"I counted at least 15 black people on that montage!” began Oscar host Chris Rock in his opening monologue which kicked off the 88th Academy Awards on Sunday night.
A storm of controversy has surrounded the Oscars since early January, when the full list of nominees was unveiled featuring no black actor in any of the acting categories.
The #OscarsSoWhite row prompted several prominent black actors to announce an Oscars boycott, with Will Smith - who was snubbed for his acclaimed role in Concussion - his wife Jada Pinkett Smith and acclaimed director, producer and actor Spike Lee all announcing that they would not be attending the ceremony.
So naturally all eyes were on Oscar host Chris Rock, who had remained quiet on the issue despite building pressure to show solidarity with the protest and boycott the Oscars himself.
But in his opening monologue Rock addressed the Oscars race row head on.
“I’m here at the Academy Awards" he said, "otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards. If they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job. You’d all be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now"
He also questioned why the Oscar race row was being raised at this point - 88 years after the very first Academy Awards. "The big question is… why THIS Oscars?" he said, "it’s the 88th Academy Awards, which means this whole no black nominees thing has happened at least 71 times. You’ve gotta figure that it happened in the Fifties, in the Sixties, you know one of those years Sidney [Poitier] didn’t put out a movie, I’m sure, I’m sure there were no black nominees some of those years... Why? We had real things to protest at the time. You know? We had real things to protest. We were too busy being raped and lynched to worry about who won Best Cinematographer. You know when your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about Best Documentary: Foreign Short."
Despite nailing his colours to the mast, Rock also made it clear that he did not support the Oscars boycott either, taking a swipe at Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith in the process. "Jada got mad. Jada says she’s not coming, protesting," he said, "I’m like, isn’t she on a TV show? Jada’s gonna boycott the Oscars. Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties... I wasn’t invited!"
Rock described Hollywood's race issue as "sorority racist", saying "it’s like - we like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.”
But he also used his speech to deliver a blistering attack on the wider issue of racism in the American police force. "This year, in the in memoriam package, it’s just going to be black people that were shot by the cops on their way to the movies", a line which earned a big round of applause from the audience, particularly Matt Damon.
But perhaps most poignant was Rock's final line at the end of the night. As the credits rolled, the comedian uttered three words which have dominated America's race row over the last few years: "Black lives matter."
Read Chris Rock's full Oscars speech:
“I counted at least 15 black people on that montage!”
“I’m here at the Academy Awards – otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards. If they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job. You’d all be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now.
But this is the wildest, craziest Oscars to ever host, because we’ve got all this controversy. No, no black nominees, you know, and people are like “Chris, you should boycott. Chris, you should quit. You should quit.”
How come it’s only unemployed people that tell you to quit things. No-one with a job ever tells you to quit, but I thought about quitting, I thought about it real hard, but I thought they’re gonna have the Oscars anyway. They’re not gonna cancel the Oscars because I quit and the last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart.
I don’t need that. Kev right there — Kev makes movies fast. Every month. Porno stars don’t make movies that fast
The big question is… why THIS Oscars? It’s the 88th Academy Awards which means this whole no black nominees thing has happened at least 71 times, OK? You’ve gotta figure that it happened in the Fifties, in the Sixties, you know one of those years Sidney [Poitier] didn’t put out a movie, I’m sure, I’m sure there were no black nominees some of those years, say ’62, ’63 and black people did not protest. Why? We had real things to protest at the time. You know? We had real things to protest. We were too busy being raped and lynched to worry about who won best Cinematographer, you know when your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about Best Documentary: Foreign Short. But what happened this year, what happened? People went mad. Spike got mad and Jada went mad and Will went mad. You know? Jada got mad. Jada says she’s not coming, protesting. I’m like, isn’t she on a TV show? Jada’s gonna boycott the Oscars.
Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited!
Oh that’s not an invitation I would turn down.
