In an opening monologue that was equal parts searing, hilarious, and thoughtful, comedian Chris Rock tackled the question of diversity at the Oscars, gently ribbing those who had decided to boycott the awards over race but then skewering the “Hollywood racism” that means black actors still have few opportunities in film.
Rock, known for his frank commentary on race, dove right into the controversy surrounding the Oscars after a second year in which all 20 nominees for the acting awards are white.
“I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the white people’s choice awards,” Rock said. Clad in a white tuxedo, the comedian told the crowd that if Oscar hosts were nominated like people in the acting categories, they would be watching Neil Patrick Harris instead.
But Rock also poked fun at pressure put on him not to host the awards.
“How come there’s only unemployed people to tell you to quit something?” he said. “They’re not gonna cancel the Oscars because I quit.”
Rock pointed out that this was the 88th Academy Awards, “which means this whole no black nominees thing has happened at least 71 other times.”
“And black people didn’t protest, why? Because we had real things to protest at the time,” Rock said. “You know, too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer.”
“When your grandmother’s swinging from the tree, its really hard to care about best documentary foreign short,” he went on, drawing laughter and murmurs.
It’s not of the same gravity, Rock suggested, but racism in cinema still hurts. He equated “Hollywood racism” with “sorority racism,” in which a girl is deemed ‘‘not Kappa material.’’
Still, he also sent up the public boycott called for by several black actors and filmmakers.
“Jada [Pinkett Smith] boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties,” Rock said. “I wasn’t invited!”
About her husband, Will Smith, whose best picture snub for his role in “Concussion” drew heavy criticism, Rock said, “It’s not fair that Will was this good and didn’t get nominated.”
“It’s also not fair that Will was paid 20 million for ‘Wild Wild West.’ ”
Turning back to diversity, Rock said simply, “We want opportunity. We want black actors to get the same opportunities.”
“You want diversity? We got diversity,” he concluded. “Please welcome Emily Blunt, and somebody whiter, Charlize Theron.”