In the weeks leading up to the 88th Academy Awards ceremony on February 28th, Chris Rock was under intense pressure to boycott. When the Oscars’ all-white nominees were announced a few months back, major media outlets and vocal celebs narrowed their focus on to the perceived diversity problem in Hollywood.
Overall, this year’s award season has been completely marred by the #OscarsSoWhite controversy spawned by black entertainers like Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee. So, how did Rock handle the heat?
The now two-time host showed up with bells on, but not without reminding viewers about African Americans’ lack of opportunities—at nearly every turn.
Rock’s opening monologue was almost entirely engrossed in the issue of race, essentially calling out the sea of celebrities and their industry as “sorority racist.” He continued, “It’s like, we like you Rhonda. But you’re not a Kappa.”
For the some 34 million viewers watching at home, you couldn’t help but feel the awkward tension in the room. Rock’s peers didn’t seem to know whether to laugh or nod approvingly. Most sat quietly as he railed on in a full-fledged racial commentary. For a broadcast plagued by plunging viewership and general disinterest, the host’s serious approach proved disastrous.
With the numbers finally in, the 2016 Academy Awards ceremony comes out the 3rd lowest rated in the prestigious event’s history. Long gone are the days when Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra stepped out before a fascinated nation.
Losing relevance, the Oscars’ glamor is certainly withering. Before this year’s race controversy, the program was mostly notorious for its drawn out 5-hour broadcast, lackluster jokes, and snooze-worthy speeches. Even Rock’s anticipated rant on discrimination couldn’t save the show, with ratings plummeting for the 8th year in a row.
At times, Rock’s race-fueled subject matter teetered into cringe worthy territory. At one point, the host invited actress Stacey Dash onto the stage only to be met by agonizing silence. Deeming the conservative performer the Academy’s “Director of Diversity Outreach,” his joke seemed to go over most audience members’ heads.
Throughout the night, Rock also made quick quips that didn’t go unnoticed by perceptive viewers. After an introductory montage of the night’s top-nominated films, the host pointed out the video’s mere “15 black people.” He then joked that “if they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job. You’d be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now.”
Perhaps the most offensive aspect of Rock’s tirade came when he went to introduce the night’s first presenters. Mispronouncing Charlize Theron’s name, Rock segued his speech with “Please welcome Emily Blunt—and someone whiter—Charice Theron!” As the talented ladies stepped on stage with solemn expressions, the night’s uncomfortable tension began to build awkwardly.
The most outspoken black performers were no-shows at the event, including director Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett, the television actress and wife of Will Smith. In wake of the press’s relentless coverage of the “white” Oscars, other big names were also conspicuously absent. Paparazzi snapped photos of Hollywood bigwig Denzel Washington enjoying a basketball game with his wife Sunday night.
Despite the overblown controversy, some say Rock was simply doing his part to shed light on a very real issue of intolerance in Hollywood. But for viewers looking for a lighthearted escape into the magic of film, the night seemed to drag on hopelessly. When race wasn’t driving the discussion, liberal celebs took the opportunity to inject nearly every serious political topic into the fray.
Presenters Lady Gaga and Joe Biden lectured on sexual abuse, while Best Actor-winner Leonardo DiCaprio turned his acceptance speech into a discourse on climate change.
The film “Spotlight,” which took home the coveted Best Picture award, targeted Catholic Priests’ abuse controversy. In an interview with Howard Stern, funny lady Tina Fey bemoaned her peers’ politically correct absurdity.
“This is some real Hollywood bullshit. Everyone is telling me what to do, and people are yelling at me about rape and corporate greed and climate change.” She continued, “It’s like, guys—pick a lane.”
Given the 88th Oscars’ tragically low numbers, viewers seem to agree with Ms. Fey’s sentiment.
So, the question still remains: is Hollywood racist? According to Chris Rock, “Damn right it’s racist!” But if the Academy Awards taught us anything, it’s that fueling racial tension in the realm of entertainment isn’t so compelling. For most, the #OscarsSoWhite debate was simply a signal to flip the channel.