Coming into the 2016 Academy Awards, the world has been waiting with bated breath to see how host Chris Rock will handle the contention surrounding the #OscarsSoWhite call-to-arms concerning diversity (or the lack thereof) in Hollywood.
Following the announcement of this year’s nominations, several A-listers officially boycotted the Oscars — Jada Pinkett Smith led the charge — upon learning, for the second year in a row, that all of the acting nominees are white.
Explained Pinkett Smith in a video she shared via Twitter, “Begging for acknowledgment or even asking diminishes dignity and diminishes power, and we are a dignified people and we are powerful. Let’s not forget it,” she said. “So let’s let the Academy do them with all the grace and love, and let’s do us differently.”
Leading up to the big night, though, Rock made no pretenses about the fact he didn’t necessarily share Pinkett Smith and husband Will Smith’s outrage — or at least not in the same capacity.
In fact, Rock tested material for his Oscars monologue at LA comedy clubs in the week leading up the show, and Smith’s acting served as a target for Rock’s comedic barbs. “Will Smith is complaining because he didn’t get nominated for Concussion,” Rock said in one set. “If he wants it all about merit, can we complain about the $20 million he got for Wild Wild West?”
Rock’s remarks about Pinkett Smith were reportedly even snarkier, with Rock saying, “Jada Pinkett Smith boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. You can’t boycott something no one invited you to.”
Understandably, viewers were interested to see if Rock would approach the subject with the same sort of tact once inside the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood for the award show.
And, well, he didn’t hold back.
Despite his relative radio silence on social media regarding the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, Rock didn’t shy away from the subject in his opening monologue. “I counted at least 15 black people on that montage!” he kicked things off, referencing the nostalgic clip played at the show’s start.
“Well, I’m here at the Academy Awards — otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards. You realize, if they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job. Y’all would be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now.”
Light-hearted enough, right? Only, it didn’t take long for Rock to dive headfirst into the Oscar boycott controversy.
“This is the wildest, craziest Oscars to even host because we got all this controversy — no black nominees. And people are like, ‘Chris, you should boycott! Chris, you should quit! You should quit.’ How come it’s only unemployed people that tell you to quit something, you know? No one with a job ever tells you to quit. So I thought about quitting. I thought about it real hard, but I realized, ‘They’re gonna have the Oscars anyway.’ They’re not gonna cancel the Oscars because I quit. And the last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart, OK? I don’t need that.”
He went on to reference the fact that this is the first year the Oscars have officially been boycotted by people of color.
“Why? Because we had real things to protest at the time,” he iterated. “We were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won Best Cinematographer. When your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about the Best Documentary Short.”
But while Rock may have ruffled some feathers with that phrasing, he did agree that the industry is racist — a distinctive breed of racism, actually.
“You’re damn right Hollywood’s racist, but not the racist that you’ve grown accustomed to. Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like, ‘We like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.’ That’s how Hollywood is. But things are changing. Things are changing!”
Ultimately, Rock wrapped his monologue by spelling out exactly what he thought of the Oscars boycott.
“What I’m trying to say is it’s not about boycotting anything — it’s just we want opportunity. We want the black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors. That’s it! You know, not just once. Leo [DiCaprio] gets a great part every year. All you guys get great parts all the time. What about the black actors?”