88th Academy Awards: Host Chris Rock Thrives Despite Backlash About Lack of Diversity


Rebecca Boyajian

Leonardo DiCaprio won his first Oscar for his role in "The Revenant".
Leonardo DiCaprio won his first Oscar for Best Actor for his role in “The Revenant”.

It would be practically impossible to discuss the 88th Academy Awards without touching on its major flaw. When this year’s nominees were released to the public, fans were quick to notice the lack of diversity present amongst the nominees. The ceremony was loaded with controversy and talk of boycotting the show by fans as well as renowned actors and actresses like Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. This year was an unfortunate step backward in the strides that have been made in an attempt to have better representation of all races and ethnicities in the media. The Oscars, however, are only a symptom of a larger problem in Hollywood: actors and actresses of color are not cast in mainstream film roles as often as white actors are.

Comedians tend to have a special ability to create comedic material from controversy, which is most likely the reason Chris Rock was chosen to host. This year’s show had dug itself into a hole before it even began, as talk of celebrities boycotting promised a decrease in ratings for ABC. Adding to this, if the host could not put a more positive and lighthearted spin on the show, viewership would have further declined. As a result, Rock and other presenters took a humorous viewpoint on the diversity problem as opposed to the serious debate that preceded the ceremony. As this problem was too big to ignore, it was guaranteed that the host was going to have to address the elephant in the room, and his comedic material relied heavily on the issue.

Chris Rock began the show with several light hearted jokes surrounding the issue, welcoming viewers to the “white People’s Choice Awards,” drawing plenty of laughter from the audience. Then the comedian began introduced more serious topics into his monologue, explaining that the reason why the race issue in the film industry has been ignored for so long is that until recently, black Americans were focused on more serious issues, including rape and lynchings. Though intelligent, the remark was out-of-place in the comedic setting, and it resulted in an awkward variety of responses from the audience; some laughed, some looked uncomfortable, some cheered and many sat unsure of exactly how to respond. The host clearly meant to sustain a comedic atmosphere while making a serious point about the issue, but the juxtaposition of the two made the night uncomfortable.

Skits and pre-recorded video clips are not strangers to the Oscars and were prominent this year, focusing on making a point while remaining funny. One humorous clip centered around how difficult it is for African American actors and actresses be cast in main roles. Leslie Jones, of “SNL” fame, was edited into in the bear attack scene from “The Revenant,” screaming at Leonardo DiCaprio over her “exclusion” from the film, a joke that the film’s cast enjoyed. Whoopi Goldberg was also featured in the skit as an exasperated maid in “Joy,” and audiences appreciated this concrete yet satirical representation of Rock’s grievances.

The only subject that got as much buzz as the diversity issue was actor Leonardo DiCaprio’s win. The star has had a rocky relationship with the Oscars, as he has been nominated for awards five times—for well-received roles in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “Blood Diamond,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “The Aviator”—but had never won. Fans were anxious to learn whether he would finally win, and sure enough, the Academy delivered, finally awarding DiCaprio an Oscar for his role in “The Revenant.”

Though the Oscars are not known for live performances, one of the best moments of this year’s show was a musical performance. Following a speech by Vice President Joe Biden about the It’s On Us campaign, an organization to help victims of sexual assault, Lady Gaga took the stage. Gaga, who herself is a victim of assault, gave a riveting performance of “Til It Happens To You” accompanied by a group of men and women who are survivors of sexual abuse. After the performance, the It’s On Us website crashed due to the rush of viewers visiting and taking the pledge to help end rape and assault.

This year’s Oscars developed a poor reputation even prior to airing; the lack of diversity caused an outrage among fans and actors and it appeared as though the night was going to be a disaster. However, the 88th Academy Awards ended up being a memorable night, complete with inspirational speeches, powerful music performances and the emotional moment as DiCaprio won his first Oscar. Hopefully, nominations for next year’s ceremony will include actors of color and this lack of representation will not become a yearly occurrence.