The Oscars get political
The Academy Awards and politics have always had a strange but wonderful marriage, from the politicized nature of some of the films that have been nominated before (see “Selma” and “Milk”) to the rousing, call-to-arms acceptance speeches often delivered by some of the winners. This year’s telecast had many entertaining and thought-provoking moments to remember, starting with host Chris Rock’s on-point monologue.
While many in the industry asked the comedian to back down from his hosting gig in the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite nominations controversy, Rock did not, and he came out guns blazing with a series of comedic bits that hit Hollywood hard for its lack of diversity in film.
Some jokes in the monologue left the audience with an uneasy feeling, particularly the bit about police brutality – “Things 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.” Still, Rock hit a raw nerve on racism in Hollywood and hit it well, with lines like “Hollywood is ‘sorority’ racist” and “If you want black people every year at the Oscars, just have black categories, like best black friend.”
Rock had more tricks up his sleeve as the night wore on. First, there was a dig through a vignette of hilarious walk-on cameos made by popular African American actors in some of the nominated films. The standouts were Whoopi Goldberg, mopping the floor during the scene in “Joy” where rookie inventor Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence) buckles down at the prospect of showing off her Miracle Mop on live TV, and Rock himself in Matt Damon’s role in “The Martian,” suffering in Mars while Jeff Daniels and Kristen Wiig refuse to set him free.
There was also, of course, that awkward moment where beleaguered actress-cum-political pundit Stacey Dash was brought on stage as the “Director of Minority Outreach” at the Academy Awards; she later poked fun at the moment on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” But that moment was more than made up for later on when Rock took to the streets of Compton for a man-on-the-street poll near a movie theater, hilariously skewering the predominantly African American moviegoers’ lack of knowledge of “white films.”
More political than Rock’s now-historic monologue were some of the acceptance speeches. Adapted Screenplay winner Adam McKay (who won for “The Big Short” after directing and writing some of the most successful comedies of our time) threw in a not-so-subtle endorsement for Bernie Sanders by urging voters to not vote for “candidates that take money from big banks, oil, or weirdo billionaires.”
Later on in the telecast, Sam Smith took home a surprise Oscar for penning the theme to the latest James Bond movie, which he also performed. During his acceptance speech, he claimed that he was possibly the first openly gay Academy Award winner. He was woefully incorrect, according to a past Oscar winner for Best Screenplay who blasted him on Twitter (of course) shortly thereafter, but Smith’s intention was made clear: to encourage progress for LGBTQ folk in the entertainment industry and elsewhere.
Leonardo DiCaprio finally took home an Academy Award after years of being overlooked. After receiving a much-deserved standing ovation, DiCaprio spent most of his time on stage discussing his favorite cause: the environment. “Climate change is real. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species,” he said. While many have believed DiCaprio’s activism to be typical Hollywood pandering, the fact that he devoted most of his acceptance speech for his long overdue award to a larger-than-life problem was really special.
Lady Gaga took to the stage to perform her Oscar-nominated song “Til it Happens to You” from the documentary “The Hunting Ground” earlier in the evening, which was presented by none other than Vice President Joe Biden. While the choice in presenter may have seemed random to some, the VP has actually championed justice for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault throughout his political career. Once the shock of Biden’s appearance wore off, there was nothing but awe for the magnificent Gaga, as she moved the audience both in the Dolby Theatre and at home to tears while joined by a group of young women and men who represented themselves as victims of sexual violence.
Usually the Oscars is the one awards show that plays it safe by sticking to jokes and moments that are generally clean and inoffensive. However, during one of the dirtiest election cycles in history and the most racially trying time in the current era, Chris Rock and the attendees at the Oscars this year used their platform to bring some clarity to the chaos.↑ Back to top