Rock throws 'stones' at issues of race
COMEDIAN Chris Rock launched his return as Oscar host by confronting the racial furore over the all-white field of performers nominated for Hollywood's highest honours.
In a no-holds-barred opening monologue about what he described as "sorority-style" discrimination pervading the film industry, Rock set the stage for a night of gags on themes of racial politics.
In doing so, he transformed Sunday's glittering awards show known for self-reverential pomp into a 3 1/2-hour live ABC telecast punctuated by pointed satire riffing on issues of inclusion and diversity raised by the #OscarsSoWhite social media campaign and the Black Lives Matter movement.
But the issue of race was just one element that made the 88th edition of the Academy Awards likely to go down as one of the most socially conscious shows in Oscar history.
United States Vice-President Joe Biden made a special appearance urging a stronger stand against sexual violence on college campuses before pop star Lady Gaga led a rally against campus sexual assault, bringing together rape survivors who joined arms in solidarity. Then, there was best actor winner Leonardo DiCaprio's impassioned appeal for environmental awareness.
Strolling on stage in a white dinner jacket, Rock introduced himself as host of a show "otherwise known as the white People's Choice awards".
"You realise if they nominated hosts, I wouldn't get this job," he added.
Rock, who previously hosted the Oscars in 2005, did not confine his barbs to Hollywood alone. He drew one of his biggest laughs joking that the show's "in-memorium" montage tribute to dead film luminaries would instead be devoted to "black people who were shot by the cops on their way to the movies".
In one pre-taped parody of a scene from The Martian, the Oscar-nominated sci-fi drama about an astronaut marooned on Mars, Rock was substituted for the stranded star of that film, Matt Damon, as Nasa officials argued whether it was worth the expense to bring a black astronaut back to Earth.
Rock was named as the host of the 88th Oscars in October, months before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its roster of nominees lacking a single person of colour in the acting categories for a second straight year.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE