The impossible happened: Leonardo DiCaprio finally won an Oscar and the Academy owned up to its lack of diversity. The #OscarsSoWhite controversy emerged in the last couple of years, but the issue became even more pertinent this year when there were no actors of color nominated. After Neil Patrick Harris danced around the subject last year, the Academy chose straight-shooter Chris Rock to be this year’s host. When it was first announced that he would be hosting the Oscars for the second time, everyone knew Rock wouldn’t keep quiet about the Academy’s lack of diversity. However, the issue became more pressing when the nominations came out and Jada Smith announced that she was boycotting the Oscars and encouraged others to do so as well. In his opening monologue, Rock said that he seriously thought about boycotting but realized the show would go on either way. He decided to put his comedic talents to good use and make the diversity issue the main theme of the entire show, making it the most memorable Oscars of our lifetime.
Rock got real in his opening monologue, hiding meaningful hard-hitting quotes amidst jokes that made the mostly white audience extremely uncomfortable. He started off with some light jokes to relax the audience. He pointed out that this was the 88th Academy Awards and surely not the first time there were no black nominees. He asked the question many critics of the Oscars boycott posed: why this Academy Awards? Why were there no protests in the 50s and 60s when black people were probably not even allowed into the Oscars? He gave a concise answer : “we had real things to protest at the time, you know? We had real things to protest; you know, we’re too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer.” In other words, he was alluding to the fact that it is 2016 and Hollywood can no longer pretend to live in a post-racial world any longer. He described how Hollywood is racist, but not the type of racism everyone is accustomed to. It’s “sorority” racist. “We like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa,” Rock said. He calls out the white directors, screenwriters, actors and producers that are so nice and liberal, but still refrain from casting black actors in their movies most of the time. “What I’m trying to say is, you know, it’s not about boycotting anything, “Rock said. “It’s just, we want opportunity. We want black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors. That’s it. Not just once. Leo gets a great part every year and, you know, everybody, all you guys, get great parts all the time.”
The conversation did not end there. All throughout the show the theme of racism in Hollywood kept appearing. First, there were skits of black actors in the nominated films, including Rock adopting Matt Damon’s role in “The Martian” and being left on Mars to die by the NASA crew who “didn’t see any black astronaut.” Another crowd favorite was the “Black History Month Minute” where Angela Bassett commends an actor, whom we assume to be Will Smith, for his talent and at the end reveals she was referring to Jack Black, a crack at the Oscar’s tendency’s to award white actors over equally talented black actors. Rock also went to a movie theater in Compton to talk to moviegoers about the Oscars controversy. Most of the people he interviewed, who were all black except for one white male, hadn’t seen most of the Oscar nominated films. At the midpoint of the show the president of the Academy gave an empowering speech, urging the people in the theatre to make a difference in their fields, “it is not enough to listen and agree, we must take action.”
While for the most part the show ran smoothly, there were a couple of hiccups. The sound was cut off a couple of times, ironically while presenting the Oscar for best sound editing and most unfortunately when the winner for best film was being announced. A few presenters, such as Sasha Baron Cohen and Sarah Silverman, tried and failed to deliver diversity related jokes before presenting their awards. The famous minions presented the award for best-animated short film, and were met with a collective groan of frustration. There was an ill-timed joke about Stacey Dash, who recently proclaimed there should be no Black History Month, being the Academy’s new minority outreach director and wishing the audience a happy Black History Month. However, Rock’s jokes kept the audience engaged. He even brought his daughter’s Girl Scout troop along to sell cookies at the event, where they supposedly made over 65 thousand dollars.
The Oscars experimented with some new features including a pre-set list of names the winners wanted to thank, which would appear in a scrolling caption at the bottom of the screen as they approached the stage. This was obviously an attempt to shave off time from the acceptance speeches where the winners go on to thank all the members of their family and every elementary school teacher they ever had. Still the show went over time and lasted a total of three hours and 30 minutes because winners still ended up thanking everyone from the scrolling caption anyway.
Besides the infamous minions there were some other great cameos in the show including the bear from “The Revenant.” which sat in the audience and waved at the camera when the movie won best cinematography. Woody and Buzz Lightyear appeared to present an award 20 years after their first movie came out, reminding all of us how old we are. The beloved Star Wars droids, C-3PO and R2-D2, returned to the stage for the first time since 1978 along with their new companion BB-8.
The music performers, however, stole the show. First The Weeknd performed his hit “Earned it,” backed up by violinists and surrounded by modern dancers as a trapeze artist performed above him. Lady Gaga managed to top her jaw-dropping tribute to “The Sound of Music” at last year’s Oscar’s with her performance of “Til It Happens To You.” Vice president Joe Biden introduced Lady Gaga as “his friend” after delivering a speech related to the president’s “It’s on us” campaign to end sexual violence on college campuses. Gaga’s song was written for a documentary called “The Hunting Ground” about rape culture on college campuses. Gaga’s ballad is heartbreaking enough on it’s own but at the end of her performance she was surrounded by sexual violence survivors standing strong with messages written on their arms. The audience, both in theaters and at home, burst into tears.
Despite this show-stopping performance, Sam Smith took home the Oscar for his song “Writings on the Wall.” He thanked Lady Gaga and dedicated his award to the LGBT community around the world. The big winner of the night was “Mad Max: Fury Road” with a total of six Oscars. Alejandro Iñárritu became the first person to win best director twice in a row for his movie, “The Revenant” and he gave a hopeful speech about a world in the future where “the color of our skin is as irrelevant as the length of our hair.” Brie Larson won best actress for her role in “Room” and the patient Leonardo DiCaprio, after 19 years of losing, won best actor for his role in “The Revenant.” In his speech he thanked everyone who has helped him succeed throughout his entire acting career and proceeded to talk about climate change. “Spotlight,” in which Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo star as investigative journalists who uncover the web of pedophilic Catholic priests, won best feature film in a surprising turn of events. The night ended on a jolly note as Rock invited the audience to the BET awards in the summer and screamed “Black Lives Matter!” before the hip-hop classic “Fight the Power” played as the credits rolled, ending the night on the same note it began.