Chris Rock went in with no fear as the host of the 88th annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday and didn’t shy away from the controversy that has resulted from the all-white nominations list. Oscar’s knew they had it coming from their lack of diversity which caused a huge uproar and boycott, following the absence of actors of color in the nominations for a second year in a row. The outrage boiled over with director Spike Lee and actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith announcing they would not attend the ceremony.
Chris Rock fired the first shot of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy with a bang . It came seconds after the opening film montage and boom.
“Man, I counted at least 15 black people on that montage,” Rock said in his initial words as host, before adding, “Well, I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton led an #OscarsSoWhite protest down the street from the Dolby Theatre before the show started. Bette Midler tweeted: “The Oscars are today! You know, the awards show where Leonardo DiCaprio is ‘overdue’ but black people can ‘wait till next year.’ ”
Throughout the four broadcast the issue of diversity dominated the show. A string of diversity moments played out during the show. A montage of re-imagined 2015 popular films with black actors in the lead role featured Rock playing Matt Damon’s Mars-stranded character in The Martian — only this time, Jeff Daniels and Kristen Wiig didn’t want to bring the black astronaut back because it was too expensive.
Rock showed off a filmed excursion to a theater in Los Angeles’ predominantly black Compton neighborhood to ask patrons what they thought of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. Rock asked one African-American theatergoer if it made him “smack-a-white-man mad.”
Kevin Hart took the stage to introduce The Weeknd’s performance of his nominated original song and took a moment to applaud actors of color who were overlooked for nominations.
“We are breaking major ground,” said Hart. “These problems of today will eventually become the problems of the old. Let’s not let this negative issue of diversity beat us.”
Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs addressed the audience and quoted Martin Luther King Jr.
“The measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort or convenience, but where he stands in moments of controversy,” said Boone Isaacs. “I am confident that together we can shape the future of which all of us can be proud.”
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu invoked the diversity controversy when accepting his best director award for The Revenant.
“What a great opportunity to our generation,” said Iñárritu. “To make sure for once and forever that the color of the skin becomes as irrelevant as the length of our hair.”
Rock had the final word on the matter, signing off with a final joke about Black Entertainment Television.
“I want to invite everyone here to the BET Awards this summer,” said Rock, before adding, “Black lives matter.”