The Oscars are my Christmas. As a film nerd, I wake up every Oscar Sunday giddy. And for my present this year, I wished for a raw, unrelenting opening monologue, one that would kick everyone’s ass.
Chris Rock, you are the best Santa ever. In the first few seconds, he called the Oscars “the white people’s choice awards.” I nearly spit out my cheesy stick and became transfixed as Rock treated everyone to one brilliant joke after another, building on what was one of the greatest opening monologues ever. He was on a roll, but he needed to drop a cherry on top of it all.
And he gave it. Rock dug to the core of this issue. “We want the black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors,” he said, telling the audience that the industry just doesn’t hire black people. Boom. The mic had been dropped. The cheesy stick from my mouth had dropped. This was real. It could’ve been a bunch of jokes, but this was the sobering moment of reality. This was all that I had hoped for and more.
But did it become reductive?
Rock’s present wasn’t over yet. I grossly munched on more cheesy sticks, not sharing them with my friends who had joined me, thinking this Christmas would be the best one yet. I cried at a sketch that made fun of how a film about a skinny white lady inventing a mop — David O. Russell’s “Joy” — was made, but that “a black person would have to invent the cure for cancer to even get a TV movie.” I thought he could do no wrong. “Chris Rock,” I said, “take me on this journey.” Sadly, it slowly lost its air.
Don’t get me wrong, the show was good. It was just relegated to only that because it became reductive. Much of what was said was necessary. Showing us where the real problem lies — with the Hollywood studio system — as well as letting a largely white audience have it in regard to how they’ve let this problem become so entrenched in our culture was necessary. Asking “Is Hollywood racist?” and then declaring, “You’re damn right Hollywood is racist,” was absolutely necessary. But not extending the conversation where it could have and should have been extended was what was disappointing.
Rock sent a sobering message on a world stage to the straight white boys club of Hollywood, but it had some costs it could’ve avoided.
Toward the middle of the night, Rock acknowledged the company, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, that tabulated the award results. He went on to introduce “representatives” from the firm and brought out three young Asian children in full suits because surely these young Asian children work at PWC and did all those calculations because they’re so good at math. Really? Making voiceless young children your punchline? In a year in which probably as few Asians were nominated and their entire representation was within a few presenters, this joke, and a Sacha Baron Cohen joke comparing Asians to Minions because they’re both yellow and have small dicks, is this productive or reductive?
In a year in which two original song performances were slashed for a reason not yet given, is glossing over the fact that this eliminated the performance of a transgender person so “bigger” stars could perform productive or reductive? Is the sketch where Tracy Morgan made a joke out of “The Danish Girl” productive or reductive?
Are Rock’s comments that minimized the terrible occurrence of reporters only asking women about what they’re wearing productive or reductive?
They’re all reductive. I know that the show had to go big to effectively do what it wanted to do. And it did. But when there’s an opportunity to delve even deeper and extend a conversation, there should be awareness. There shouldn’t be unawareness that detracts from a bigger discussion on multiple levels of diversity.
Gaga, how could they rob you?
Nonetheless, the night had a very important moment in regard to another notable issue — sexual assault.
In the latter half of the broadcast, Joe Biden walked out on stage. I prematurely laughed, wondering what he was doing there. Why would the vice president be at the Oscars? Well, I guess if the White House were to send someone, it would be poor Joe, the guy who doesn’t seem to do much.
His speech shut me up. “(We have to) change the culture so that no abused woman or man ever feels like they have to ask themselves: ‘What did I do?’ They did nothing.” Following the vice president’s moving words, he introduced the final original song nominee and performer, Lady Gaga.
Gaga, my queen, drew the audience to tears with a thunderous, booming, bone-hitting performance of her song “‘Til It Happens to You” from “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary on campus sexual assault. Survivors walked out on stage holding hands as Gaga stood among them, herself being a survivor of sexual abuse. With the recent news regarding Kesha, this timely performance was a necessary moment in the night.
Following everyone’s tears, the Academy did what it does best and pissed everyone off. For Best Original Song, it awarded Sam Smith’s “Writing’s On the Wall,” from “Spectre.” Uh, what? “Writing’s On the Wall” is a terrible, terrible song. The movie it was made for is terrible. The song is terrible. No one likes that song! It has no flare, no sexiness, no shaken-but-not-stirred smoothness that would make a unique Bond song, let alone a good song in general. And to award that song over Gaga’s touching number is borderline offensive.
History Made: How diversity triumphed somewhere during the night
No matter anyone’s personal feelings — because this is too important for those to ruin this occurrence — the Best Director award was possibly the most important award of the night. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Best Director win for “The Revenant” made history. His back-to-back Best Director awards — he won last year for “Birdman” — make him the first director to do so since Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1949 and 1950 with “A Letter to Three Wives” and “All About Eve” and John Ford in 1940 and 1941 with “The Grapes of Wrath and “How Green Was My Valley.” The back-to-back wins mark Inarritu as one of the greatest talents working right now, achieving a recognized auteur status that few directors achieve. This also marks the third year in a row that a Mexican filmmaker has won best director, which is an incredible triumph for diversity in a year when the Academy grossly ignored minorities in front of the screen. And with Ang Lee winning a year before that, I guess American filmmakers should take note.
He finally did it
And how could I forget about Leo? As the envelope opened, everyone knew the name that Julianne Moore was going to say. It’s been a long time coming; he’s finally done it.
That smooth, sly bastard walked up on that stage as giddy as a young child, but didn’t show any of it. He stayed composed, realizing the moment he had. He had finally won and he could be classy about it. He could also take as long as he liked because there was no way in hell the Academy was going to play him off the stage. And holy hell, the man made our hearts melt with a moving speech about the climate, nervous stuttering that made him unimaginably more lovable and grace in acceptance unlike any other winner we’ve seen in awhile.
As I predicted last week, a memefest erupted on social media. Backstage, DiCaprio waited for his Oscar to be engraved with his name and achievement. He asked the engraver, “Do you do this every year?” The engraver laughed and nodded. Leo responded, “I wouldn’t know.” Now you know. I’m happy for you, Leo. It’s just too bad your win came in a year when you didn’t deserve it! #CONTROVERSY