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Oscars host Chris Rock confronts race row head-on

AFP , Monday 29 Feb 2016
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Host Chris Rock opens the show at the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 28, 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)
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Oscars host Chris Rock hit early and hard Sunday on a race row overshadowing Hollywood's biggest night, mercilessly ribbing both the movie industry and its critics.

The comedian wasted no time raising the controversy over the lack of African American acting nominees, addressing the issue from his first words and discussing virtually nothing else in his monologue before returning repeatedly to race during the broadcast.

"Hey! Well, I'm here at the Academy Awards -- otherwise known as the white People's Choice awards," he said, after joking that the introductory montage had at least 15 black people.

Rock questioned why the 88th edition of the Oscars drew so much concern, guessing that black nominees were similarly absent most years.

African Americans did not protest most years because they were "too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer," he said.
"You know, when your grandmother's swinging from a tree, it's really hard to care about best documentary foreign short," he quipped.

The energetic 51-year-old funnyman, sporting a white dinner jacket, shot down activists who urged him to boycott the Oscars in solidarity with other black actors.

"They're not going to cancel the Oscars because I quit, you know? And the last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart," Rock said in reference to a fellow black comic.

Rock enjoyed consistent applause for his monologue, even as he savaged some big names in Hollywood.

He suggested that Jada Pinkett Smith joined the boycott by African Americans because her husband, actor and rapper Will Smith, was not nominated for "Concussion."

"Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna's panties," he said, referring to the sultry singer. "I wasn't invited."

Yet Rock also made clear that there were true concerns for the community, pointing to the string of police killings of African Americans that have triggered the Black Lives Matter protest movement.

"This year, in the 'In Memoriam' package, it's just going to be black people that were shot on their way to the movies," he said, referring to the customary Oscars tribute to deceased cinema figures.

Rock, a veteran of "Saturday Night Live," previously hosted the Oscars in 2005, when he also had unleashed pointed humor but race was noticeably less of an open issue.

Rock returned to race throughout the show, even saying on return from a commercial break, "We're black" in lieu of "We're back."

At another point, Rock introduced a video that purported to show Hollywood's "Black History Month" with movies of Will Smith -- only to end in the punchline that the industry in fact was celebrating white comedian Jack Black.

Erik Davis, managing editor of movie ticketing website Fandango, called Sunday's show "one of the most consistently entertaining Oscar shows in memory."

"Whether or not it was intentional, the show had a unifying theme, and every Chris Rock joke was a perfect riff on that theme. He will definitely get invited to host again," Davis said.

Rock did not focus exclusively on race. He created a running joke about Girl Scout cookies, appealing to the Hollywood elite to buy some from his daughter who he said had come up short in her sales.

He ended the show with a swipe at Harvey Weinstein, one of Hollywood's most powerful executives, accusing him of failing to buy cookies.

"Buy some Girl Scout cookies. Black Lives Matter," Rock said to end the show.

Then came on a loaded choice of closing music -- "Fight the Power" by black nationalists Public Enemy.

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