Last Sunday at the 88th Academy Awards, the annual celebration of the very best in motion pictures was must-see TV for many cinephiles, fashion fiends and pop-culture connoisseurs.
However, last Sunday’s Oscar telecast was also must-watch television for a very different and serious reason.
Much controversy and debate had been made since the Academy announced the nominees for its 24 categories on Thursday, Jan. 14. Out of the 20 nominees nominated for acting, not one black performer’s name was announced. This was, of course, problematic on a number of levels, but when coupled with the fact no black performer was nominated the year prior, well, it’s quite understandable why the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite became as wildly popular as it did.
So when emcee for the 2016 Oscars and comedian Chris Rock took the stage at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles and performed a shocking yet humorous vivisection of the institutional racism embedded deep within the Academy Awards – and by extension Hollywood – many, myself included, laughed and applauded.
“You’re damn right Hollywood’s racist, but not the racist that you’ve grown accustomed to,” Rock said. “Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like, ‘We like you, Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.’ That’s how Hollywood is.”
While Rock’s jokes elicited much later from the celebs in attendance, the now two-time Oscar host took a more serious tone to his humor when he said prior black performers did not voice their concerns over underrepresentation at previous Academy Awards as they had larger, more pressing issues to contend with.
“We were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer,” he said. “When your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about best documentary foreign short.”
He would go on to joke that the Oscars annual “In Memoriam” staple would consist only of “Black people who were shot by the cops on the way to the movies.”
In a night that was destined to be shrouded in controversy, awkwardness and palpable racial tension, Rock’s humorous yet brutally honest monologue was much needed. Rock should be lauded for his brilliant opening monologue which saw the well-respected humorist perform a precarious tight-rope act of exhibiting righteous anger while also delivering the comedic brilliance he is known for.
While no one expected the ceremony to become a hotbed for racial equality, Rock started the night off right by addressing the concerns of the #OscarsSoWhite movement and holding the Academy’s feet to the proverbial fire.
All was well.
Until a random and crass Asian joke was cracked on the telecast.