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The Hits And Misses From Chris Rock’s Academy Award Opening Monologue

Originally published on madamenoire.com

Last night, I made a conscious decision to avoid the Oscars. I chose to watch the Justice for Flint event instead. I was certainly interested to hear and see what Chris Rock was going to say though. I just knew his monologue would be all over the internet within a matter of minutes. And it was.

Those of you who have active Twitter accounts, you know that the next best thing to actually watching a moment on television is joining the discussion on Twitter. Last night, I saw that people were conflicted on Rock’s monologue. There were some who loved it, praising it as brave and appropriate, just what we needed. Then there were others who felt he could have gone farther. There were those who felt like he was making fun of the very people who were expressing their anger and frustration by choosing to boycott the show.

And then there was that awkward moment where Stacey Dash, introduced as the director of diversity, came out and wished everyone a Happy Black History Month. You could have heard a pin drop. You know people are done with you when they can’t even laugh at you being the butt of a joke. Her presence was just completely unwelcomed.

Anyway, back to Chris Rock. After I watched this morning, I could see where everyone was coming from. He made some valid points when he said, aside from the boycott, actors of color just want more opportunities, the same types of opportunities White actors receive. And it’s true. The talent is there. He mentioned Jamie Foxx specially and his role in Ray. Saying that Foxx was so good, that people went and unplugged the real Ray Charles because there was no need for two.

He made a good point about the fact that there’s no need for a separation of best actress and actor, saying that it’s not a physical competition where there are obvious differences. Men and women can be judged in the same category.

He made a good quip about the in memoriam segment featuring all the Black people who were shot and killed by the police. Real.

Then he asked a really good question about whether or not Hollywood is racist. He said they’re not “burning cross” racist but that for all these “liberal” White writers, directors and producers, they still don’t hire Black people. And they’re the nicest White people around.

Most poignant was the note about opportunity. Things have got to change. And I appreciate Chris Rock for standing in a room full of White people and speaking that level of truth. Hopefully, he punctured some people.

But then there were moments that caused me to give him a side eye. There were moments where he seemed to be making fun of the very people who were expressing their pain at repeatedly being ignored and disregarded.

He mentioned that there were people who called for him to quit his upcoming hosting gig. And he said it’s always unemployed people who tell you to quit. Well, that’s the very reason we’ve come to this place. Because there are so many Black actors and actresses who struggle to find consistent work. And I’m not suggesting that Chris Rock should have declined the hosting gig. If he weren’t there, none of our issues would have been addressed. Still, whatever decision Black actors made about attending or not attending the award show, they shouldn’t have been judged for it.

He also took a stab at Jada Pinkett Smith for her role as the catalyst in this whole boycott thing. He said Jada Pinkett Smith boycotting the Oscars was like him boycotting Rihanna’s panties. He wasn’t invited. Rock, like so many Black people, seemed to suggest that the only reason Jada decided to boycott this year’s Oscars was because Will Smith wasn’t nominated. That argument makes me so tired. I personally don’t believe that was her initial motivation. But even if it were, just because an action is selfish or self-serving, it doesn’t mean that the action itself is wrong. The two are not mutually exclusive. It wasn’t just Will that wasn’t nominated, not a single Black person was. When there were roles and work that would have warranted a nomination. Like Michael B. Jordan in Creed, like Jason Mitchell in Straight Outta Compton, like the director and screenwriter Rick Famuyiwa or lead actor Shameik Moore in Dope. But there wasn’t a single one. Even if her decision to boycott started with Will, it’s bigger than him. And I honestly believe Jada recognizes that. This has been happening for far too long. And as long as both Will and Jada have been in the industry, maybe she’s tired of seeing it.

Then, while Chris Rock admits that Hollywood is racist, he also said that there were no protests in the ’60’s. I’ll just quote him here, so you can get the gist.

“You’ve got to figure that it [no Black nominations] happened in the ‘60s. And Black people did not protest. Why? Because we had real things to protest at the time. Too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer. When your grandmother is swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about best documentary foreign short.”

There is some truth to that. But it was also very unsettling to watch White people laugh about our raped and lynched grandmothers. Furthermore, the two aren’t unrelated. If someone hates you, violates your body, views you as property, or strings you up from a tree, they damn sure aren’t going to put you in their movie. It’s all the same fight to me. At the end of the day, the economic injustice, police brutality and even the water crisis in Flint, is about poor and Black people fighting to be seen, to be heard, represented, and regarded as human beings, worthy of fair and just treatment. It’s the very reason this new wave’s movement is called Black Lives Matter. Because there is so much from entertainment to society that seems to suggest that they don’t. And while we certainly don’t need White validation, representation matters. It reasserts personhood. It proves not only that there are more than White people in the world and it illustrates that our stories have value and merit as well. And they deserve to be recognized.

About shakespeareanwalter

Walt Shakes(@Walt_Shakes) is an award-winning Nigerian writer, poet and veteran blogger. He is a lover of the written word. the faint whiff of nature, the flashing vista of movies, the warmth of companionship and the happy sound of laughter.

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  1. Yeeah… A comedian’s words are a difficult thing to have a serious conversation about. He was there to be funny, and slip in a few truths while at it. Those ‘misses’ were not misses for me at all. Seems the only real reason the writer considers them misses were because they were aimed at black people. Well, I thought what he said about Jada was funny as hell.

    And did the writer say that Jason Mitchell deserves a nomination for his role in Straight Outta Compton? Seriously?

  2. That shade at Jada and Will though…it was kinda sorta epic. You just know that Chris Rock won’t be getting invited to any dinner parties at the Smiths anytime soon.
    But erm, I didn’t quite get the shade he threw at Will Smith over his paycheck for Wild Wild West. Can somebody please explain that to me?

    • LOL. No, the Wild Wild West joke didn’t quite land.

      I guess he was trying to say that if Will got paid that much money for a crappy movie (and since he is generally a well-paid actor), he should not complain about awards. Which sounds absurd, even for a joke.

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