by Julian Spivey
If you’ve ever wondered why so many conservatives hate Hollywood or as they like to call it “Hollyweird” (yet they have Donald Trump as their front-runner) than look no further than Sunday night’s telecast of the 88th annual Academy Awards. With the running theme of the night being to call out the Academy’s lack of diversity, along with acceptance speeches calling out politicians, warning of continued climate change, being proud of one’s homosexuality and the biggest award of the night going to a film that calls out a religion’s refusal to do anything about the sexual abuse of children the night seemed to definitely have a liberal-bent to it. This is quite surprising from a ceremony that had been controversial going in for its lack of diversity.
Let’s get one thing straight before I continue – I don’t care if others found the show to be controversial or if they were irritated by aspects of it. I found the production from top-to-bottom to be one of the best Oscars telecasts I’ve seen and Chris Rock’s hosting and primarily his monologue instantly became one of the best emceeing jobs in the history of hosting award shows.
We all knew what was coming as far as Rock’s monologue and the likely lambasting of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy that has been the talk of the Oscars for two consecutive years without a single minority actor being nominated for an acting performance either year. Because of this the Academy took the rightful step in trying to diversify its voting body. Now, I should note that I thought the #OscarsSoWhite controversy was mostly much ado about nothing, because I believe the 20 acting nominations should go to those most deserving, regardless of race, and believe the Academy mostly gets things right, if you’re matching their nominations up with critical consensus of performances and films. I even wrote an article for this website after the nominations were announced discussing how I believed the controversy to be an overreaction. But, I still greatly anticipated Rock’s monologue, because I knew he would have some important points to make (despite not having a problem with a second straight year of nothing but white nominees I do see that Hollywood has a diversity problem when it comes to numbers of roles for minorities, among other things) and most importantly I knew Rock would be hilarious (which is often hit or miss with hosts of the ceremony).
Rock’s monologue was the most anticipated award show monologue ever and he didn’t disappoint. He was hilarious, truthful, edgy and controversial – the things that have always made him one of America’s finest stand-up comedians. Tina Fey, a brilliant comedian in her own right, said during a red carpet interview before the show that Rock was maybe “the greatest living stand-up right now” and he proved why during his monologue.
Rock came out swinging for the fences on the #OscarsSoWhite controversy with his very first joke being “I counted at least 15 black people in that montage,” after the ceremony opened with a montage highlighting the year in film. Rock continued, “I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards. If they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job. Neil Patrick Harris would be hosting.”
Rock’s edgiest jokes were his best and most humorous, because they hit on some important truths. I’m sure these are the jokes that probably made some watching from home instantaneously switch off their televisions because they couldn’t handle the truth (to quote a former Best Picture nominee). Rock mentioning why the lack of diversity in film is being brought up today and not, say, the ‘60s said: “We were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won Best Cinematography. When your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about Best Documentary, Foreign Short.” Later on he said the In Memoriam segment would “just be black people who were shot by cops on their way to the movies.”
Rock did a marvelous job mixing important takes on diversity in Hollywood with humor and came out entertaining those of us at home, while also making some in the audience at the Oscars, and the industry in general, uncomfortable. In this facet, he actually outdid Ricky Gervais’ running hosting stints at the Golden Globe Awards, where the British comedian does the same. The only difference between the two being Gervais never cares about anything and Rock seemed to care – at least on Sunday night – a great deal, as well he should have. He had an entire nation, and especially an entire race of people, watching him, depending on him and he knocked it out of the park.
The night’s theme of lack of black nominees came up again time and again throughout the night, including the hilarious segment where Whoopi Goldberg played a maid on the set of “Joy,” Tracy Morgan was “The Danish Girl” and Leslie Jones played the bear that mauls Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant.” Some of these segments didn’t work as well as others like when Rock went to a movie theater in Compton in which his interviewees didn’t seem to know any of the nominees. This hit at a point that it seems people of different races sometimes seem to mostly watch movies that star people who look like them, which makes no sense to me.
