There were many ways to handle frustration over the Oscars being whiter than a Donald Trump political rally, or you know, as white as the Academy Awards typically are any given year. Some created art as a tool of advocacy in response while other others used their star power to shed light on matters in which racism has more haunting consequences. Personally, instead of watching the Oscars, I danced to “Formation” multiple times with Latinos, Blacks, and drag queens — the sort of intersectionality Hollywood stubbornly fails to produce.
Still, like many of these people angry over our erasure, I did have hopes that the host of this year’s Oscars, Chris Rock, would serve as an echo of those feelings directly in front of the people who needed to hear it. Rock, who has long possessed the ability to make white people squirm as much as he does laugh with his thoughts on race and race relations, seemed like the perfect person for the perfect moment. Unfortunately, he failed and I found myself fidgeting more at home than the white people in the audience who actually deserved uncomfortability .
There was an outright pandering in Rock’s remarks that one wonders was there any intent there besides pacification of a primarily white audience?
At one point, Rock compares the Oscar protest of 2016 to ones of yore, quipping that “we had real things to protest at the time, you know” before adding “we’re too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer.” I don’t find a room full of white people gleefully cheering such lines to be at all amusing. Not only is it ahistorical to act as if Black people haven’t leveled protest of discrimination on multiple fronts, it doesn’t give Black folks the credit we deserve. We can two-step and chew gum at the same time. We can be mad about what’s happening in Flint, Michigan and our own communities as much as we can be pissed our contributions continue to be viewed as less than.
Whiteness is centered in each of these examples, hence the problem, so who is anyone, much less a comedian of all people, to downplay the importance of calling a wrong a wrong no matter its level of “seriousness?”
Then there is the matter of Rock’s comments about two famous Black women Jada Pinkett Smith and Rihanna: “Jada said she’s not coming. I was like, ‘isn’t she on TV show?’ Jada’s gonna boycott the Oscars? Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited!”
Motives aside, Jada Pinkett Smith used her platform to bring awareness to a longstanding barrier that Blacks in Hollywood face. To his credit, Chris Rock has recently spoken out about the plight of Black actresses, but Smith’s efforts didn’t need to be downplayed. It speaks volumes that a Black man failed to hit hard at Hollywood’s racism directly in its face, but managed to invoke Rihanna’s name for a sexist joke.
Chris Rock is hilarious. Chris Rock has said many astute, important things about race through his comedy. Chris Rock last night at the Oscars felt like a missed opportunity to be the aforementioned.
I did enjoy Rock’s observation that “Hollywood is sorority racist.” He explained, “It’s like, ‘We like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.’ That’s how Hollywood is.”
And though Blacks may never actually bet let into the sorority, last night proved Hollywood might invite us to the party every now and again, but they’d prefer we not make too much noise.