By Zim Ezumah
Earlier last week, the Oscar nominations were announced. As widely noted, there were no actors or actresses of color nominated in any of the major acting and directing categories. This is a disappointing turn for the Academy Awards, specifically since they announced the return of Chris Rock as the Oscars Host, 11 years after his groundbreaking debut.
While many are calling on the legendary comedian to skewer the injustices and omissions the Academy’s displayed over the past year, it’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time his Oscars stint was met with controversy. In 2005, after two years of turning down the offer, Rock finally signed on to host the ceremony — and what ensued as he attempted to revolutionize the traditional ceremony forever.
By 2004, Rock was riding high on the heels of his third headlining comedy tour and HBO special, the Black Ambition Tour and Never Scared. Entertainment Weekly had just dubbed him “The Funniest Man in America.” So when the Academy sought a livelier host to shake up the stoic, then-77 year old ceremony, they looked to Rock to spice up the telecast. Here are three ways his hosting tenure stood out, and what it could mean for his turn this year including a video clip of Rock’s past demands (below).
1.– He roasted the ceremony. In his first tenure as host, Rock didn’t hold back on the general black opinion of the Oscars, going in on every aspect from its focus on priveliged, white male dominated movies, its fear of pop culture and its audience of women and gay men: “I really don’t know any straight men who aren’t in show business that have ever watched the Oscars,” Rock said on a Tonight Show interview the Monday before the ceremony. Oscars officials reportedly wanted him fired less than a week before the broadcast for his comment, but Rock clarified his comments and presented as planned, amidst rumors that the Academy employed a seven second delay during the broadcast. He’s already critiqued the Academy’s nominations, dubbing them the “White BET Awards”, so the press run and opening monologue leading up to the ceremony is bound to be one to watch.
2. – He shaded the nominiees. Rock was definitely no ass kisser to the Hollywood crowd, leading to hilarious reactions of the saltiest A-listers you’ve ever seen. Rock brilliantly read the room’s most prominient players for filth while the cameramen instigated, cutting to the stoic faces of Kate Winslet and Johnny Depp. After an infamous jab at Jude Law, a pressed Sean Penn took to the mic to sub Rock, confirming that he’d gotten under Hollywood’s skin on its biggest night. Hopefully, Rock’s fearlessness can show up again against the more self-important figures in mainstream Hollywood. I mean, who else wants to see Jennifer Lawrence get humbled on national TV? P.S. – Rock’s comments at the ceremony led to Jude Law firing his agent a week later. That’s power.
3. – He was unapologetically black. Chris Rock was the first solo black male host of the Oscars. He took this opportunity and made sure that the influence of black performers was not only honored but respected and present both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. In interviews leading up to the ceremony he publically endorsed a Best Actor win for fellow comedian Jamie Foxx’s performance in Ray, a move that was a bold affirmation of his allegiance to black performers.
“I am rooting for Jamie, and if he doesn’t win, I’m going to talk about it on the show,” Mr. Rock promised, a sly grin tiptoeing across his face. And if Mr. Foxx comes up empty? “I’ll take an Oscar from one of the sound or light people that win and give it to him,” Mr. Rock said. “Jamie Foxx is not going to walk out of that place without an Oscar.”
4. He also reportedly demanded an increase of representation of performers of color during the ceremony, requesting that performers such as Halle Berry, Diddy, Jay Z, Beyonce, Spike Lee, and Don Cheadle all got recognition and camera time during the awards. He even shouted out his hometown of Brooklyn at the closing of the awards show! Despite the lack of people of color nominees this year, Rock will probably use that heat to his advantage and up the #BlackExcellence ante, ensuring that his fan base at home is represented in everything that he does (also important to note – Rock is also using Black writers in the writers room, including long time collaborator Rodney Barnes, executive producer of the Boondocks, Everybody Hates Chris)
While the Academy Awards continue another year of #OscarsSoWhite, host Chris Rock’s track record proves that there may still be hope for Black art on Hollywood’s biggest night.
By Zim Ezumah