Kevin Hart also hit home the point of lack of diversity before introducing something or another (it’s a long telecast and I forgot) by congratulating all of the minority performers of the year who gave great performances, but weren’t honored. It was a nice moment, but kind of unnecessary given the terrific job Rock had done earlier. But, it had the feel of “if I’m going to be here, I’m going to give my two cents too,” which is understandable.
It wasn’t just the #OscarsSoWhite talk that I’m sure riled up the conservatives watching – the few who might have stayed tuned in following the opening – but periodically throughout the night came moments like when director/writer Adam McKay while accepting the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for “The Big Short” called out the Koch Brothers, among others, by saying, “If you don’t want big money to control government don’t vote for candidates who take money from big banks, oil or weirdo billionaires.” This might seem off-topic to some, but those people apparently didn’t watch “The Big Short,” about the financial crisis of 2008.
By the time, the show ended almost three hours later, though, McKay’s line was probably long forgotten and replaced by the more political tone of DiCaprio’s Best Actor acceptance speech for his performance in “The Revenant.” DiCaprio warned of continued climate change and the dangers of it for the future of our planet saying that “2015 was the warmest year ever recorded.” He ended by saying, “I feel so overwhelmed with gratitude, but there is a ticking clock out there and a sense of urgency. If you do not believe in climate change you do not believe in scientists and you will be on the wrong side of history.”
When he was finished I didn’t know whether or not he had just accepted an Oscar or declared his candidacy for President of the United States. I’m sure his taking the opportunity to take a stance on a political issue during his award acceptance led to groans from some, but ultimately it’s his night and he has the right to do what he wants with his time.
Then there was Sam Smith’s surprising win for Best Original Song for “Writing’s on the Wall” from the most recent James Bond film “SPECTRE” over Lady Gaga’s “Till It Happens to You” from “The Hunting Ground” where Smith erroneously claimed to be the first openly gay man to accept an Oscar saying that he read a quote from actor Ian McKellan saying no openly gay man had ever won. McKellan was referring to acting categories, as “Milk” screenwriter and openly gay man Dustin Lance Black won an Oscar in 2009.
In a moment that may have riled up particularly hateful and bigoted viewers Smith said, “I want to dedicate this to the LGBT community all around the world. I stand here tonight as a proud gay man, and I hope we can all stand together as equals one day.”
The top honor of the night, Best Picture, went to Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight” the true story of investigative journalists from Boston who broke the story of Catholic priests sexually abusing young people and how the Church covered it up. Going into the night “Spotlight” was one of the front-runners, but having only won one previous honor all night, for Original Screenplay, it may have come as a slight shocker that it beat out “The Revenant” for the top honor. With all of the other liberal moments throughout the night it probably didn’t bother people too much that a movie that somewhat takes on religion, even in a true story, won the night’s biggest award.
The only moment of the entire telecast that was really strange was the choice to play Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” during the show’s end credits. It was even a choice that confused Public Enemy emcee Chuck D, who tweeted shortly after the telecast, “The song Fight the Power is beyond me & the crew. The point of the song is a call to making change eventually, not just applauding the thought.” It seemed to be one last point proving message by the producers of the show, but it didn’t really fit with the entire night, in which performances from movies were played by the orchestra. However, had they chosen a performance from N.W.A., subject of one of last year’s most watched films “Straight Outta Compton,” and at the center of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy by only receiving a nomination for Best Original Screenplay (which was actually written by multiple white people), it would’ve seemed fitting and would’ve made a point – albeit maybe a subtler one than “Fight the Power.”
This country is likely at the most political it’s ever been and certainly at its most politically divisive since at least the Civil Rights Movement and possibly going back even as far as the Civil War. It shouldn’t be surprising that Hollywood’s biggest night decided to take stances, but for some in this country taking stances against what they view as normal is a controversial thing to do. I bet Fox News is going to be talking way more about the Oscars on Monday than it ever has before.