Despite the Academy Awards’ efforts to turn the page on the uproar over their lack of diversity, the #OscarsSoWhite scandal continues to spark headlines.
This weekend alone, actor Nick Cannon released a “poem” on the subject, “Saturday Night Live” lampooned the awards with a sketch in which white role players somehow got nominations over their far more prominent black co-stars, “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen joined the chorus of critics calling for reform within the academy, and even Oscar host Chris Rock is reportedly planning to rewrite his entire opening monologue to address the all-white acting nominees.
“You should expect [#OscarsSoWhite jokes],” Reginald Hudlin, the show’s producer, who also is African-American, told “Entertainment Tonight.” ”And, yes, the Academy is ready for him to do that. They’re excited about him doing that. They know that’s what we need. They know that’s what the public wants, and we deliver what the people want.”
Rock has been under some pressure from black stars and social media commentators to resign from his hosting gig. But Rock has decided instead to unleash his trademark wit on the Oscars crowd to make a statement. Curiously, his previous Oscars hosting gig in 2005 received mixed reviews for that very reason. Perhaps the most memorable thing about his stint that night was how poorly some of his barbs directed at Hollywood were received.
USA Today, for instance, derided him as “loud, snide and dismissive,” and more than a few critics pointed out how a routine he did about the ubiquitous presence of Jude Law in the previous year’s films drew a personal rebuke from Oscar-winner Sean Penn at the awards podium. Still others hailed Rock’s work that year as fresh, edgy and a clear break from the more chummy, insider antics of previous hosts.
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“These actor types, man, who the hell do they think they are? I held back!” he quipped about his performance during a subsequent appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman.” Ironically, he said then that he would host the show again “if there’s a lot of black people on it.”
One Rock segment from his Oscars gig in particular was singled out for praise, which seems even more prescient now, looking at the still-segregated movie landscape. Rock interviewed predominately black moviegoers at an L.A.-based Magic Johnson Theater about their favorite films of 2004 (“Saw,” for instance, was a popular choice), and most professed ignorance about the crop of Best Picture nominees, which included predominately white films like “The Aviator” and “Sideways.”
It was a funny and subtle dig at how out of touch the Oscars can be with general audiences, which could provide some insights into the brand of satire Rock may bring to this year’s show:
Two years ago, Rock caused a firestorm when he penned a frank essay for The Hollywood Reporter, in which he reached the conclusion that for better or worse, Hollywood is a “white industry.”
“When you have a system where you probably only see three movies with African-American leads in them a year, they’re going to be judged more harshly, and you’re really rooting for them to be good a little more so than the 140 movies starring white people every year,” he wrote at the time.
“Now, when it comes to casting, Hollywood pretty much decides to cast a black guy or they don’t. We’re never on the ‘short list.’ We’re never ‘in the mix,’” he added, while admitting women of color and other ethnicities sometimes fare even worse. “When there’s a hot part in town and the guys are reading for it, that’s just what happens. It was never like, ‘Is it going to be Ryan Gosling or Chiwetel Ejiofor for ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’?”
Meanwhile, although the academy has instituted a flurry of radical changes to its Oscars voting pool, which will go into effect next year, that hasn’t stopped a planned boycott of the show by notable black Hollywood figures like Will Smith and director Spike Lee. For his part, while Lee has praised the reforms academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs has put in place (including term limits for Oscars voters), he still plans to sit out the show.
“I’m still going to the game. I’m not showing up. My wife and I, we made the decision, we’re not going to change our decision,” the “Do the Right Thing” director told US Weekly this weekend. “We’ll be at Madison Square Garden Sunday night, Feb. 28, New York Knickerbockers against the Miami Heat. We took a moral stance, and we’re not going to do a punk move and go back on our word.”
Best Actress nominee Charlotte Rampling infamously called the boycott “racist against whites” during a recent interview with a French radio station. She has since claimed that her words were “misinterpreted.”
“I simply meant to say that in an ideal world, every performance will be given equal opportunities for consideration,” she said in a statement late last week. “I am very honored to be included in this year’s wonderful group of nominated actors and actresses.”