Why Chris Rock was the best thing about this year's Oscars

The Oscars are always a momentous occasion. It’s where all the big names in Hollywood join together, dresses are judged, awards are won, and everyone watching gets to imagine what it would be like to be an A-lister for the night. But this year the Oscars glamour has been overshadowed by the question that has been bandied around a lot lately, ‘Is Hollywood racist?’. This was a talking point in both the run up, and during the ceremony, with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite beginning to trend on twitter from the moment the nominations were announced.

A focal talking point of the night was of course Chris Rock, who was the ceremony’s host. As expected by the viewers, he addressed this question about race directly within his opening monologue. Of course, he used humour to discuss the issue and lighten the mood for the audience, but behind the jokes he made some very serious and valid points about racism in Hollywood.

Chris began his monologue by jokingly referring to the awards as the ‘White People’s Choice Awards’, and commenting that ‘if the Academy nominated hosts then I would never have got the job, you’d be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now’. He then went on to address why, during the 88th Academy Awards, race had suddenly become an issue. His proposal for this was that black people had bigger things to worry about in past years, not just who was up for best cinematographer. Although his points occasionally took on a morbid theme in discussing the prejudice that black people have faced for many years, the audience seemed to accept the humorous tone, only appearing to hesitate when he joked about ‘black people getting shot by cops on the way to the movies’.

Chris also brought an argument about gender into his speech, suggesting  – tongue firmly in cheek – that one way to give black actors the opportunity to be nominated would be to ‘create black categories’. He went on to say that ‘you already do it with men and women, and there’s no real reason for there to be a ‘men’ and ‘women’ category in acting’, which judging by the reactions of the audience, struck a chord amongst people.

Although some people did take offence at Chris’ speech, particularly the ‘Asian American joke’ which caused a media backlash, most people acknowledged that he had successfully managed to introduce a controversial subject, and draw attention to a serious issue that needs addressing. He managed to provide a topical insight, whilst also being entertaining. Being offensive was not the point of his speech. It also wasn’t a demand for black actors to be nominated for the sake of it. It was a demand for equal opportunity between races, and it was a point well made.

Lucy Drinkwater

Image courtesy of Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

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