Chris Rock at the Oscars: Black Actors Want Opportunity. That’s It

The comedian continued his conversation about race and representation long after his opening monologue.
Host Chris Rock during the 88th Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on Feb. 28. (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Feb 28, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Is Hollywood racist?

That was the question Chris Rock sought to address during his Academy Awards opening monologue on Sunday. He touched on everything from race and gender to hashtag campaigns, including #OscarsSoWhite and #AskHerMore.

“You’re damn right Hollywood’s racist,” Rock concluded, comparing the industry to an elite college sorority that appears both friendly and liberal-minded on the surface but then chooses to exclude black members from its ranks. “But things are changing,” he added. Last year ushered in the boxing movie Creed, for example—or as Rock dubbed it, “a black Rocky,” owing to its title character, played by Michael B. Jordan.

But Jordan did not garner an Oscar nomination for his starring role, nor did any other actor of color. The omission ignited widespread criticism and called for boycotts during the second year in a row in which the Academy failed to nominate a single nonwhite performer in any of its acting categories. However, Jordan’s costar Sylvester Stallone, who reprised his decades-old role as Rocky Balboa in Creed, did earn a nomination for best actor in a supporting role.

RELATED: Think Television Is Diverse? Researchers Say It's Just as Bad as Film

Citing celebrities such as Jada Pinkett Smith, who last month announced she would be boycotting the ceremony, Rock said he considered stepping down from his role as host in response to the controversy. But ultimately, he said, “it’s not about boycotting or anything. It’s just [that] we want opportunity. We want the black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors. That’s it. That’s it,” Rock said, stressing the simplicity of his demands. “Leo [DiCaprio] gets a great part every year, but what about the black actors?” he added.

Just 12.5 percent of characters across 100 of the top films last year were black, according to a study released in 2015 by the University of Southern California’s Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative. Asian and Latino characters accounted for an even lesser proportion of all characters: 5.3 and 4.9 percent, respectively, according to the same study. Black artists are also consistently overshadowed at Hollywood awards shows. Between 1969 and today, less than 2 percent of Oscars statuettes were given to black recipients, a Washington Post analysis found.

Rock proposed one solution: Create an Oscars category solely for black actors, he joked, just as the Academy separates the acting categories for men and women—a division he said “there’s no real reason for.”

The Oscars categories aren’t the only aspect of the 88-year-old award show that has drawn scrutiny this year and last. The media has also paid close attention to the questions being asked of women on the red carpet, thanks in part to a campaign called “Ask Her More,” which aims to show that women have more to discuss than just their clothing. Rock’s take? “They ask the men more because the men are all wearing the same outfit.”

The comedian’s discourse on race, social issues, and the Academy continued throughout the night, including a short video segment with Angela Bassett called “Black History Month Minute.” In another series of videos starring Whoopi Goldberg, the Academy Award winner inserted herself into scenes of Oscar-nominated movies to prove a point about how few black actors were incorporated into this year’s Oscar-nominated stories. “As you know, as a black actor,” Rock said, “just getting the opportunity to be in a movie can be a struggle.”

TakePart’s parent company, Participant Media, is a partner on Oscar-nominated films Spotlight, Bridge of Spies, and The Look of Silence.