The Oscars — a night that critics and movie lovers everywhere dread. The evening is a showcase of films that mislead the world into thinking they’re the best of the year when, in reality, they’re just the best-marketed. Enter stage left: #OscarsSoWhite. Enter stage right: host Chris Rock spending most of the broadcast making jokes about black people not being at the Oscars.
Rock’s presence was surprisingly refreshing compared to the past few hosts. The last great host I can recall was Hugh Jackman, though maybe that’s because I remember his perfect opening number about all the films nominated for Best Picture.
Despite Rock's attempt to call out the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for lack of diversity, there was a lot to be desired in the discussion (if one can even call a series of jokes a discussion). First came the host's lazy opening speech, in which he joked about the importance of not asking female actors what designer they're wearing on the red carpet. “Ask her more,” he quipped while dismissing it as “everything’s not sexism.”
The number of women filmmakers who even came up in conversation at the Oscars is embarrassing, to say the least. The biggest offense was Best Documentary Short winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s speech about religiously motivated honor killings getting cut short while others (cough, men) were able to prattle on forever.
Another feeble mention of women in film was within one of Rock's previously filmed sketches in which he asked people on the street what their favorite, whitest film was last year. One person sincerely answered Angelina Jolie-Pitt’s By the Sea, and Rock dismissed it saying not even Jolie-Pitt would say that.
Adding to all of this was the misguided nature of Rock’s comments that the Academy should make one Best Actor category rather than separating it into male and female categories. Let’s be real: If there were one category, it’d be ten white men every year, with women getting one nomination every leap year and people of color being shut out except for once a decade.
Moving along: Other minorities! It was a mixed night. The worst portions of the evening involved jokes that were supposed to be edgy and scapegoated Asian individuals (like the three Asian kids brought onstage with briefcases, and the Ali G bit that made me feel bad for Olivia Wilde, who had to stand next to him the whole time).
There were, however, some exciting wins for minorities: Asif Kapadia for Best Documentary Feature and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy for Best Documentary Short. There were also some not-so-exciting ones: Alejandro González Iñárritu for Best Director and Emmanuel Lubezki for Best Cinematography.
Regardless of my disdain for The Revenant and its filmmaker, it’s refreshing to see that two Mexican individuals scored back-to-back awards (back-to-back-to-back for Lubezki’s cinematography). That being said, it’s still disappointing that the most we saw of any Hispanic actor the entire night was Sofia Vergara laughing at basically everything that was said. If only we could all be that happy about life, but Oscar Isaac wasn’t nominated for Ex Machina (which delightfully won Visual Effects).
What about the queers? Should we be happy? No. Definitely not. I don’t think a single person was happy that Sam Smith won for Best Original Song, especially after that mess of a performance. The first trans nominee/performer (Antony Hegarty for "Manta Ray") was at the Oscars in the same category, but he was cut from performing. The Academy also didn't allow the sole Asian nominee/performer, David Lang, to perform his "Simple Song #3." But Dave Grohl got to warble “Blackbird” during the In Memoriam? Come on.
And then the Academy didn't reward the bisexual woman who brought sexual assault survivors onstage with her. Lady Gaga's "Til It Happens to You" performance was the only moving moment of the night.
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Then comes Smith's speech. He fumbles through it and improperly cites an Ian McKellan article about the Academy never recognizing a gay man, as if Melissa Etheridge, Elton John, Dustin Lance Black (whose response was amazing), Howard Ashman, and Stephen Sondheim don’t exist?
The one thing that the Oscars shone some light on and that felt particularly thrilling and never jokey was the topic of sexual assault. Films such as The Hunting Ground, Room, and Spotlight were treated with care. And when Spotlight won Best Picture over a cavalcade of masturbatory works, is was amazing. The fact that multiple people can get onstage and speak about sexual assault and there are films being made about it is incredibly important. With luck, it won’t be overshadowed in Oscar discussions over next few days.
But the night did feature a rather insightful moment from someone unexpected. It was when Kevin Hart took the stage to introduce a musical number. He understood that the discussion about diversity was more than just a lack of black nominees. "I want to applaud all of the actors and actresses of color that didn't get nominated tonight," he said. "The reason why I say that is because I want them to understand that tonight should not determine the hard work and effort that you put into your craft... At the end of the day, we love what we do — you're breaking major ground doing it. These problems of today will eventually become problems of the old. Let's not let this negative issue of diversity beat us; let's continue to do what we do best. With that being said, congratulations on an amazing year."
Follow Juan Barquin on Twitter.