The biggest takeaway from the Academy Awards on Sunday night—besides Leonardo DiCaprio’s first Oscar and the unexpected win for Spotlight as best picture—was the conversation about the show’s lack of diversity and the sometimes on-the-nose way the host Chris Rock addressed that.
He began the night by directly addressing the controversy, which was coined #OscarsSoWhite on social media because none of the actors or actresses nominated at the awards were people of color. The awards also snubbed movies like Creed and Straight Outta Compton, which starred black actors and actresses.
“I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the white people’s choice awards,” he said to the crowd in his opening monologue. “You realize if they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job.”
But Rock managed to fall flat at times, and at one point joked that Stacey Dash was the supposed new “director of the minority outreach program” for the Academy Awards. Dash is most well known for her role in the 1995 movie Clueless and recently denounced Black History Month as being unnecessary.
It was a weird joke that missed the mark on highlighting inclusion issues. It received few laughs from the audience and involved a forced appearance by Dash, who ended the bit by wishing the audience a happy Black History Month.
Rock was otherwise poignant in the way he addressed racism when he said black people did not boycott the Academy Awards in the 1960s because they had bigger things to worry about. He specifically brought up acts of violence like rape and lynching, causing uncomfortable laughter from the predominately white audience.
“We want black actors to get the same opportunities,” he said after he confirmed that Hollywood is racist. “That’s it.”
But his opening monologue lost relevance toward the end when he trailed off to say the reason why men don’t get asked the question “What are you wearing?” on the red carpet is because they all wear the same thing.
Statements like this diminish the sexism that is also rampant in Hollywood, and while the lack of diversity is jarring and apparent, it doesn’t equate well to compare the issues that are deeply rooted in the industry.
Other highlights of the night included Lady Gaga’s performance of “Till It Happens to You,” her song about sexual assault that especially resonates with viewers because of singer Kesha’s recently publicized case of sexual assault, in which a judge did not grant her the right to stop working with the man who is accused of assaulting her. Gaga was joined onstage by a group of sexual assault survivors.
There was more than one joke that was offensive at the expense of Asian actors in Hollywood, making little sense to people who are opposed to the lack of diversity in the business.
Chris Rock made a joke at the expense of Asian Americans when he called on stage the accountants from PricewaterhouseCoopers, according to The New York Times. He called the accountants Ming Zu, Bao Lin and David Moskowitz, all children dressed in suits and donning the ‘smart Asian’ stereotype. He then said anyone upset by the joke could tweet about it on their iPhones, which were made by children the same age.
The joke was in poor taste, poking fun at child labor in countries where the phenomenon is common and a serious subject that should be addressed.
In addressing the lack of diversity in Hollywood, there was a sketch where black actors like Whoopi Goldberg and Chris Rock inserted themselves into Oscar nominated movies. The most successful of these was when Chris Rock played Matt Damon’s character in The Martian, and Kristen Wiig and Jeff Daniels decided whether or not they should save him, as he is a black astronaut.
“I’ll tell you what’s a PR problem,” Daniels said. “Spending 2,500 white dollars to save one black astronaut.”
Perhaps Rock said it best in his opening monologue, “It’s the 88th Academy Awards, which means this whole ‘no black nominees thing’ has happened at least 71 other times.”
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of “Chris Rock – Controle De Armas.”
Alex Carolan is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.