Some of the jokes in Chris Rock’s opening monologue for last night Oscars landed, some didn’t; but in total, watching a black man hand Hollywood its ass for over 10 straight minutes was a breathtaking sight to behold. The video above condenses his speech to the reactions from A-list white actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Sylvester Stallone, and the man who ran the Academy’s minority outreach program before Stacey Dash took over, Matt Damon.
They’re sometimes squirmy, sometimes pained, often amused (whether that’s legitimately so or just actors being actors). This is about the extent to which white people were confronted with Hollywood’s diversity problem that was the centerpiece of discourse surrounding this year’s Academy Awards.
Diversity is everyone’s responsibility. White people should have to answer for racism more than they do. Even the most powerless actor who’s just there for the ride and trying to rack up enough clout to produce or direct and really assert his or her individuality and vision in Hollywood, is taking part in an openly racist system. As long as this conversation remains confined to people of color, we can’t expect to see real change. That’s just obvious, given the nature of this particular power structure (largely white and oldschool).
So it’s dismaying that it was people of color on the red carpet during ABC’s 90-minute pre-show last night doing the lion’s share of discussing #OscarsSoWhite and Hollywood diversity. This included Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Kerry Washington, Louis Gossett Jr., and Kevin Hart. Granted, Eddie Redmayne touched on trans issues (he plays a trans woman in The Danish Girl), Cate Blanchett maybe said a word or two about lesbians (she plays one in Carol), and Lady Gaga talked about sexual-assault survivors (her nominated song, “Til It Happens To You,” was featured in The Hunting Ground). There are lots of identities to account for. But still, the burden of discussing racism was put on black people, as it has been historically, while the white A-listers who outnumbered them during ABC’s pre-show by an almost 4-1 ratio generally babbled about nothing much of consequence at all.
In discussing Rock’s then-upcoming hosting gig, Tina Fey made a passing reference to there being “a lot of controversy” that he was clearly going to respond to. And this, by the way, is more than most white people had to say about it.
Mark Ruffalo attacked the subject head-on, with prompting from Robin Roberts. (Ruffalo had previously discussed white privilege and the Oscars’ lack of diversity in an interview.)
In January, Ruffalo was said to be considering joining the likes of Will and Jada-Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee in boycotting the Oscars, though he soon clarified that he would be attending “in support of the victims of clergy sexual abuse and good journalism,” a reference to the eventual Best Picture winner he starred in, Spotlight.
And when it comes to this discussion among white people—who are accountable and who have more power to make change than people of color, who by virtue of this conversation if not your own senses, are underrepresented—that’s about it. That’s paltry, and if we’re going to see real progress, there needs to be more.
The whole thing reminded me of an interview I conducted with black director Shaka King a few years ago. What he said very visibly holds true:
It’s crazy to me how little people think about why shit is the way it is. I don’t think that’s gonna change. There’s more shit out there to distract us than ever. It always pisses me off when there’s an interview with a person of color, and they shy away from it. It’s like, “You’re being a bitch.” But then at the same time, I really, really, really wish white people in the public eye were asked about race. That’s one of the ways in which racism manifests: White people are never involved in the conversation. They’re never asked about their whiteness. I would love for someone to say, “What’s it like being a white director?” to Christopher Nolan.
[video idea h/t Anna Holmes]