Chris Rock transforms Oscars into biting racial commentary

Tue Mar 1, 2016 12:18pm EST
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By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comedian Chris Rock launched his return stint as Oscar host on Sunday by immediately and unabashedly confronting the racially charged elephant in the room - the furor over the all-white field of performers nominated for Hollywood's highest honors.

In an opening monologue peppered with biting commentary about what he described as "sorority"-style discrimination pervading the film industry, Rock set the stage for a night of running gags that repeatedly returned to themes of racial politics.

In doing so, he transformed a glittering awards show long known for self-reverential pomp into a 3 1/2-hour live ABC telecast punctuated by withering satire riffing on issues of inclusion and diversity raised by the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite social media campaign and the Black Lives Matter movement.

But the issue of race was just one element that made the 88th edition of the Academy Awards likely to go down as one of the most socially conscious shows in Oscar history. Messages ranged from Vice President Joe Biden's special appearance urging a stand against sexual violence on college campuses to best actor winner Leonardo DiCaprio's impassioned appeal to take care of the planet.

The difference in tone was evident from the start. Strolling on stage in a white dinner jacket and bow tie, Rock welcomed the audience to a show "otherwise known as the white People's Choice awards," adding, "You realize if they nominated hosts, I wouldn't even get this job."

From that moment on, it was clear Rock would be pulling no punches, and that his no-holds-barred message could help the film Academy come to grips with its diversity problem.

Wondering with mock bemusement why black people did not protest over a lack of Oscar diversity in the 1950s or '60s like they did this year, he answered his own question, "Because we had real things to protest at the time. We were too busy being raped and lynched then to care about who won best cinematographer."


Comedian Chris Rock hosts the 88th Academy Awards. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni