What a disappointment.
Beforehand, I thought it a fortuitous yet inspired occurrence that I was really looking forward to seeing. Afterwards, I could barely believe what I had witnessed.
Chris Rock blew it.
As far as I was concerned, the main — perhaps only — reason to watch Sunday’s 88th Academy Awards show was to see the comedian (one of my favorite living funnymen) serve as the show’s host and deliver the opening monologue.
That’s because at his best as a stand-up comedian, Chris Rock is insightful, biting, raucous, outrageous, brave and, of course, hilarious.
Seeing him on Sunday night, however, left me wondering what the heck happened to the Rock I was expecting to see.
Giving credit where credit is due, Rock was poised, polished and professional. His timing was fine. He looked comfortable.
I’ll also give him credit for a few clever jokes and bits, like having his daughters and their troop sell Girl Scout cookies to the audience. (I could relate because that afternoon I was one of two parents chaperoning my daughter and her sister Girl Scout as they sold cookies outside a local grocery store.)
But another bit, this one prerecorded, involved Rock interviewing various black moviegoers at a theater in L.A. County’s Compton, Calif. The town was made famous by the rap group N.W.A., which was the subject of the 2015 movie “Straight Outta Compton,” a pic that received no Oscar noms for acting.
Anyway, Rock asked the questions and got (presumably) honest reactions. Though amusing (mostly at the expense of the bits’ participants), a problem with it was that (sadly) there isn’t a movie theater in the city of Compton. It was actually shot at the Rave Cinema 15 at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, many miles away.
So, in retrospect, the bit ended up ringing a bit hollow and a bit false. Maybe, perhaps, it was symbolic of the other problems I had with Rock’s opening monologue, which was the main reason I wanted to see what Rock had to say for his monologue during this year of #OscarsSoWhite.
If you missed it — and chances are good that most people did, since overnight ratings were the lowest since 2008 — Chris Rock focused on the diversity issue as a black and white issue. Yes, Rock is black. But his famed, biting humor missed the target by focusing solely on the white and the black.
No mention of the dearth of acting roles and institutional racism facing anyone who wasn’t black.
In my previous two columns (Feb. 4, at http://tinyurl.com/heqz4y5 and Feb. 18, at http://tinyurl.com/jmueab3), I wrote about the drama that erupted following the announcement of the 2016 Academy Award nominations and how all 20 acting nominations went to white folks for the second year in a row. Not one black, Latino, Native American, Asian or Asian American in the bunch.
Some prominent people — OK, mainly actress Jada Pinkett Smith — called for a boycott of the awards. I thought that line of thinking punished the wrong party, namely the Motion Picture Academy. It can only nominate from the pool of films that come its way, mostly from the six big Hollywood studios. If the movie biz decides to make movies and create movie stars from a limited pool of people that happen to be mostly of the Caucasian persuasion, you can’t only blame the Academy, flawed as its voting membership might be.
If social media postings after the fact are any indication, I’m not alone in the observation that Rock blew it. Of all people, he should have known better to keep it “binary,” using the term Dan Mayeda (whom I interviewed along with Chris Tashima in those previous two columns) in 2016.
Exacerbating the problem was another bit in which he introduced representatives of the show’s accounting firm of PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which tallies the Oscar votes. The three “representatives” were children, all of Asian ancestry, introduced as Ming Zhu, Bao Ling and David Moskowitz, pseudonyms all I’m sure. He even acknowledged that the bit was problematic by saying: “If anybody’s upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids.”
Wow. Talk about hitting the wrong note. That made Adele’s recent problematic Grammy performance seem pitch perfect.
So, the problems facing Asian Americans in Hollywood got left out of Rock’s monologue (along with everyone else), yet Asians were specifically mocked in a dumb bit by the grinning host.
If it’s a choice between benign neglect and mockery, give me the benign neglect.
There were other problems with the show, of course. In any given year, there’s going to be something. You can’t please all of the people all of the time. I didn’t like how the band gave winners only 45 seconds before playing them off. I also thought Sacha Baron Cohen (doing his Ali G. act) was stupid. (Turns out the Academy had reportedly asked him to play it straight and not appear in character, if he is to be believed.)
But, in the end, the biggest disappointment was Rock, mainly because I expected more.
Last time out, I wrote: “So, we may actually be going ‘Into the Next Stage’ after so many years. In the short term, we can enjoy the 88th Academy Awards show on Sunday, Feb. 28. Chris Rock is one of my favorite comedians and I’m really looking forward to him hosting what may be the last OscarsSoWhite show.”
“Enjoy?” About as much as a stale Girl Scout cookie.
Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2016 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.