USA TODAY US Edition
Chris Rock gave the Oscars what it needed — and what it deserved
This year the Oscar folks knew what was coming — and knew they had it coming.
After all, give a comic as sharp and smart as Chris Rock a target like this year’s all-white slate of acting nominees, and surely everyone in the audience for Sunday’s Academy Awards had to realize he’d hit it and hit it hard. There’s a good chance Oscar voters were hoping he would: This was their shot at a ritual cleansing, or flogging — a kind of mass penitential rite.
If that is indeed what they wished for, boy, did they get it.
And right from the start, too. Rock walked out after the opening of ABC’s broadcast and laced right into the issue. “I counted at least 15 black people in that montage. 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.”
Anyone thinking Rock would slam the academy’s voters alone probably has never heard Rock’s stand-up routine: He looks for multiple sides of an issue, and multiple ways to make everyone uncomfortable. So he made fun of the protesters as well, pointing out that African-Americans didn’t protest similar “whiteouts” in the ’60s because they were “too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer.”
Even from home, you could tell there were people at the Dolby Theatre applauding that joke who had clearly missed the uncomplimentary point (the Oscars aren’t important enough to get riled up about) — or were just hoping they were off the hook. They weren’t. Spreading the blame to both sides does not mean you’re equating both sides, or excusing either one.
If he was, he would not have gone on to flat-out call Hollywood “racist.” Or to say that the entire “In Memoriam” segment would consist of “just black people who were shot by the cops on their way to the movies.” Or to keep slipping in digs at Oscar-related racial issues pretty much every time he appeared.
The sense of urgency Rock brought to his hosting duties seemed to energize (though, sadly, not shorten) the entire evening. Not that he did it all on his own: Lady Gaga helped with a performance of Til It Happens to You that brought the crowd to its feet.
Along with a new host, the Oscars this year got new producers, David Hill and Reginald Hudlin, who brought with them a few new ideas. The most obvious — and obviously worst: running a “thank you” scroll on screen as some of the winners spoke, and rushing those winners off with the Ride of the Valkyries. The music was merely disrespectful; the scroll was idiotic, and not just because it rolled by too quickly and was ignored by the winners (as it should have been) too often. Winning an Oscar is actually sort of the entire point of the evening; let the winners have their moment, and for heaven’s sake, let them show a little gratitude.
Still, the more important change was something the producers could not control: the controversy and unhappiness this year’s slate of nominees produced. Did Rock come back to that point more often than may have been wise and more often than some watching at home may have liked? Perhaps. But considering how boring some hosts have been, it was a nice change of pace to have one who was angry.
Not to mention funny, pointed and gasp-inducing.
And yes, the Oscars had it coming.