Chris Rock nails it.

Chris Rock Credit Patrick T. Fallon for The New York Times

The only thing I was looking forward to in this year’s Oscar broadcast is Chris Rock’s opening monologue. And it’s the only portion of the program I watched, which I suspect is what millions of people did, I hope we didn’t make it into the Nielson ratings as people who ‘watched’ the Oscars, because I can’t tell you a single thing that happened after the opening monologue.

Though not quite at the level of Richard Pryor, Chris Rock’s natural observation skills of people, society, racism, sexism and everything in between can be thought provoking (on top of being lewd and crude). His particular gift at pointing out the absurdities of life and ridiculousness of people added with his special method of delivery is always entertaining and funny. While Ricky Gervais can be unnecessarily rude and cutting, even to a bunch of over-privileged Hollywood brats, some of his jokes cuts too close to home. It’s not the job of the comedian to be sensitive about the subjects of his jokes, but (in my view), there should be a line somewhere, however far past the acceptable mark, it shouldn’t be crossed. Chris Rock, on most occasions can find that line without seeming as if he’s playing it safe.

Chris Rock was announced as the host of the The Academy Awards ceremonies before the Oscar nominations were announced. It was rumored that when the #OscarSoWhite controversy came to light, he threw out all of his preparations and started over, he refused to confirm or deny this but from the content of the opening monologue last night, it’s very obvious this is what he did. It’s a very sanitized version of what his normal comedy routine would be. The only word which can be considered  as remotely inappropriate would be “ass” and it wasn’t bleeped out so it must have been allowed.

He made his points in one, two, three punches. No one of importance was spared. I’d argue Will Smith got the harshest treatment when Chris Rock said “It’s also not fair that Will was paid $20 million for ‘Wild Wild West’ O.K.?” and proceeded to continue to skewer the Pinkett-Smiths:

Jada is going to boycott the Oscars — Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.

Oh, that’s not an invitation I would turn down.

Chris Rock is pointing out the irony of the Pinkett-Smiths’ boycott, they are arguably one of the most powerful Hollywood couples and Will Smith is one of the most successful actors of his generation with multiple Oscar nominations under his belt and generated hundreds of millions at the box office. Perhaps the #OscarSoWhite outrage should be reserved for minority actors who have not enjoyed his level of success.

Of course the burning question of the night is whether Chris Rock thinks Hollywood is “racist”, to which he had the best response:

Is Hollywood racist? Is Hollywood racist?

You know, that’s a…you gotta go at that at the right way.

Is it burning-cross racist? No.

Is it fetch-me-some-lemonade racist? No. No, no, no.


You’re damn right Hollywood is racist. But it ain’t that racist that you’ve grown accustomed to.

Hollywood is sorority racist.

It’s like, “We like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.”

This type of “sorority” or what I refer to as country club racism is not confined to Hollywood. It’s become the new mainstream racism. Slights – real or perceived, microaggressions so small that only the most fine tuned of sensibilities can detect it. Blink and you miss it. Important projects and opportunities coming up which is not relayed to non-white people ‘accidentally on purpose’ until it’s too late. Emails and bulletins regarding important meetings and team building conferences didn’t get sent out by ‘mistake’, but somehow all the white people knew about it: “Oh you didn’t know? I am sooooo sorry, I thought you knew” – type of thing. Racism that is impossible to prove and if you point it out, you get accused of stirring the pot and being oversensitive.

Chris Rock also called out the double standard demanded by Hollywood A-listers, specifically the #AskHerMore nonsense, started by Reese Witherspoon where actresses should be asked about more than who made their dress and who their stylist is. This is particularly hypocritical. Hollywood awards season (roughly September – February) every year has become a de facto fifth season for fashion. It’s when fashion designers beg A-list actresses to wear their newest off-the-runway frocks. It’s free advertisement for them and it’s become its own industry. It’s when most of the revenues in the Hollywood styling, hair, makeup, plastic surgery (botox injections and the like) and any other beauty related services are generated. And Reese Witherspoon fully participates in this. She often shows up to award shows in fashion’s latest and greatest looking fabulous, groomed within an inch of her life. If she doesn’t want people to ask about her dress and who she’s wearing, she can maybe show up to award shows in off-the-rack purchases like like Meryl Streep who buys her clothes at Bergdorf’s or Saks the week before, or like Diane Keaton who wears her own unique and whacky style of clothing; she will get polite stares over her shoulder and no one will ask her where she got her dress. Chris Rock had this response:

Everything’s not sexism, everything’s not racism.

They ask the men more because the men are all wearing the same outfits, O.K.? Every guy in there is wearing the exact same thing.

You know, if George Clooney showed up with a lime green tux on, and a swan coming out his ass, somebody would go, “What you wearing, George?”

In the few moments of seriousness, Chris Rock indirectly mentioned the Black Lives Matter movement by saying the In Memoriam section should honor the black people who were shot by police on the way to watch a movie. This comment drew uncomfortable cringes and shifting in seats but he didn’t care. Tonight is not a night to worry about political correctness or white fragility.

And addressing the lack of black presence on Hollywood screens:

What I’m trying to say is, you know, it’s not about boycotting anything. It’s just, we want opportunity. We want black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors.

That’s it. Not just once. Leo gets a great part every year and, you know, everybody, all you guys, get great parts all the time.

But what about the black actors?

One can’t argue with that.

I vacillate between he didn’t go far enough and pushing far enough to make everyone just uncomfortable. It seems as if he wanted to respect the solemnity of the protest in the black community and also the occasion itself. He wanted to state his points and get his message across clearly but he didn’t want the audience to get hung up on the punchlines. It’s a very delicate balance.

The full transcript of his opening monologue is here.

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