To say that Chris Rock had a difficult task as host of the 2016 Academy Awards would be an understatement. Rock was tapped to emcee the ceremony amid the #OscarsSoWhite controversy - meaning that not only was he basically tasked with making jokes about the fact that, for the second year in a row, none of the acting nominees were people of color, but he also had members of the Hollywood community calling for him to boycott his own ceremony as a result.
Rock's approach was to tackle the controversy head-on. From the minute he took the stage at the Dolby Theatre, he tossed off joke after joke about racism in Hollywood. The problem was, many of them didn't land.
Some of the quips in Rock's opening monologue were softballs, like the observation that "if they nominated hosts, I wouldn't even get this job. You'd all be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now." But others cut deep. Musing about why black people didn't protest the lack of black nominees in previous years, like in the '50s and '60s, say, Rock noted: "Because we had real things to protest at the time. ... Too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won Best Cinematographer. When your grandmother's swinging from a tree, it's really hard to care about Best Documentary Foreign Short." Wince.
But Rock never strayed too far from the topic at hand, which made for a one-note performance that felt phoned-in at times. (He also never included any other minority groups in his observations.) A halfheartedly-delivered bit about the #AskHerMore movement (which laments that most questions to women on the red carpet are limited to what they're wearing) felt like it was tacked-on at the last minute. "They ask the men more because everyone is wearing the same outfit. If George Clooney showed up in a lime green tuxedo with a swan coming out of his ass, everyone would go, 'Whatcha wearing, George?'" Rock noted.
Other notable zingers:
-"This year, in the In Memoriam package, it's just going to be black people who were shot by the cops on their way to the movies."
-"Jada [Pinkett-Smith] boycotting [the Oscars] is like me boycotting Rihanna's panties. I wasn't invited.
-"We got a Black Rocky this year. Some people call it Creed. I call it Black Rocky. Rocky takes place in a world where white athletes are as good as black athletes. So Rocky's a science fiction movie."
The best segment of the night was a reimagining of the year's top films with black actors in them. We saw Saturday Night Live's Leslie Jones attacking Leonardo DiCaprio, Whoopi Goldberg marveling at the fact that a white woman had a movie made about her because she learned how to use a mop, Tracy Morgan as a pastry-loving "Danish Girl," and Rock as a black astronaut who gets abandoned in space because it's too expensive to bring him home.
Most of the other bits, including a bizarre appearance by Stacey Dash, a cringe-worthy montage of interviews with black moviegoers at a theater in Compton, and a cutesy plea by Rock for audience members to order Girl Scout cookies from his daughters, missed the mark entirely.
And spending so much time focusing on the actors and films that were omitted from the ceremony meant that Rock didn't have much to say about the movies and stars that were nominated. The traditional jabs about Best Picture nominees were gone (aside from the Compton segment, which basically only indicated that black moviegoers don't see "prestige films" - probably not what Rock was going for). While it wasn't the worst Oscars hosting performance in recent memory - remember Neil Patrick Harris' box, anyone? - it felt like a missed opportunity, to say the least.