Oscars host Chris Rock wasn’t finished poking fun at the academy’s diversity problem after his unrestrained opening monologue that explained “what kind of racist is Hollywood.” Before Sam Smith performed the first nominated original song of the evening, Rock introduced a montage of sketches showing that “if you are a black actor, just getting the opportunity to be in a movie can be a struggle.”
What followed were scenes from four monochromatic nominated films reimagined with black actors in them. Whoopi Goldberg, as a janitor in Joy, tells Jennifer Lawrence’s titular character, “Maybe one day they’ll make a movie about a skinny white lady that made a mop. A black girl would have to invent the cure for cancer before they give her a TV movie.” Saturday Night Live’s wonderful Leslie Jones stands in for the bear in The Revenant, attacking Leonardo DiCaprio while yelling, “There are no black actresses in this movie!” while Rock himself plays a black version of The Martian’s stranded astronaut, who discovers that Kristen Wiig and Jeff Daniels of NASA aren’t eager to spend the $2,500 they’ll need to get him home.
The scripts were more than a little heavy-handed, and a fourth scene in which a cross-dressing Tracy Morgan played “the Danish girl” in a dress was somewhat regrettable. And I certainly hope the academy doesn’t think it can absolve itself from its racism problem by simply making fun of the lack of black actors in prestige dramas. But it’s still hard to overstate the powerful catharsis of watching black actors rip into Hollywood’s habit of ignoring non-white people’s stories during the Oscars telecast.