During the 88th Academy Awards host and comedian Chris Rock opened the ceremony with several jokes pointing to a lack of diversity, blatantly admitting that this would be the second year in a row that only white actors were nominated.
Diversity seemed to be the theme of the evening, subtle at times and at other timesin the form not-so-subtle racist jokes causing uncomfortable silences and an awkward mixture of chuckles and obligational applause.
Some might say that Chris Rock was chosen as this year’s host because they felt the need to compensate for the lack of African American actors nominated. While the jokes made by Rock and other presenters may have been making light of the black struggle, others could argue that Rock was trying to bring awareness to the issue as he referred to the Academy Awards as the “white people’s choice awards.”
As the show carried on, the skits started to make the show even more uncomfortable. These short reenactments were of some of the films nominated, but were redone with black actors inserted into the scenes.
Whoopi Goldberg made an appearance in the reenactment of “Joy,” in which she boldly stated, “A black actor would have to invent the cure for cancer in order to get her own TV movie.”
Later, in their new version of “The Martian,” Rock took the place of Matt Damon’s character. He briefly discussed the cost of bringing him back down to Earth with co-star Kristen Wiig, referring to him only as “black astronaut” before deciding that $2500 would cost too much to bring a “black astronaut” back. While the audience laughed, this seemed very insensitive and a bit shocking for such a mainstream event as the Oscars.
The level of discomfort culminated when Rock introduced Stacey Dash as the new “director of their minority outreach program,” at which point Dash stumbled out and said, “I cannot wait to help my people out. Happy black history month.”
This comes after her recent controversial comments about the BET network and Black History Month, stating that there should be no Black History Month because, “We have to make up our minds. Either we want to have segregation or integration. We’re Americans. Period. That’s it.”
I think she makes an excellent point, but some critics argue that her comments were inappropriate, accusing her of not supporting the struggle that African Americans face to receive equal representation in the entertainment industry.
A final racially-laced joke occurred during the Oscars “Black History Month Minute,” a short segment where noteworthy African American director and actress Angela Bassett introduced a man who “has long been an inspiration to his people.”
Surprisingly, the actor ended up being Jack Black, which at first I took as a joke that they could not find a talented enough black actor to recognize for this honor. They could also be saying that we are all people, similar to Dash’s message that we are all Americans and should not be categorized.
While “Mad Max,” which won six awards and “Spotlight,” which won Best Picture, were the obvious big-winners during Sunday evening’s Oscars, diversity was the true star of the show.
Even Leonardo DiCaprio’s highly-anticipated first Oscar win for his role in “The Revenant” was out-shined by the issue of diversity. I believe that this year’s Oscars did do a good job of having a diverse mix of nominees and presenters, despite the controversy surrounding the issue. There were many international winners, some of which did not even speak English, and the presenters throughout the evening could not have been more diverse as there were men and women from all walks of life.
The Oscars did a good job of recognizing social issues by using this global platform to raise awareness, but they could have chosen a more tasteful route with their choice in jokes and commentary.