The 88th Academy Awards were held in Hollywood on Sunday night, and — as promised — host Chris Rock wasted no time in talking about the elephant in the room. “This year things are going to be a little different at the Oscars,” Rock began his blistering monologue, referencing the #OscarsSoWhite firestorm that has raged around the fact that there are no nominees of color in any of the major categories (for the second consecutive year). “This year the ‘In Memoriam’ package is just going to be black people who were shot by the cops on the way to the movies!”
The reaction at Dolby Theater was a bit hesitant — Matt Damon didn’t start clapping until he noticed the camera pointing at him — but Rock was just getting started. Rock had said in January that he was throwing out the show he wrote to write a new script that focused on the racial imbalance, and his focused monologue made it clear that he wasn’t kidding about that. After referring to the Oscars as “The White People’s Choice Awards,” the brash comedian started laying into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who knew that they were going to have to take this one on the chin. “If they nominated host, I wouldn’t even get this job!” Rock cracked. “You’d all be watching Neal Patrick Harris right now.”
If at first it seemed like Rock’s monologue was going to be a bit softer than anticipated, the host quickly laid waste to that idea when he began digging into the reason why institutional racism has become such a hot topic this year. “Why this Oscars?” he asked. “It’s the 88th Academy Awards, which means that this whole black nominees thing has happened at least 71 other times… And black people did not protest, you know why? Cause we had real things to protest at the time. They were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won Best Cinematographer.” Damn.
Rock talked the audience through the process that led him to being onstage, including the calls for him to step down from the gig and join some of his fellow black celebrities who were boycotting the show. Dismissing that notion (“The last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart”), Rock then singled out Jada Pinkett Smith as one of the actors who was calling for him to bow out of the hosting gig, and targeted her for his most ferocious burn of the night: “Jada is on a TV show — Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties — I wasn’t invited!”
But most of Rock’s commentary was reserved for Hollywood as a whole. “Is Hollywood racist?” he asked rhetorically. “You gotta go at that the right way… Is it burning cross racist? No. It’s a different type of racist. They don’t hire black people, and they’re the nicest white people on Earth. They’re sorority racist. ‘We like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.'”
But Rock wasn’t only there to tell jokes, he was also there to to offer solutions. “You need black categories,” he grinned, mocking how arbitrary it is to separate male and female acting awards. “Just have black categories like Best Black Friend. ‘And the winner for the 18th year in a row is Wanda Sykes!'”
The Academy has pledged to make sweeping and historic changes to its membership and double the number of women and minority voters by 2020. After Rock’s monologue, they might not want to wait that long.