Great satire has always had the power to enact social change by exposing cultural follies. Sometimes that power has come as much from the moment and platform as from the satire itself. This year’s Oscars could not have been a more perfect platform for a very powerful message, not only about the present state of diversity in Hollywood, but about racial issues across America. And no one was more perfect for the occasion than comedian Chris Rock.
This year’s Oscars have been embroiled in controversy ever since the nominations revealed that the Oscars were #StillSoWhite, as, for the second year in a row, all of the nominated actors and actresses were white. Even critically acclaimed films like Straight Outta Compton and Creed, which told powerful African American stories, only earned nominations for white people—which SNL parodied earlier this year. The nominations lead to outcry over the continual lack of a minority presence, not only in The Academy, Hollywood’s most respected organization, but in the film industry overall, which still sees black actors as best suited for supporting, and often subservient, roles.
As a result of the controversy, Rock’s opening speech became the most eagerly awaited monologue in who knows how long. Rock has been known to satirize racial issues in his stand-up, and has never shied away from making subversive remarks. So, when he opened his speech by pointing out, “You realize if they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job. So y’all would be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now,” he made it clear that diversity in Hollywood is important for this very reason: It is important for diverse voices to tell diverse stories and bring up diverse issues, and no one could have done that on the Oscar stage this year but him…or, he joked, maybe Kevin Hart.
Rock brutally mocked white Hollywood for its lack of diversity—”It’s the 88th Academy Awards, which means this whole no black nominees thing has happened at least 71 other times.” But he didn’t just hit at white people. He also called out black actors and directors for their response to the controversy—”Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.” Then he stepped beyond Hollywood to critique America at large—”This year, in the ‘In Memoriam’ package, it’s just going to be black people that were shot by the cops on their way to the movies.”
At the heart of his monologue was the idea that, in a way, calling Hollywood racist does a disservice to the real racial problems faced by people in America every day. When talking about how white the Oscars used to be in the 50s and 60s, he said there was no controversy, because “We were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer. When your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about best documentary short.” He didn’t say this to belittle the current controversy, but to put it in perspective. To clarify, he later poised the question everyone has been talking about: Is Hollywood racist? “You gotta go at that the right way,” he suggested. “Is it burning-cross racist? No. Is it fetch-me-some-lemonade racist? No. No, no, no. It’s a different type of racist.” More specifically, he decided, “Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like, ‘We like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.’ But things are changing.”
Not every part of his show went over well. Despite all the talk of diversity, there was very little support for Latino and Asian filmmakers, and Rock even made what many saw as a tasteless joke perpetuating Asian stereotypes. But to focus only on Rock’s monologue is to watch a piece of satire that was perfectly timed and brilliantly disruptive. He asked the right types of questions in the right type of way, and made statements that will resonate across the industry. Because Hollywood was there to listen. Now, let’s hope they respond in kind.
Below is the transcript of his monologue from The New York Times.
Chris Rock: “Man, I counted at least 15 black people on that monitor. I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards.
You realize if they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job. So y’all would be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now.
But this is the wildest, craziest Oscars to ever host, because we’ve got all this controversy. No, no black nominees, you know, and people are like “Chris, you should boycott. Chris, you should quit. You should quit.”
How come there’s only unemployed people that tell you to quit something, you know? No one with a job ever tells you to quit.
So, I thought about quitting. I thought about it real hard. But, I realized, they’re gonna have the Oscars anyway. They’re not gonna cancel the Oscars because I quit. You know? And the last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart, O.K.?
I don’t need that. Kev right there — Kev makes movies fast. Every month. Porno stars don’t make movies that fast.
Now the thing is, Why are we protesting? The big question: Why this Oscars? Why this Oscars, you know?
It’s the 88th Academy Awards. It’s the 88th Academy Awards, which means this whole no black nominees thing has happened at least 71 other times. O.K.?
You gotta figure that it happened in the 50s, in the 60s — you know, in the 60s, one of those years Sidney didn’t put out a movie. I’m sure there were no black nominees some of those years. Say ’62 or ’63, and black people did not protest.
