The 88th Academy Awards were held Sunday, but the discussion of the Oscars began long before Hollywood’s most prominent actors took to their seats in the Dolby Theatre. This year’s awards were arguably among the most controversial leading up to the big night due to the lack of diversity in major awards categories. With that in mind, there was one major question looming overhead: How would host Chris Rock handle this controversy?
The answer, as we quickly learned from Rock’s monologue and ensuing bits, is directly and pointedly. Rock wasted no time in getting to the meat of the issue, raising the question, “Why these Oscars?” He noted that this problem is not necessarily a new one, because the Oscars have been around for decades. After a quip that black people “had real things to protest” before, like “lynching,” he made sure to address the more serious question about racism in Hollywood, advocating for equal opportunities for people of color. Rock also commented pointedly on Jada Pinkett Smith, who made a very public protest to boycott the ceremony for its lack of representation. Stacey Dash then made a very brief and awkward appearance on stage, a bit referencing her view that Black History Month and BET should be abandoned. In a year where this topic is arguably at the height of its prominence in the film industry, Rock proved a good choice in keeping it at the forefront of the conversation at every turn.
This theme was woven throughout the entirety of the show, with pre-taped spoofs on this year’s nominations. Black actors were put in roles played by others, the best being SNL’s Leslie Jones playing the role of the bear in “The Revenant” and Chris Rock taking Matt Damon’s role as Mark Watney in “The Martian.” In another cute bit, Rock pleaded with the audience to support his daughters in Girl Scouts by sending a troop into the audience to sell cookies. This resulted in a whopping $65,243, a pretty healthy contribution to the organization. These highlights in hosting made for a fluid and entertaining watch.
Controversy and hosting aside, though, the actual donning of the awards was a sight to see. The biggest winner of the night was “Mad Max: Fury Road,” taking home six of the 10 awards it was nominated for, including Best Production Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Film Editing. “The Revenant” also garnered some notable accolades, including Best Director for Alejandro González Iñárritu and Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio. This meant that DiCaprio—unsurprisingly, but deservingly—effectively put an end to all of the jokes and memes surrounding his past snubs. Rather than make reference to any of that in his acceptance speech, however, DiCaprio was sure to acknowledge his fellow cast and crew members and raise awareness of the issue of global warming and environmental threats. It was a very classy move by the deserving actor.
The other actors recognized alongside DiCaprio were Brie Larson for Best Actress in “Room,” Alicia Vikander for Best Supporting Actress in “The Danish Girl,” and Mark Rylance in “Bridge of Spies.” Rylance was one of the most surprising winners. Sylvester “Sly” Stallone was widely regarded as the frontrunner in the Supporting Actors category for reprising his role as Rocky Balboa in “Creed.” Rylance quickly put that assumption to rest, garnering the only award that “Bridge of Spies” received.
Another notable win was the top honor of the night: Best Picture. This category was one of the toughest to predict. With Iñárritu winning earlier in the night for Best Director, it seemed like “The Revenant” might take home the award, but that momentum didn’t carry through to the end of the show; the award ultimately went to Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight.” The emotions were evident on stage as the cast and crew took the stage, with actor Michael Keaton mouthing a “f**k yeah!” into the camera as he walked by. While this win was somewhat surprising, the film was well-deserving of the accolade.
The awards ceremony this year was a decisive one for the film industry. It placed credit where credit was due while raising important questions regarding the core of this business and what it means to be an actor in Hollywood, a theme that will undoubtedly continue long after the golden statues have been handed out.