Well, we knew that Chris Rock would take on Hollywood and the #OscarsSoWhite meme and the fact that no person of color was nominated in any of the four Academy Awards acting categories. We wanted him to take all that on. No one really wanted an un-diverse Oscar nominee slate, but having that happen the same year that the academy had picked one of the funniest and most bitingly honest comics on the issue of race to host the show was almost too delicious to be true. (And probably ratings gold. We'll see when numbers come out.)
But who expected he would take on both sides? He mocked the people who chose to protest this year -- noting that if this is the 88th Oscars ceremony, surely in, at least, seven decades there were no black nominees. Or as he put it, "one of those years that Sidney didn't put out a movie." (That would be Sidney Poitier.)
Why no protests decades before, he asked? "Because we had real things to protest at the time," he said (to applause) noting that black people "were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer. When your grandmother is swinging from a tree, it's really hard to care about who won best documentary foreign short."
That's funny -- well, sharp funny. And he went after Jada Pinkett Smith for boycotting the Oscars, jabbing her with: Isn't she on a TV show? "Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna's panties. I wasn't invited," he told the audience to nervous laughter.
But he didn't stop there, nor should he have. He did take on Hollywood, noting that racism in Hollywood was a complicated subject.
"Is it burning-cross racist? No. Is it 'fetch me some lemonade' racist? No."
They just don't hire many black people.
"You're damn right Hollywood is racist. Hollywood is sorority racist. It's like 'we like you, Rhonda, but you're not a Kappa.' That's how Hollywood is."
And while he had a captive audience, he went on:
"It's not about boycotting anything. We want opportunity. We want black actors to get the same opportunities. And that's it. Not just once. Leo gets a great part every year ... but what about the black actors?"
And he brought the issue up again throughout the night -- in a funny tableau in which black actors were inserted after the fact in the nominated movies of the year. And in other moments. Coming out of a commercial: "And we're black -- I mean 'back.'"
I think he did a great job under extraordinary circumstances. Yes, the issue of diversity may have come up a few times too many through the whole show. But on balance, Rock did what he should have done: make people a little uncomfortable. He was trying to deal with a real issue that he acknowledged was complicated. Whether that will change anything on the part of Hollywood power brokers, who knows? But nothing even starts to change until people seriously talk about this issue. Good for Chris Rock for raising it and never letting go.
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