Race and inclusion were virtually co-hosts of the 88th annual Academy Awards ceremony Sunday, where the lack of diversity in Hollywood was a recurring and often biting theme inserted between the awarding of golden Oscar statuettes. That was due in large part to this year’s host, comedian Chris Rock, who took his colleagues to task for claiming to be progressives and yet continually failing to make movies more representative of the increasingly diverse U.S.
The Oscars may be “so white,” as users of the trending social media hashtag rightly extolled. But Rock and others put people of color front and center throughout the broadcast, even if none were nominated for awards by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
“Is Hollywood racist? You’re damn right Hollywood is racist,” said Rock, 51, who is African-American, during his opening monologue. “But not the racist you’ve grown accustomed to. It’s sorority racist. It’s like, ‘We like you Ronda, but you’re not a Kappa.’ That’s how Hollywood is.”
For the second year in a row, the actors and actresses nominated for Oscars were all white. While there had been outcry from black, Latino and Asians entertainers and community leaders in 2015, it was this year that several stars announced plans to skip the ceremony to send a message about the lack of racial diversity in Hollywood.
Those stars included actress Jada Pinkett Smith, whose husband, Will Smith, did not receive a nomination for his starring role in “Concussion.” But the Smiths’ absence was noticed and chided a few times throughout the Oscars telecast. Filmmaker Spike Lee was also absent, but received a shoutout for being among honorees at the academy’s Governors Awards last November. Instead of attending the ceremony, several stars were in Flint, Michigan, for an event to highlight the city’s water crisis. Civil rights leaders, led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, staged multicity rallies ahead of the telecast to call for more inclusion in the film and TV industry.
April Reign, creator of the social media hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, this weekend encouraged those concerned about Hollywood’s diversity problem to tune out of the telecast. It was unclear late Sunday whether the broadcast’s ratings suffered because of the swirling race issue.
Amid the controversy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the academy president, who is African-American, launched a multiyear reform effort to change the organization’s membership recruitment. During Sunday’s broadcast, Boone Isaacs said the academy had heard its critics loud and clear. “It’s not enough to listen and agree,” she said. “I am confident that together we can shape a future in which we can all be proud.”
In between sobering acknowledgements of Hollywood’s race problem, Rock and others injected humor into their criticisms. Actress Angela Bassett starred in a “Black History Month Minute” segment that chided Will Smith, by recognizing the white actor Jack Black, who co-starred in three of Smith’s most well-known films. The African-American actress and Fox News contributor Stacey Dash, who recently sparked controversy for trashing Black History Month and BET, appeared on the Oscars stage to wish attendees a happy Black History Month. Before “Creed” actor Michael B. Jordan appeared onstage, Rock referred to him as the “should-have-been nominee.”
Actor and comedian Kevin Hart, whom Rock jokingly introduced as next year’s Oscars host, took a moment during the telecast to salute actors and actresses of color who were not nominated for awards. “Tonight should not determine the hard work that you put into your craft,” Hart said, after asking the audience to give those absent performers a round of applause. “Let’s continue to do what we do best,” he added.
— Nicki Mayo (@nickimayonews) February 29, 2016
Shoutouts to Asians and Latinos, who are even more underrepresented in films than African-Americans, according to recent studies, seemed to be missing from the Oscars telecast. That is, until Rock jokingly introduced Asian-American children as stand ins for PricewaterhouseCoopers, the auditing firm that tabulates academy members’ votes on nominations.
The actors’ diversity criticisms are far from baseless. A recent damning report by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found many racial groups are simply absent from big and little screens.
The U.S. population of 318 million is half male, half female and nearly 40 percent nonwhite, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But about 50 percent of the 414 films and TV series examined by USC researchers did not cast an Asian or Asian-American character. Twenty percent of the content did not include a black character, according to the study.
Alejandro G . Iñárritu, the Mexican director of the film “Revenant,” was the only person of color awarded in a major Oscar category Sunday. During his acceptance speech, the director acknowledged that others like him didn’t have “the same luck” as he had in the last year.
“What a great opportunity to our generation to really liberate ourselves from all prejudice and, you know, this tribal thinking, and make sure for once and forever that the color of the skin becomes as irrelevant as the length of our hair,” Iñárritu said.
Rock returned to the stage at the end of the broadcast to the tune of rap group Public Enemy’s song “Fight the Power” and exclaimed “black lives matter” before signing off.