Academy Awards Recap

A photo posted by Brie (@brielarson) on Feb 28, 2016 at 11:05pm PST

Sunday’s 88th Annual Academy Awards was its usual enjoyable (if a little long) celebration of all things Hollywood. Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress played out as we predicted with Brie Larson (Room) and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) earning well-deserved statuettes. And, while women were not represented in the Best Director category (it’s been a while), there were many talented women onstage honored for their work as producers, documentarians, in visual effects, costuming and make-up.

But amidst all the glamour (and gorgeous gowns), Sunday night’s Academy Awards ceremony took place under a shadow of controversy. Once again, there were no black actors or actresses nominated, which sparked outrage, boycotts, late night jokes, and a revival of last year’s social media hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. African-American actor/comedian Chris Rock, who had already been selected months before the nominees were announced, was encouraged to walk away from his hosting gig. He chose to move forward, but promised to address the issue.

And, address it he did.

As the ceremony began, even before Rock took the stage, the Academy seemed to be trying a bit too hard. An opening montage included celebrated winners from years past, and an inordinate number of black recipients were included, from Whoopi Goldberg to Denzel Washington, Halle Barry to Lupita Nyong’o. Not that any of them were undeserving, just that the percentage featured didn’t quite match the actual percentage recognized over the Academy’s history. Throughout the evening, as various black performers served as presenters, including Morgan Freeman presenting Best Picture, it was difficult to wonder if they were chosen to prove a point. And, at the end of the broadcast shortly after midnight, serious title cards and a serious voiceover explained the Academy’s quite serious nomination and judging process. (Just in case we imagined a bunch of old white guys in hoods sitting around a table selecting the winners.)

RELATED: Oscar Central: Women’s Voices Live Blog of the 2016 Academy Awards

Methinks the Academy doth protest too much. My brother, a New York photographer, texted me that they should’ve called the evening “Oscars: The Damage Control Edition.”

Meanwhile, millions of viewers had tuned in to be entertained, so Rock focused on what he does best — entertaining us — while concurrently speaking up about it, immediately and often. In his monologue and comments throughout, he somehow achieved the seemingly impossible: acknowledged the situation, scolded those responsible, put it in a broader perspective, and got everybody laughing. Sometimes the laughter was a bit uncomfortable, and appropriately so.

“Welcome to the White People’s Choice Awards,” he joked, acknowledging his own anomalous presence there, “If they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job. You’d be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now.”

He deflated some of the current complaints by referring to the other 70 or so years that there have been no black nominees. “We had real things to protest at the time,” he said. “We were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer.” He also took shots at outspoken celebrity couple Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith. “It’s not fair that Will Smith was this good and didn’t get nominated. It’s also not fair that Will was paid $20 million for Wild Wild West.” Read More »

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