For Better Or Worse, Chris Rock Made The Oscars As Black As He Possibly Could : Code Switch Despite the fact that no black actors were nominated in any high-profile categories, Academy Awards host Chris Rock kept race at the center of the event.
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For Better Or Worse, Chris Rock Made The Oscars As Black As He Possibly Could

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For Better Or Worse, Chris Rock Made The Oscars As Black As He Possibly Could

For Better Or Worse, Chris Rock Made The Oscars As Black As He Possibly Could

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Comedian Chris Rock hosted the Oscars last night, a black MC looking out at a sea of mostly white faces. Through his jokes, Rock blasted the awards for its lack of diversity. But NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says even while he nailed the Oscars' shortcomings, Chris Rock also revealed his own blind spots on race.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Chris Rock walked on stage as strains of the Public Enemy song "Fight The Power" blasted in the background. He was ready to talk about race.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRIS ROCK: Well, I'm here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People's Choice Awards.

DEGGANS: More specifically, he was ready to take on the Oscars for nominating an all-white slate of actors for the second year in a row. And generally, he did a pretty good job. His monologue was unpredictable and occasionally raunchy - classic Chris Rock. He actually made fun of people on both sides of the Oscars-so-white controversy. First, he seemed to chide Jada Pinkett Smith, who currently appears on the TV show "Gotham," for boycotting the Oscars.

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ROCK: Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna's panties.

(LAUGHTER)

ROCK: I wasn't invited.

DEGGANS: But then, he did answer the question on everyone's lips.

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ROCK: Is Hollywood racist? You're damn right Hollywood's racist. Hollywood is sorority racist. It's like - we like you, Rhonda, but you're not a Kappa.

DEGGANS: Pre-taped comedy segments extended that commentary throughout the show. There was a bit where black actors were inserted into Oscar-nominated films, including comic Tracy Morgan in "The Danish Girl."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRACY MORGAN: I'm a Danish girl.

(LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: And Rock also talked with filmgoers, mostly black, at a theater in Compton. Most of the Oscar-nominated films weren't on their radar.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROCK: How about the "Bridge Of Spies"?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Where are you getting these movies from (laughter)?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You're making up stuff. You're messing with me, right?

ROCK: No, these are real movies.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No, it's not. I watch movies. I come to the movies all the time.

ROCK: These are real movies.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Like in London and stuff?

(LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: It was a steady flow of satire. Rock wouldn't let audiences relax for long before reminding them again who wasn't in the running for awards. But that's also where he ran into trouble. Rock's jokes on diversity mostly focused on the exclusion of black people, ironically excluding Latinos, Asians and other people of color. And when he did mention another ethnic group, bringing out several Asian kids he introduced as the accountants who tabulated Oscar voting? Well -

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROCK: If anybody's upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids.

(LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: Yeah, he mashed together stereotypes about Asian kids being good at math and enduring child labor in one awful joke. That's too bad because most of Rock's comedy delivered the kind of public spanking Hollywood needs to push it into featuring more people of color in high-quality movies. With luck, he might actually keep the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from making the same mistakes a third year in a row. I'm Eric Deggans.

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