Chris Rock’s Opening Monologue – What should we think?

Oscar host uses comedic sketch to respond to claims that Hollywood is racist.
By Leah Ching, Staff Writer

HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 26:  Presenter Chris Rock speaks onstage during the 84th Annual Academy Awards held at the Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2012 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

HOLLYWOOD, CA – FEBRUARY 26: Presenter Chris Rock speaks onstage during the 84th Annual Academy Awards held at the Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

The Academy Award is one of Hollywood’s most prestigious, and features a night of celebration watched eagerly by media consumers around the world. This year, the awards show was embroiled in controversy surrounding the lack of diversity in nominees. High profile celebrities such as Jada Pinkett-Smith, her husband Will, and Director Spike Lee boycotted the event to protest the inherent systemic racism in Hollywood, starting a movement on social media entitled #OscarsSoWhite.

Black actor and comedian Chris Rock hosted the awards show this year, using the opening monologue as a tool to address racism and lack of diversity in the industry, with many critics noting that instead of addressing the issue in a reputable fashion, Rock trivialized and reduced the systemic racism raised by actors like Pinkett-Smith to satire.

Others praised Rock, who keenly admitted that the Oscars were indeed racist, not as racist as antebellum era slavery, but comparable to sorority-type-exclusion.

Drawing parallels to sorority exclusion, Rock said – “Is Hollywood racist? You’re damn right. But Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like, ‘We like you, Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.’”

In one of his main jokes, pulled the punches on actors like Will and Jada who boycotted the event. He said

“Why all the protests this year? This is the 88th Academy Awards and I’m sure this has happened at least 71 times before. I’m sure there were years in the ’50s and ’60s where black people didn’t get nominated. But we had better things to protest. We were too busy getting raped and lynched to care who was up for best cinematographer. When your grandma is swinging from a tree, it’s kind of hard to get worked up about best foreign film.”

Funny to some, this was seen by others as a form of trivialization. One Media Information Technology graduate named Connor McLean provided commentary to The Argus about Rock’s humour and the fine line between humour and trivialization.

“Rock teeters this line well. He knows he’s going to raise some folks’ hairs, but he does it anyways, probably to garner a reaction from the crowd, because that’s what comedy entails these days. It’s just enough to be humorous, but also dangerously enough to be complacent with the colonial mind-set that preaches that blacks should ‘shut-up-and-be-gratefu’l that things aren’t as bad as they once were. We see this rhetoric employed with women, blacks, and lots of other disenfranchised groups… We see black kids being shot up every day by cops in the U.S. Things may not be raping and lynching bad, but Rock is kidding himself when he acts like things are all fine and dandy.”

In responding to whether he thought Rock’s speech was offensive, McLean replied, “His monologue was offensive, yes. But more than that, it was self-deprecating. Rock is a rich, black man who has made himself a household name in the industry. Instead of acknowledging Hollywood racism and leaving it at that, he does so, but then goes as far as to berate and belittle the Smiths for failing to attend. He’s taking the focus off the systemic racism and making it seem as if Will Smith is creating a fuss because he didn’t get nominated for Concussion. The boycott wasn’t about Will not getting nominated; it was about all around lack of diversity. Was Will good enough to be nominated for Concussion? That doesn’t matter. His boycott drew attention to issues inherent in the industry, and challenged us to think deeply about how we consume and celebrate media, and what media we consume and celebrate. That’s important.”

California-based activist and slam poet, Matt Sedillo, agreed that there was nothing funny about the opener’s monologue. In a social media post, he succinctly summed up the ways in which a celebration like the Oscars embodied a celebration of wealth and success in the upper echelon (elite classes of the United States) by saying, “They are eating gold dust covered chocolates at Oscar pre-parties in a city where thousands sleep in the street.”

The Oscar’s boycott, problems with racism and Rock’s “comedic” montage may be contributing reasons why the show had the lowest ratings in eight years.

Fast & Furious star Tyrese Gibson laid into Oscars host Chris Rock after the comedian and actor used his opening monologue to mock the Smiths and their decision not to attend the ceremony. On Instagram, Gibson lambasted Rock for criticizing Jada Pinkett-Smith, not finding any humor in his monologue.

He wrote, “Did you really use your STAGE to tear down and diminish one of the strongest most fearless black women IN this town as the world watched??? Jokes are just jokes right???? Not when someone is trying to affect change……… Not when someone is willing to put it ALL on the line to affect change for our daughters and sons of the future. Shame on you Chris Rock.”

His words resonate deeply with those who feel the #OscarsSoWhite movement and the Oscars boycott was part of a larger struggle that blacks in America face in making their voices heard and to be represented equally alongside whites. The coming years will show how Hollywood, and the Oscars choose to respond to real problems of racism, sexism, lack of diversity, and discriminatory practice imbedded in the industry.

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