKay(Jaap Buitendijk / Paramount Pictures)
Nominations: Picture | Actor - Matt Damon(Giles Keyte / Twentieth Century Fox)
Nominations: Supporting actor - Sylvester Stallone(Barry Wetcher / Warner Bros.)
Nominations: Picture | Actress - Saoirse Ronan(Kerry Brown / Twentieth Century Fox Film Corpo)
Nominations: Actor - Bryan Cranston(Hilary Bronwyn Gayle / Bleecker Street)
Nominations: Original screenplay(Jaimie Trueblood / Universal Pictures)
Nominations: Actor - Michael Fassbender | Supporting actress - Kate Winslet(Francois Duhamel / Universal Pictures)
Nominations: Actress - Jennifer Lawrence(Twentieth Century Fox)
Nominations: Actress - Cate Blanchett | Supporting actress - Rooney Mara(Wilson Webb / Weinstein Co.)
Nomination: Animated film(Paramount Pictures)
Nomination: Actress - Charlotte Rampling(Agatha A. Nitecka / Sundance Selects)
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.