I'm not one for award shows. I mean, I have watched more this year, than most, and that's mostly because my kid wanted to watch them. But this year's Oscars with the no-black-nominees tragedy and the Chris-Rock-host double-whammy combo, made them totally irresistible. And Chris Rock did not disappoint.
I think the most salient issue Chris drew out of this Academy debacle was when he presented clips of him interviewing black (and one white) people outside a movie theatre in Compton. He began by asking them what they felt about the total lack of black nominees in any of the main categories. Most were tepid about it. But the real fireworks came when he asked them if any of them had seen any of the top eight nominated films for best film. Not only had they not seen the films, none of them had HEARD of the films. One woman went so far as to challenge Rock. She accused him of making up the names of these films after hearing the title "Bridge of Spies." She told him that she goes to the movies regularly - pointing to the Compton cinema behind them - and that she never even heard of these movies.
Never even heard of these movies.
I'm sorry...did someone say there aren't two Americas? Or three or four of five? The Academy and all who follow it and the Hollywood movies, we all assume that this IS the world. That the whole world is centered on this one, monolithic industry. But we're wrong. We are wrong. There are other groupings, cultures (NOT subcultures, but cultures) independent of Hollywood that survive without even knowing the names Spielberg, Dicaprio, Pacino, Scorcese.
And they are America, too.
If we are going to have "one country, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all," we are going to have to confront the fact that we are currently living in a divided nation. We don't have unity. We don't have liberty and justice for all. We don't even agree on our entertainment. Which, at first blush, may seem inconsequential. But, really, when you consider the entertainment establishment's concept that we DO, in fact, have just one entertainment monolith for the country, it IS a problem.
Chris Rock ended the whole evening by saying "Black lives matter." Those were the last words of the 88th Academy Awards. And it looked like he did it extemporaneously. It was a poignant and meaningful ending to a mostly meaningless evening. Yes, the Academy Awards are mostly trivial, but when 80 million plus people tune in (more than three times the number who tuned in for the first Republic Debate in 2015, and that was record breaking for a debate), one must give some thought to the impact that the awards have on those who watch.
I believe Chris Rock's performance and the segments he pushed to have included - the girl scout cookies sales, the interviews in front of the Compton movie house, the Stacy Dash moment, the Jack Black tribute with Angela Basset - helped send a message, not only to the Academy and to white members of the film industry, but to those who watched, that black people will not be overlooked or treated unfairly. They will come together and rebel. With dignity and humor and incisive wit.