Last week’s Oscars went better than anyone could have predicted. The nominees were all still white, which has generated plenty of deserved controversy.
Controversy, however, became the bedrock of the 88th Oscars, or the “White People’s Choice Awards” as Chris Rock described it. Many of the celebrity audience spent their time onstage touting change, and not just in Hollywood.
Chris Rock’s purported ‘dismissiveness’ was wildly uncomfortable, and purposely so. A black comedian explaining that people didn’t complain about the “whiteness” of the awards the past seventy-one other times this has happened because they had real problems such as raping and lynching doesn’t make you sigh with relief.
Chris Rock took the common argument that the issue was being overblown and turned it around to highlight that racism involves much more than just the Oscars’ voting party.
The In Memoriam package is “just going to be black people that were shot by the cops on their way to the movies,” Chris joked.
Chris wasn’t done, chastising Hollywood for the bigger problem of black roles in film.
“If you want black people every year at the Oscars, just have categories like Best Black Friend,” he explained, adding that Wanda Sykes would probably have won 18 years in a row.
There isn’t a much better way to open this year’s Oscars. Chris Rock mentioned the argument that he should have never shown up in the first place, and join the boycott with Spike Lee, Jada Pinkett Smith, and others. If he’d quit, however, he wouldn’t have been able to stand over the Oscars like a parent scolding a child.
The more uncomfortable Chris Rock’s jokes became, the more open the awards show seemed.
It was this openness that helped other celebrities bring the same or other issues to the table.
Sacha Baron Cohen nailed that same uncomfortable tone as his character Ali G, explaining that he wanted better representation for the little yellow guys, “the Minions.”
Leonardo Dicaprio went on a tangent about global warming and the big polluters of today’s industries.
Joe Biden arrived to decry sexual assaults on college campuses before introducing survivor Lady Gaga.
In the last award of the night, the cast of Spotlight (a movie about church cover-ups in child assault cases involving clergy members) hoped their message would sound all the way to the Vatican.
A cynic could probably argue that some of the other celebrities were selfishly excusing themselves from the issue at hand by bringing up entirely unrelated issues, and there might be a hint of truth to that.
Marlon Brando, to his merit, declined his Oscar when he sent Sacheen Littlefeather to speak on the misrepresentation of American Indians and the then ongoing siege of Wounded Knee. This year’s celebrities still collected their awards, despite new revelations about the voting party.
The Oscars are a private industry award show, but it’s celebrity, and the awards directly parallel opinions we ourselves might have. We can draw up our own win-lists for best actors and films. We can watch our favorite actors laugh and sit next to each other.
Too many people treat the Oscars like it actually matters at the end of the day, so if the winners are going to expose television audiences to real issues, that’s a good step.
Of course, Hollywood needs to put its money where its mouth is. If the 110th Oscars involves a predominantly white audience applauding themselves for speaking out about social issues, people might catch on.