When the controversy over the lack of diversity in Academy Award acting nominations erupted, Chris Rock came under considerable pressure to back out of his commitment to host the Oscars show. Last night, Rock made it clear why he decided to stay. In a scathing 10-minute riff (transcribed by the New York Times), Rock ripped Hollywood on its biggest night of the year, declaring “you’re damn right Hollywood is racist”:
Even Barack Obama wasn’t safe from Rock’s condemnation. The comedian recalled a Hollywood fundraiser for Obama, and Rock’s amazement that Obama couldn’t figure out the kind of people to whom he allied himself — “liberals” who “don’t hire black people”:
So, at some point you get to take a picture with the president, and, you know as they’re setting up the picture you get a little moment with the president.
I’m like, “Mr. President, you see all these writers and producers and actors? They don’t hire black people, and they’re the nicest, white people on earth! They’re liberals! Cheese!”
That’s right. Is Hollywood racist? You’re damn right Hollywood is racist.
However, Rock argued, it’s not “burning-cross” or “fetch-me-some-lemonade” racist. It’s more subtle, Rock told the world from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences stage, a clear sense of being shut out of the club:
Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like, “We like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.” That’s how Hollywood is.
The power structure of Hollywood was not the only target of the monologue. Rock also took aim at the boycotters, and especially Jada Pinkett Smith, whose husband Will Smith got passed over for a nomination despite good reviews for Concussion. Her complaints of unfairness weren’t exactly reaching sympathetic ears with Rock:
Jada is going to boycott the Oscars — Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited. Oh, that’s not an invitation I would turn down.
But I understand, I’m not hating. I understand you mad. Jada’s mad her man Will was not nominated for “Concussion.” I get it, I get it. Tell the truth. I get it, I get it. You get mad — it’s not fair that Will was this good and didn’t get nominated.
Yeah, you’re right. It’s also not fair that Will was paid $20 million for “Wild Wild West.” O.K.?
New York Post film critic Kyle Smith hailed Rock for delivering on the promise of stand-up comedy as the tent pole for the Oscars:
Chris Rock is the guy who once did a skit called “How Not to Get Your Ass Kicked by the Police,” which instructed black men they were unlikely to suffer police brutality if they minded their manners. Rock’s contrarian credentials are strong. Even so, his pointed, witty and thoughtful opening monologue at the Oscars was surprisingly rangy: Instead of picking one side or the other, he nailed both.
Rock did exactly what comics are supposed to do: wrap the truth in an irresistible joke. He made both smug white Hollywood liberals and angry black protesters look bad. …
It would have been easy for Rock to point out that the academy’s voters are old and white and out of touch, but that would have been letting them off too easy. Instead, he coined a useful phrase that deftly captured the combination of clubbiness and condescension that rules the academy: “Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like: ‘We like you, Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.’ ” Ouch.
Yet Rock also underlined the senselessness of boycotts when he pointed out that if he had resigned as host, the Oscars would have gone on anyway (and would have very easily found another black person to host).
Moreover, why should he pass up an opportunity for a great gig because of the armchair social-justice posturing of whiny losers? “How come,” asked Rock, “it’s only unemployed people who tell you to quit something?”
However, this joke has a few people wondering whether Rock should take his own advice:
This kid had me cracking up, just fantastic pic.twitter.com/rzMSrMrGMH
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) February 29, 2016
During Sunday night’s Academy Awards broadcast, host Chris Rock brought three young Asian Americans on stage for a joke — but not all viewers were laughing.
It was a joke that involved a stereotype about Asians being good at math (the three children were introduced as PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants with Asian- and Jewish-sounding names), but ended with Rock saying onstage, “If anybody’s upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone, which was also made by these kids.”
Not everyone appreciated that gag, as NBC notes by pulling tweets from Asian-Americans. Rock had an answer for that, too, in his monologue, reminding viewers that “everything’s not about race … Everything’s not sexism, everything’s not racism.” That might be a good message for public scolds to learn.