But I understand I’m not hating. Jada’s mad, her man Will was not nominated for Concussion, I get it, I get it. To tell you the truth it’s not fair that Will was this good and didn’t get nominated. You’re right! It’s also not fair that Will was paid twenty million for Wild Wild West, OK? This year at the Oscars, things are gonna be a little different. This year, in the in memoriam package, it’s just going to be black people that were shot by the cops on their way to the movies. [round of applause from Matt Damon] yes yes I said it. You need to just have black categories. You already do with men and women – think about it. There’s no real reason for there to be a man and a woman category in acting. There’s no reason! It’s not track and field. You don’t have to separate ‘em. Robert Deniro’s never said ‘I better slow this acting down so Meryl Streep could catch up’ – no, not at all man. If you want black people at the Oscars each year just have black categories like Best Black Friend. That’s right. And the winner for the 18th year in a row…. is Wanda Sykes.
But the real question everyone wants to know: is Hollywood racist. You know you gotta go at that at the right way. Is it burning cross racist? Is it fetch me some lemonade racist? No! It’s a different type of racist. I remember one night I was at a fundraiser for president Obama. A lotta you were there, and you know it’s me and all of Hollywood, and it’s all of us there and there’s about four black people there…. And every black actor that wasn’t working. Needless to say Kev Hart was not there.
Needless, to say Kev Hart was not there. O.K.? So, at some point you get to take a picture with the president, and, you know as they’re setting up the picture you get a little moment with the president.
I’m like, “Mr. President, you see all these writers and producers and actors? They don’t hire black people, and they’re the nicest, white people on earth! They’re liberals! Cheese!”
That’s right. Is Hollywood racist? You’re damn right Hollywood is racist. But it ain’t that racist that you’ve grown accustomed to.
Hollywood is sorority racist.
It’s like, “We like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.”
That’s how Hollywood is.
But things are changing. Things are changing.
We got a black Rocky this year. Some people call it “Creed.” I call it “Black Rocky.”
And that’s a big, that’s an unbelievable statement. I mean, cause “Rocky” takes place in a world where white athletes are as good as black athletes.
“Rocky” is a science fiction movie. There’s things that happened in “Star Wars” that are more believable than things that happened in “Rocky,” O.K.?
But hey, we’re here to honor actors. We’re here to honor actors, we’re here to honor films.
There’s a lot of snubs, lot of snubs. One of the biggest snubs no one’s talking about: My favorite actor in the world is Paul Giamatti.
Paul Giamatti, I believe, is the greatest actor in the world. Think about what Paul Giamatti has done the last couple of years.
Last year, he’s in “12 Years a Slave” — hates black people. This year he’s in “Straight Outta Compton” — loves black people.
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Last year, he was whooping Lupita; this year, he’s crying at Eazy-E’s funeral.
Now, that’s range. Ben Affleck can’t do that.
What I’m trying to say is, you know, it’s not about boycotting anything. It’s just, we want opportunity. We want black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors.
That’s it. Not just once. Leo gets a great part every year and, you know, everybody, all you guys, get great parts all the time.
But what about the black actors?
Look at Jamie Foxx. Jamie Foxx is one of the best actors in the world, man. Jamie Foxx was so good in “Ray” that they went to the hospital and unplugged the real Ray Charles. It’s like, “We don’t need two of these!” Nah, man.
You know, everything’s not about race, man. Another big thing tonight is — somebody told me this — you’re not allowed to ask women what they’re wearing anymore.
There’s this whole thing, “Ask her more. You have to ask her more.” You know it’s like, You ask the men more.
Everything’s not sexism, everything’s not racism.
They ask the men more because the men are all wearing the same outfits, O.K.? Every guy in there is wearing the exact same thing.
You know, if George Clooney showed up with a lime green tux on, and a swan coming out his ass, somebody would go, “What you wearing, George?”
Hey, welcome to the 88th Oscars, Academy Awards. Yes, thank you.
You want diversity? We got diversity.
Please welcome Emily Blunt and somebody whiter, Charlize Theron.