This year’s Academy Awards had the potential to be an angry affair. The #OscarsSoWhite controversy – a reaction to the lack of a single black nominee – had clouded the run up to the annual ceremony, with activists planning protests and some stars boycotting the event.
It could have been a difficult or awkward watch, but, thanks to host Chris Rock, it was neither.
Rock’s opening monologue was highly anticipated. We knew he wouldn’t be side-stepping the issues at the heart of this year’s debate. He eschewed the high drama that sometimes accompanies the Oscars opener – Seth MacFarlane’s boob dance, anyone? – for a simple speech, where he managed to cleverly balance laughs with a serious message.
“If they nominated hosts I wouldn’t even get this job,” he joked. The well judged opening number continued with the question “Why this Oscars?” On at least 71 occasions there have been no black nominees, he said, adding that back in the 60s “we were too busy being raped and lynched to care who won best cinematographer.”
He went on to quip that the ‘in memorandum’ section this year was “just going to be black people who were shot by the cops on their way to the movies,” before saying it how he sees it: “You’re damn right Hollywood’s racist. Hollywood is sorority racist.”
“But things are changing,” he remarked. “We want opportunity. That’s it. Leo gets a great part every year. What about the black actors?”
The rest of the ceremony followed that theme, acknowledging an inherent issue, but choosing not to focus on it in an aggressively negative way.
Actor Kevin Hart, too, ensured we didn’t get bogged down in the #OscarsSoWhite controversy. “I want to take a moment to applaud all of my actors and actresses of colour that didn’t get nominated tonight,” he said. “The reason why I say that is because I want them to understand that tonight should not determine the hard work and effort that you put into your craft. At the end of the day we love what we do and we’re breaking major ground doing it. These problems of today will eventually become problems of the old. Let’s not let this negative issue of diversity beat us.”
The Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs was also in attendance to reiterate the evening’s message: that change is necessary. “With opportunity comes responsibility,” she said, adding that “everyone in the Hollywood community has a role to play” in accurately portraying the global, diverse audience. “It’s not enough to listen and agree. We must take action.”
With category presenters and award winners joining in to have their say, this was always going to be an evening wedded to issues with diversity. But tonight’s Oscars ceremony managed to be truthful, daring and thought provoking, without overshadowing what is the industry’s biggest, brightest celebration of film.