Image: A.M.P.A.S.

The 88th Academy Awards

When the Oscars ceremony began last night, there was only question on people’s lips: what was Chris Rock going to do? His decision to stick with hosting an awards show darkened by storm clouds of controversy seemed like a no-win situation – whatever he could do, or say, would not change the snubs, or the seemingly systematic repression of minorities within the industry. As upsetting as Creed’s snubs were, the real fact was that not enough opportunities are being given to those who need them – critic, Danny Leigh, has pointed out that only one black person has ever been nominated for Best Editing: Hugh A. Robertson, for Midnight Cowboy in 1969.

Creed only received one nomination in the form of Best Supporting Actor for Sylvester Stallone. Image: Warner Bros

But from his opening line – “Man, I counted at least fifteen black people on that montage!” – it became clear that Rock was going to address the problem head-on. And for ten minutes, Rock delivered some great stuff. He called the Oscars the “White People’s Choice awards”; he bluntly declared, “You’re damn right Hollywood is racist”; and he made jokes with the kind of disarming edge that made his stand-up comedy so great in the first place – “The in memoriam montage is just going to be black people who were shot by the cops on the way to the movies!”


But from his opening line – “Man, I counted at least fifteen black people on that montage!” – it became clear that Rock was going to address the problem head-on. 

Slightly less successful were his attempts at easing the tensions in the room, and pandering to a largely white crowd. When he talked about black people in the ‘60s as being too busy “being raped and lynched to care about who won Best Cinematographer”, there was the uncomfortable sentiment that the problems with Hollywood weren’t important enough to treat seriously. And the swipes at the #AskHerMore campaign seemed a little off-putting, especially considering the fact that, earlier in the year, sexism in the industry was as pressing an issue as race.

Still, the monologue worked, and the rest of the show was uncharacteristically entertaining, at least for a while. Much of it was unpredictable, namely Mad Max: Fury Road’s incredible sweep of six Oscars in technical categories, and Mark Rylance’s deserving triumph over Sylvester Stallone in the Best Supporting Actor category. And who expected that Spotlight would really win Best Picture? After Crash beat Brokeback Mountain in 2006, I think it’s safe to say we all gave up on the Academy rewarding five-star films; yet here we were, seeing the hackneyed offerings of The Revenant and The Big Short ousted in favour of something genuinely brilliant.


Mad Max: Fury Road dominated with 6 wins. Image: Warner Brothers Media

Elsewhere, though, everything went as expected, in plodding fashion. The middle section was particularly dire: Alicia Vikander won Best Supporting Actress; Inside Out won Best Animated Feature; Son of Saul won Best Foreign Film; Carol got nothing; the Earth revolved around the Sun; five cups of tea could barely keep me awake. The absolute nadir came when the fucking Minions presented the award for Best Animated Short, and Don Hertzfeldt’s amazing World of Tomorrow lost out to some overrated film about bears (no, not that one.)

88th Academy Awards

The Revenant won two of its nominations, with Emmanuel Lebuski taking his 3rd Best Cinematography award in a row, and Leo winning Best Actor (finally). Image: Fox Press Office

Alejandro González Iñárritu won Best Director, Brie Larson won Best Actress, and, of course, Leonardo DiCaprio won Best Actor. Larson deserved it; so did DiCaprio, in a way, though maybe not for this particular film. But what made this section of the show watchable was a focus on real world issues. DiCaprio brought up climate change, saying, “Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted.” The producers of Spotlight expressed hope that the film’s subject matter would reverberate in the Catholic Church. And while I thought Lady Gaga’s performance was about as subtle as a punch to the face, it raised the very serious, real issue of college campus rapes – making it even worse when she lost out to Sam Smith’s wet sneeze of a Bond song.

Surely this was the best way to use the Oscars, as a platform to affect real-world change? The more interesting event will be next year’s ceremony, when we can see if any of this has stuck – or whether this relic of “old” Hollywood will be forever doomed to remain in the dark ages.


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