We all knew it was coming. For one, Chris Rock is Chris Rock—he’s made a career out of being one of pop culture’s foremost thinkers about and analyzers of race in America, so as the host of an Academy Awards ceremony shrouded in the embarrassment of #OscarsSoWhite, it’s not like he could stand up onstage and say nothing. Plus, over the weekend, he not so subtly told us he was going to do this.
And so, Rock delivered an opening monologue that was almost entirely about the #OscarsSoWhite ceremony, and it was … interesting, to say the least. Entering to the in-your-face sounds of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” (which, you may recall, is the theme song for Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing), the comedian dove right in, commenting on the montage that preceded him: “I counted at least 15 black people in that montage.” What followed was a speech that oscillated between skewering academy racism (“If they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even have this job”) and sort of oddly poking fun at some of the celebrities who decided to boycott the ceremony (“Jada [Pinkett-Smith] protesting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited!”).
But the best part of Rock’s monologue came when he explicitly called out Hollywood for its racism with the apt question of “What kind of racist is Hollywood?” While it’s not “burning cross racist,” he said, it’s a different kind of racist: sorority racist. “Hollywood,” said Rock, “is sorority racist. It’s like, we like you, Rhonda. But you’re not a Kappa.”
He recounted an event with President Obama where he and three other prominent black artists (including Questlove and Quincy Jones, “the usual suspects”) were in a room full of producers. According to Rock, he whispered to the president that this room was full of nice, white liberals ... who didn’t hire black people.
And with that, Rock summed it up in a nutshell, as the majority white audience of Hollywood’s elite nervously laughed and made strained and/or confused faces that the camera cut to at just the right moment. Hollywood likes to claim that it’s awash with progressives—while also denying non-white people, subtly and perhaps unconsciously, an opportunity to be a part of that exclusive, exalted club. Chris Rock may be hosting the Oscars, but he also knows what it’s like to be Rhonda.