Why? Because we had real things to protest at the time, you know? We had real things to protest; you know, we’re too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer.
You know, when your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about best documentary foreign short.
But what happened this year? What happened? People went mad. Spike got mad, — got mad, and Jada went mad, and Will went mad. Everybody went mad, you know?
Jada got mad? Jada says she not coming, protesting. I’m like ain’t she on a TV show?
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.
But I understand, I’m not hating. I understand you mad. Jada’s mad her man Will was not nominated for “Concussion.” I get it, I get it.
Tell the truth. I get it, I get it. You get mad — it’s not fair that Will was this good and didn’t get nominated.
Yeah, you’re right. It’s also not fair that Will was paid $20 million for “Wild Wild West.” O.K.?
Thing, you know, this year, the Oscars, things are gonna be a little different. Things are going to be a little different at the Oscars. This year, in the In Memoriam package, it’s just going to be black people that were shot by the cops on their way to the movies.
Yes, yes. I said it. Alright?
Hey, if you want black nominees every year, you need to just have black categories. That’s what you need. You need to have black categories.
You already do it with men and women. Think about it: There’s no real reason for there to be a man and a woman category in acting.
C’mon. There’s no reason. It’s not track and field.
You don’t have to separate ’em. You know, Robert De Niro’s never said, “I better slow this acting down, so Meryl Streep can catch up.”
No, not at all, man. If you want black people every year at the Oscars, just have black categories like Best Black Friend.
That’s right. “And the winner for the 18th year in a row is Wanda Sykes. This is Wanda’s 18th Black Oscar.”
But here’s the real question. The real question everybody wants to know, everybody wants to know in the world is: 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.
It’s a different type of racist. Now, I remember one night I was at a fund-raiser for President Obama. A lot of you were there. And, you know, it’s me and all of Hollywood.
And it’s all of us there. And it’s about four black people there: me, uh, let’s see, Quincy Jones, Russell Simmons, Questlove. You know, the usual suspects, right? And every black actor that wasn’t working.
Needless, to say Kev Hart was not there. O.K.? So, at some point you get to take a picture with the president, and, you know as they’re setting up the picture you get a little moment with the president.
I’m like, “Mr. President, you see all these writers and producers and actors? They don’t hire black people, and they’re the nicest, white people on earth! They’re liberals! Cheese!”
That’s right. Is Hollywood racist? 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.”
That’s how Hollywood is.
But things are changing. Things are changing.
We got a black Rocky this year. Some people call it “Creed.” I call it “Black Rocky.”
And that’s a big, that’s an unbelievable statement. I mean, cause “Rocky” takes place in a world where white athletes are as good as black athletes.
“Rocky” is a science fiction movie. There’s things that happened in “Star Wars” that are more believable than things that happened in “Rocky,” O.K.?
But hey, we’re here to honor actors. We’re here to honor actors, we’re here to honor films.
There’s a lot of snubs, lot of snubs. One of the biggest snubs no one’s talking about: My favorite actor in the world is Paul Giamatti.
Paul Giamatti, I believe, is the greatest actor in the world. Think about what Paul Giamatti has done the last couple of years.
Last year, he’s in “12 Years a Slave” — hates black people. This year he’s in “Straight Outta Compton” — loves black people.
Last year, he was whooping Lupita; this year, he’s crying at Eazy-E’s funeral.
Now, that’s range. Ben Affleck can’t do that.
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?
Look at Jamie Foxx. Jamie Foxx is one of the best actors in the world, man. Jamie Foxx was so good in “Ray” that they went to the hospital and unplugged the real Ray Charles. It’s like, “We don’t need two of these!” Nah, man.
You know, everything’s not about race, man. Another big thing tonight is — somebody told me this — you’re not allowed to ask women what they’re wearing anymore.
There’s this whole thing, “Ask her more. You have to ask her more.” You know it’s like, You ask the men more.
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?”
Hey, welcome to the 88th Oscars, Academy Awards. Yes, thank you.
You want diversity? We got diversity.
Please welcome Emily Blunt and somebody whiter, Charlize Theron.”