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Review: The 2016 Oscars Might Have Dragged, But Didn’t Stop Being Funny About Race

Review: The 2016 Oscars Might Have Dragged, But Didn't Stop Being Funny About Race

There was never any doubt that, thanks to #OscarsSoWhite rage and host Chris Rock’s intelligent and fearless outlook on race in Hollywood, this year’s Academy Awards would be (at least at the beginning) a show about race first, and movies second. Honestly? That was pretty welcome, as approaches go. 

READ MORE: The Best Things Phyllis Nagy, Laszlo Nemes and More Said on the Red Carpet at the 2016 Academy Awards

Many years, the Oscars have leaned heavily on the theme of “movies are important!” that can become a bit of a hard sell for justifying the big fancy party they’re throwing. Movies are important, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes movies are just movies, and sometimes a big fancy party is a big fancy party — except when it’s a big fancy party that also lets Chris Rock throw some shade at an industry which is (sometimes) pretty aware of how badly it can screw things up. 

Thus, an opening monologue full of commentary on the state of race in Hollywood, followed by at least two other comedy bits that put the issue front and center. And it led to a ceremony that felt like it had some degree of real weight to it — not so much because this was a necessary approach, as it is the idea that of all the ways that the Oscars might spend its and our time, there are far, far worse options. Remember the year that Val Kilmer rode in on a horse to talk about the great tradition of Westerns? That was a thing that happened in 1999. I’ll take the Black History Month Minute over that, any day. 

Sometimes, an awards show host will make a big play at the beginning of the night before drifting into the background; Rock remained relatively present the whole evening, and there were moments spared for levity on a regular basis, which is always welcome when your heart is breaking over sexual assault survivors and honor killings. 

READ MORE: Full List of All 2016 Oscar Winners

Inserting black actors into some of this year’s nominees wasn’t a flawless bit of comedy (Tracy Morgan’s take on “The Danish Girl” bore more than a whiff of transphobia) but all I want to watch until the end of time is Leslie Jones mauling Leonardo DiCaprio, or Kristen Wiig and Jeff Daniels recreating their characters from “The Martian” with some incredible deadpan wit. (That said, the line of the night might be Jacob Tremblay’s off-the-cuff compliment to Rock: “I loved you in ‘Madagascar.'” Officially endorsing the idea of Tremblay as host for 2017.)

Also, it was delightful to see Rock revisit one of his greatest bits from when he hosted in 2005 — a man-on-the-street interview segment conducted at a movie theater straight outta Compton, in which he talked to black moviegoers about the current crop of Oscar movies. (We missed the presence of Albert Brooks, but it was still more than solid.) 

Seriously, where did the time go? You can’t say that tonight’s ceremony flew by, but I’m hard-pressed to identify any real examples of filler. Sure, bits like Chris Rock helping his daughters sell Girl Scout cookies to the audience might not have felt essential, but they brought some energy to the room. (That said — how did they arrive at a total amount ending in a three? Girl Scout cookies cost five bucks a box. Learn to math, Mr. Rock.) 

Structurally, the concept of going through the categories in the order that they enter the production process (i.e., starting with writing, then moving into technical categories) wasn’t a bad one, if a little overthought. The major problem was looking at the clock and realizing that after forty minutes, exactly four awards had been handed out — and then about five more got tossed out in the space of what felt like five minutes. Pacing in general felt a bit dull, enlivened primarily by the occasional freak upset (Mark Rylance, you seem very nice, but congratulations on taking the award that Sylvester Stallone should have won). 

Only three of the five nominated songs got performed, which was probably for the best given how weak the category was this year, but points for at least two of those three performances grabbing at the chance to be real showstoppers (in a good way). Between the Weeknd’s S&M-themed cabaret and Lady Gaga’s incredibly emotional gut punch of a ballad devoted to combating sexual assault, those were evening highlights. It’s hard to celebrate the entire scope of a film in an awards ceremony format, but it is not hard to discover the impact of a song 

READ MORE: The Best Things Winners Leonardo DiCaprio, Brie Larson and More Said Backstage at the 2016 Academy Awards

Because that’s what this is all about, isn’t it? Celebrating art, celebrating the act of creation. My favorite speech of the night might have been from the producers of “Inside Out,” telling the young and alienated that making things would help them in their darker times; it was the sort of speech that stands out, because we can question how much an actor really loves their agent or really believes in that cause — but a moment like that, we know just how true it is. 

Overall, the show lacked a big iconic moment that truly caught us off guard, like Ellen Degeneres ordering pizza for the crowd or gathering together the most star-studded selfie of all time. But it lacked any major gaffs, beyond running a little longer than necessary, and featured some fun surprises. Did Rock and his writers put up a complex analysis of the societal issues underlying Hollywood’s ongoing issues with creating real inclusion? No. But was it supposed to? The answer to that is also no. 

It would have been nice to see the show acknowledge diversity beyond the realm of white versus black. But with that oversight acknowledged, this was still a more relevant and intelligent evening than we might have anticipated. It wouldn’t have happened, had the nominees reflected some real color. But as long as it went, we still enjoyed watching. 

Grade: B+

READ MORE: Oscars So White: 8 Ways to Fix the Academy Diversity Problem

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Funny only for 10 min. Then it was overkill


Cris rock was cool.He took it all the way.Race jokes were funny and really good.Awards won…hmm.I think Sly should have won best sup actor and best song should have been Laddy Gaga.2 misses on the win.So glad Leo won.He deserved it.Happy for him.


the show was clearly a moratorium on the lack of black actors then it was a show. The problem I had with that was that the diversity was for lack of black rolls. What about rolls for gay, fat, oriental, middle eastern, indians, or any other diversity. You could say that the entertainment industry is predigest against anyone too old, absolutely too fat (eve n size 8 women would have a problem getting a job as the "woman"…their voices should be heard as well


Address it in the monologue then move on. The Oscars are about celebrating movies, not a forum for one minority to complain for 3 and a half hours.

Matheus Magalhães

I thought the segment in front of the theater incredibly prejudicial. Why black people can’t watch important movies? Why they HAVE to watch Supafly or only films with stereotyped black people on it?


Chris Rock fell flat. The writing was horrible, the black point was made and then made again and again and again. It was reverse discrimination almost. Why only black girls selling cookies? Where was the diversity? Why 3 Asian kids as the accountants? Stereotyping again. Why did Kevin Hart (?) bring up racism again? How many camera angels had to focus on black members of the audience…what about the other members of the world who are not black or white? And where was the Hollywood glamour, stars, why was everyone youngish. Where were the older stars? I think Morgan Freeman was the only senior presenter. Seems to me like they left out alot of minorities, seniors included, while focusing on how black the show "should" be.


Horrible show. I turned it off halfway through and I doubt I will watch it next year. How about a white host at the BET awards? How about a white president at the NAACP? I’m so sick of the victim mentality amongst the black community and I do not need to be lectured for 4 hours. If you want awards WORK for them!


It was a 4-hour lecture delivered to people who have no influence in Hollywood hiring decisions. And all because Rocky 8 (now with Black Rocky!) and a music biopic didn’t get nominated.

Susan W. Woods

Was singing "Black Bird" a coincidence?


To be fair to that Tracy Morgan bit, I don’t really think it was transphobic, if only because it was satirizing The Danish Girl, one of the most transphobic films I have ever seen. If it had been Tangerine, then yes, but not that mockery

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