what happened at the academy awards

Celebrities spoke out positively — on the red carpet and on stage — about #oscarssowhite and improving diversity in Hollywood.

by Laura Vogel
29 February 2016, 5:25am

Kerry Washington is confident future Oscars will be more inclusive. Photo via Instagram

The elephant in the room at this year's Academy Awards, the 88th, was quickly and often spoken about, in conversations and speeches about the #oscarssowhite controversy. It began on the red carpet, when ABC host Robin Roberts asked Kerry Washington about diversity in Hollywood.

The Scandal star replied, "If you look at the history of movements, the history of change, a lot of voices are needed at the table. So I really respect and actually admire some of the people who are not here tonight. I really get it. But for me, I felt like ... my voice is best used at the table. As a new member of the Academy, I really want to be part of the conversation to make sure that there's institutional change, so that we never have a year like this again." Washington also made the point that diversity extends beyond race, saying, "It's about women, it's about people of color, it's about age, it's about making sure that our films and the awards that we give for films represent humanity."

Later on the red carpet, Louis Gosset, Jr., who won an Oscar in 1982 for An Officer and a Gentleman, said of the controversy, "We're not going to get to the promised land until we regard one another as part of the same family," he said. "Black, Latino as one family. That's America."

The show's host, comedian Chris Rock, made references to the whiteness of this year's nominees all throughout the show, calling the Oscars the "white people's choice awards."

Rock didn't mince words, saying, "People asked me to quit, and I thought about quitting, and I realized: They're gonna have the Oscars anyway whether I do it or not." He asked, "Why are we protesting this Oscars? It's the 88th awards, which means this 'no-black-nominees' thing has happened roughly 71 times. The thing is, we had better things to protest most years. When we were being raped and lynched, we didn't care who won the Oscar for best cinematographer!"

Colin Gibson, best production design winner for Mad Max: Fury Road, after listing the nationalities of the film's diverse cast and crew — Australians, Americans, South Africans, and Namibians — said, "I'd like to chalk this Oscar up to the first win for diversity tonight."

There was one race-oriented joke that fell quite flat. It was a segment entitled "Black History Month Minute," hosted by Angela Bassett, wherein the leadup made you expect Will Smith would be celebrated, but the honoree was...Jack Black! (Get it? His last name is Black.)

Comedian Kevin Hart had a great little moment onstage. He said, "I want to take a moment to congratulate actors and actresses of color for all their accomplishments this year. Soon, there will be more diversity at the Oscars, and all of this will be behind us."

Sasha Baron Cohen made a welcome, funny appearance as Ali G, saying in his Cockney-meets-Rastafari accent, "I know what youse is thinking: Here comes anotha token black presenter."

The Mexican winner for best director for The Revenant, Alejandro González Iñárritu acknowledged that there had been many people of color who haven't received the acclaim that they are due, noting that, "there is a line in this film that says, 'They don't listen to you, they just see the color of your skin.' We, however, in this generation, have the opportunity to rid ourselves of racism."

Leo DiCaprio finally got his best actor award for The Revenant, and he chose to make an environmental point in his acceptance speech, saying, "Climate change is real... We need to stop procrastinating and do something now, for the indigenous people, for the underprivileged people who will be disproportionally effected by climate change. Let us not take this planet for granted."

In general, it was a vibrant and positive awards show, and gave a sense that the band-aid had been ripped off a contentious situation within a close-but-fractious family. Everyone from comedians to the president of the Academy acknowledged that change has to be made in the entertainment industry, and that let a lot of oxygen into the room. Speaking one's mind is a time-honored tradition at the Oscars, and this night was all about rectifying some serious wrongs. 

Wrapping up his hosting duties, Chris Rock said, "I want to invite you all to the B.E.T. Awards this summer...black lives matter!"


Text Laura Vogel
Image via Instagram

Academy Awards
Kerry Washington
chris rock
Oscars 2016
88th Academy Awards