Host Chris Rock rocks the Oscars

Free Press wire reports | 3/4/2016, 7:42 a.m.
Comedian Chris Rock launched his return stint as Oscar host Sunday by immediately and unabashedly confronting the racially charged elephant …
Chris Rock keeps the audience laughing at the Oscars on Sunday at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Chris Pizzello/Invision/Associated Press

Free Press wire reports


Comedian Chris Rock launched his return stint as Oscar host Sunday by immediately and unabashedly confronting the racially charged elephant in the room — the furor over the all-white field of performers nominated for Hollywood’s highest honor.

In an opening monologue peppered with biting commentary about what he described as “sorority” discrimination pervading the film industry, Mr. Rock set the stage for a night of running gags that repeatedly returned to themes of racial politics.

In doing so, he transformed a glittering awards show long known for self-reverential pomp into a 3½-hour live ABC telecast punctuated by withering satire riffing on issues of inclusion and diversity raised by the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite social media campaign and the Black Lives Matter movement.

But the issue of race was just one element that made the 88th edition of the Academy Awards likely to go down as one of the most socially conscious shows in Oscar history. Messages ranged from Vice President Joe Biden’s special appearance urging a stand against sexual violence on college campuses to best actor winner Leonardo DiCaprio’s impassioned appeal to take care of the planet.

The difference in tone was evident from the start. Strolling on stage in a white dinner jacket and bow tie, Mr. Rock welcomed the audience to a show “otherwise known as the white People’s Choice awards,” adding, “You realize if they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job.”

From that moment on, it was clear Mr. Rock would be pulling no punches, and that his no-holds-barred message could help the film Academy come to grips with its diversity problem.

Wondering with mock bemusement why black people did not protest over a lack of Oscar diversity in the 1950s or 1960s like they did this year, he answered his own question, “Because we had real things to protest at the time. We were too busy being raped and lynched then to care about who won best cinematographer.”

Mr. Rock did not confine his barbs to Hollywood alone. He drew one of his biggest laughs joking that the Oscars’ annual “in memoriam” montage tribute to deceased film luminaries would instead be devoted to “black people who were shot by the cops on their way to the movies.”

It was a motif that stretched beyond Mr. Rock’s monologue into bits of comedy in between award presentations. In one instance, he ventured in a tuxedo to the predominantly black Los Angeles suburb of Compton to ask several African-American movie goers outside a cinema whether they had seen various films nominated this year for best picture. Only one had.

However, all said they had seen the critically acclaimed hip-hop drama “Straight Outta Compton,” whose failure to earn a place in the best picture contest helped stoke the #OscarsSoWhite uproar.

One of Mr. Rock’s most pointed comments on the subject was not a joke at all but a straightforward summation of the issue: “We want opportunity. We want the black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors. That’s it.”

In a more lighthearted comic moment, Mr. Rock, 51, invited members of his daughters’ Girl Scouts troop into the Dolby Theatre at mid-show to sell boxes of cookies to the seated stars. They ended up selling more than $65,000 worth of cookies.

The big winner of the night was “Spotlight,” the Catholic Church abuse movie that was named best picture. It traces the Boston Globe’s 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation of child sex abuse by Catholic priests. The movie also won best original screenplay.

“This film gave a voice to survivors, and this Oscar amplifies that voice, which we hope can become a choir that will resonate all the way to the Vatican,” said producer Michael Sugar.

Mexico’s Alejandro Inarritu nabbed the best directing Oscar for “The Revenant,” becoming the first filmmaker in more than 60 years to win back-to-back Academy Awards. Inarritu won in 2015 for “Birdman.”

“I (am) very lucky to be here tonight, but unfortunately many others haven’t had the same luck,” Mr. Inarritu said, expressing the hope that, in the future, skin color would become as irrelevant as the length of one’s hair.

“The Revenant” went into Sunday’s ceremony with a leading 12 nominations, and was among four movies believed to have the best chances for best picture after it won Golden Globe and BAFTA trophies.

The ambitious pioneer-era tale, shot in subzero temperatures, also brought a first Oscar win for its star Mr. DiCaprio, who got a standing ovation.

“I do not take tonight for granted,” Mr. DiCaprio said, taking the opportunity in his acceptance speech to urge action on climate change.

Rising star Brie Larson, 26, took home the statuette for best actress for her role as an abducted young woman in indie movie “Room.”

Among surprises, Britain’s Mark Rylance beat presumed favorite and “Creed” actor Sylvester Stallone to win the Academy Award for best supporting actor for “Bridge of Spies.”

British singer Sam Smith’s theme song for the James Bond movie “Spectre” beat Lady Gaga’s sexual assault awareness ballad “Til It Happens to You” for best original song.

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander won best supporting actress for the transgender movie “The Danish Girl,” while documentary “Amy,” about the late and troubled British pop star Amy Winehouse, was also a winner.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” was the biggest winner, clinching six Oscars, but all were in technical categories such as costume, makeup and editing.