Actor and comedian, Chris Rock walked onto the stage at the Dolby Theatre Feb. 28 and opened his hosting monologue with, “I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards,” the first of many socially charged comments that continued throughout the evening at the 88 Academy Awards.
Between awards, Rock made many jokes regarding the veil of racism to which Hollywood has been accused of holding tight. He said while it is not “burning-cross racist,” it is still obviously selective in its preference for Caucasian actors.
Khelsey Pellum, senior public relations major and president of the Public Relations Student Society of America, said Rock may have gone too far with some of his comments, especially the joke regarding the “In Memoriam” being composed of African Americans shot by cops on the way to the movies.
“The audience hesitated to clap, not necessarily because they were confused, but (they may have thought), ‘Was that a little too far?’” Pellum said. “In terms of a public relations standpoint, most of his comments were OK, but I think someone could take that and really turn it into something negative on Twitter and start the conversation that this is reverse racism.”
This year’s show received criticism for the lack of diversity within the nomination pool for coveted acting awards — something that prompted the academy to announce a series of substantive changes to help widen the spectrum of those eligible for such accolades.
“It’s not about boycotting anything,” Rock said during his opening monologue. “It’s just, we want opportunity. We want black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors.”
The show maintained its socially conscious theme by calling attention to sexual abuse and the need for promoting consent. Pop artist Lady Gaga performed her Oscar-nominated song about assault, “Till It Happens to You,” surrounded by survivors of sexual abuse, after being introduced by Vice President Joe Biden, who was there as part of the Obama Administration’s pledge to stand against college campus rape.
Later, fan-favorite Leonardo DiCaprio claimed the Best Actor award and effectively put a stop to years of online memes about his previous losses and sensationalized desire to win.
“He hasn’t won in the past and obviously has been around forever and done really great work,” said Gabrielle Ward, junior nutrition science major. “I just feel like it was his time finally to win.”
DiCaprio used his acceptance speech to call attention to climate change and push this year’s Oscars to be one of the most socially conscious in the history of the awards show.
“Climate change is real. It is happening right now,” DiCaprio said. “It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted.”