Every bit the avenging Oscars host some expected — and some feared — Chris Rock delivered vengeance and fire Sunday night at the 88th annual Oscars ceremony. Within his targeted sites: The audience at the Dolby, the audience at home and especially the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which did not nominate a black actor in any category for the second straight year.
Among the blasts: In lieu of the “In Memoriam” segment this year, he said that the academy would do a montage of “black people shot by the cops on their way to the movies.”
And this: There were no protests in the ’50s or the ’60s when black actors were rarely nominated, he noted. “Why didn’t blacks protest? Because we had real things to protest. Too busy being raped and lynched to care about who best cinematographer is. When your grandmother is swinging from a tree, did you really have to care about best documentary/foreign short?”
Wearing a white tux, Rock strode on stage following a montage of nominated movies past and present, then launched immediately into the subject on everyone’s minds: “I counted 15 black people in that montage,” he said. “If they nominated ‘host,’ I wouldn’t even get this job. You’d all be watching Neil Patrick Harris now.”
Rock said people suggested he boycott the Oscars. “So I thought about quitting,” he admitted. “I thought about it really hard [but] they’re going to have the Oscars anyway,” later adding: “Everyone wants to know, is Hollywood racist? You know you got to go at that the right way. Is it ‘burning a cross’ racist? Is it ‘fetch me some lemonade’ racist? It’s a different type of racist.”
Rock then recalled a time when he was at a Hollywood fundraiser for President Obama: “There were four black people there — Me, Quincy Jones . . . the usual suspects.” Rock added that he said to Obama “Mr. President, you see all these writers, producers and actors? They don’t hire black people and they’re the nicest white people on earth. They’re liberals.”
Rock’s hosting role was as unusual — and explosive — as any in 88 years. In January, the #OscarsSoWhite Twitter campaign sought to shame the academy for an all-white acting nominated slate. After that, Spike Lee, recipient of an honorary Oscar three months ago, said he would not attend Sunday’s ceremony. Jada Pinkett Smith and, shortly after, her husband, Will Smith, also said they would boycott the ceremony.
And so the heat was on — mostly on Rock, who declined to comment to the voracious media, nor telegraph his hosting intentions to anyone else. When Oscar’s co-producer Reginald Hudlin said that Rock was rewriting his monologue in response to #OscarsSoWhite, the comic’s publicist immediately said he was doing nothing of the sort. In fact, based on Sunday night, he did everything of the sort.