Comedian Chris Rock wasted no time in addressing the elephant in the room.
Rock, the host of Sunday night’s 88th Academy Awards broadcast on ABC (DIS), used his opening monologue to address the outcry over the fact that all of the acting nominees are white. Several major stars have either boycotted the show or simply made other plans for Sunday night, while the Rev. Al Sharpton also led a public demonstration protesting the event not far from the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, where the Oscars are being held.
Rock opened the night’s festivities by acknowledging the #OscarsSoWhite controversy while joking about the number of black actors he spotted in the Oscars’ opening montage. Rock then joked that the Academy Awards are “otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards.”
Rock, who previously hosted the Oscars in 2005, recapped the past month-and-a-half of controversy over the issue of diversity, noting that many people asked him if he would back out of his hosting gig. “I thought about quitting,” Rock said. “I thought about it real hard.”
Rock said he decided to host because he knew the Oscars would be held anyway, and “the last thing I need is lose another job to Kevin Hart.”
Obviously, he instead opted to host the show and take the opportunity to address Hollywood’s diversity issues head-on. “Is Hollywood racist? You’re damn right Hollywood is racist,” he said. He described the racism in Hollywood as not the “burning cross” kind. “Hollywood,” he said, “is sorority racist. ‘We like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.'”
He also noted that black actors need to see more opportunities for movie roles. “We want opportunity,” Rock said. “We want the black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors. That’s it. And, not just once. Leo [DiCaprio] gets a great role every year!”
After the outcry over the nominations, last month, the Academy made what it called “sweeping” changes to its membership and governance structures in an attempt to address the organization’s lack of diversity. Of course, even the Academy admitted that the changes would only affect future nominations and would have no effect on this year’s awards. The 6,000-member Academy, which hosts the awards, is comprised of industry professionals from actors to producers to agents, and an overwhelming majority of the members are white and male, with a median age of 62.
Later in the show, Rock returned to continue the discussion and introduced a comedic montage showing several Oscar-nominated films that had been edited to include supporting performances from black comedians, including Whoopi Goldberg in Joy and Leslie Jones in The Revenant.
Not everyone enjoyed Rock’s comedic take on Hollywood’s diversity issue and the stars boycotting Sunday night’s Oscars. Yahoo (YHOO) news anchor Katie Couric tweeted some disapproval of Rock’s joke about Pinkett Smith’s boycott:
Before the show even started, several celebrities discussed the diversity controversy during ABC’s pre-Oscars red carpet coverage. Actress Kerry Washington, who is an Academy member, commented on her decision to attend the Oscars rather than boycotting: “I really want to be a part of the conversation to make sure that there’s institutional change to make sure that we never have a year like this again.”
Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, speaking on the Oscars’ red carpet before the show, admitted that the organization’s move toward inclusiveness is an ongoing process. “We are going to continue to take action and not just speak,” she told ABC’s Robin Roberts.
Meanwhile, Rock’s fellow comedian, Kevin Hart, called for the Oscar host to address Hollywood’s diversity issue. “Address the elephant in the room,” Hart said. “Make people feel awkward, uncomfortable.”