Everyone knew it was coming. And sure enough, Academy Awards host Chris Rock didn’t waste any time.
“This is the wildest, craziest Oscars to ever host because there are no black nominees,” he said at the start of his opening monologue Sunday night, in reference to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. “People were like, ‘Chris, you should boycott. Chris, you should quit.’
“I thought about quitting. I thought about it real hard. But they’re not going to cancel the Oscars because I quit. And the last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart.”
Then Rock got a bit more serious.
“This is the 88th Academy Awards. So this whole ‘no black nominees’ thing has happened at least 71 other times.” Rock said black Americans didn’t made a fuss about it back then because they had more important things to worry about. “We were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer.”
Rock pushed things even further when he joked that the Oscars telecast will be a little different this year.
“In the In Memoriam package, it’s just going to be black people who were shot by the cops on the way to the movies,” he said, to gasps and groans from the audience.
Rock had been widely expected to address the much-maligned lack of ethnic and gender diversity in Hollywood after no minorities were nominated in any of the four acting categories for the second consecutive year. Critically acclaimed black Oscar hopefuls such as “Beasts of No Nation’s” Idris Elba, “Concussion” star Will Smith, “Creed” star Michael B. Jordan and the cast of N.W.A biopic “Straight Outta Compton” all were ignored.
Many expressed outrage on social media and several prominent black celebrities, including actress Jada Pinkett Smith and filmmaker Spike Lee, announced plans to boycott the show. Lee has argued in recent interviews that Hollywood needs not just more black Oscar nominees but also more minorities in positions of power at the movie studios.
“Everyone wants to know: Is Hollywood racist? Is it burning-cross racist? No. It’s a different kind of racist,” Rock said on Sunday.
“You’re damn right Hollywood is racist. Hollywood is sorority racist,” he said, referring to how white industry power players politely exclude minorities from their projects. “But things are changing. We got a black Rocky this year. Some people call it ‘Creed.’ I call it ‘Black Rocky.’
“It’s not about boycotting. We want opportunities. We want black actors to get the same opportunities. That’s it.”
The ceremony’s producers kept hammering the diversity issue throughout the early part of the telecast. After several awards were presented, Rock introduced a surprise guest — “Clueless” actress and Fox News commentator Stacy Dash, who walked onstage to say, “Happy Black History Month.” Dash had made headlines, and raised eyebrows, last month when she said Black History Month should be abolished because it promotes racial segregation.
Although Rock had remained quiet on the #OscarsSoWhite furor in the weeks leading up to the show, Oscars producer Reginald Hudlin said last month that the host was rewriting his opening monologue to call out the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which votes on the Oscars.
The academy clearly aimed for diversity in its choice of presenters and performers, about one-third of whom are people of color.
At least one Oscar presenter addressed the controversy Sunday before the ceremony even started. Actor-comedian Hart joked on Twitter that academy voters are “Straight Out of Touch.”