Should Chris Rock host the Oscar ceremony or boycott it?

Comedian Chris Rock is set to host the Annual Academy Awards, but will he? Photo / Getty Images
Comedian Chris Rock is set to host the Annual Academy Awards, but will he? Photo / Getty Images

The announcement of this year's whites-only Academy Awards acting nominees produced a flurry of #OscarsSoWhite articles - about the older, white, male voters who picked them, about the performances by black actors some thought were snubbed. The hastag, first created last year by April Reign, managing editor of, has been trending since mid-January.

Nearly two weeks later, the growing backlash against the second consecutive year without any actors or actresses of colour is yielding a drub, drub, drub of Hollywood reaction stories. What are A-listers saying? And, especially, who's planning to boycott next month's ceremony?

Actress Jada Pinkett-Smith won't be there, and filmmakers Spike Lee and Michael Moore are also no-goes. Will Smith, who had nominee buzz for his role in Concussion, told Good Morning America that he's skipping the ceremony with his wife. "We're uncomfortable to stand there and say that this is okay," Smith said.

Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon, writing on her Facebook page, called for more Academy diversity, while Charlotte Rampling, a British best actress nominee this year, told a European radio station that the diversity debate is "racist to whites." Michael Caine, a two-time Oscar-winning British actor, said black performers should be patient about Oscar recognition.

In response to the uproar, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Friday announced sweeping changes to its structure, governance and voting processes as an attempt to increase its diversity and calm the criticism.

America's race conversation has reached Hollywood in cinematic fashion.

And just as in politics, housing, the criminal-justice system, every American institution, it is characterized by those seeking a realignment of power dynamics and those who are angry about what that means for them, with a substantial middle trying to act as if nothing is happening at all.

Read more:
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Comedian Chris Rock, a longtime entertainment industry critic, is scheduled to host the Oscars for the second time this year (the first time was 2005). And the looming, open question leading up to the ceremony is: What is Rock going to do? It's a bigger, more historic question than which film will win this year's best picture award.

Rock has not issued a public statement about the Oscar controversy - he did send a tweet calling the Oscars "the white BET awards." But others are filling in the gap.

Rapper 50 Cent and Fast and Furious star Tyrese Gibson have urged Rock to boycott. Arsenio Hall and actor Marlon Wayans have said the cause is better served if he steps up to the mic. "There's no greater person to talk about this than Chris Rock," Wayans told People magazine.

That seems to be the prevailing opinion on social media.

One Facebook friend wrote: "The beauty of Rock hosting is that The Oscars already know where he stands on race in Hollywood ... They knew what they were getting and they booked him anyway. He is the perfect person to host, unless he says nothing."

Another said: "I think he will slice them up, and it will be painful and funny and won't make a difference."

Comedian, Chris Rock. Photo / Getty Images
Comedian, Chris Rock. Photo / Getty Images

I don't know what I think, but since I'm snowed in with time on my hands and a month until Oscar time, I made a list arguing for and against.

Rock should host the Oscars: As soon as he steps up to the microphone, he casts the lack of black actors and actresses onstage with him in stark relief without saying a word. Then he'll say word after biting word.

Rock should boycott the Oscars: Because the protest tradition is rich in America, and because we Americans vote with our feet. Rock's high-profile absence shatters the illusion that race and privilege in Hollywood are separate from the issues roiling the rest of the country. It shatters the illusion that there's always next year to get it right.

Rock should host: It will be uncomfortable to watch, just as it was uncomfortable for some of us to watch as the nominees were announced.

Rock should boycott: America always wants some of that black creativity - #squadgoals and "on fleek" - without the inequality, alienation and anger that give rise to it. "We take all we want from black culture, but will we show up for black lives?" says white hip-hop artist Macklemore in his newly released White Privilege II. This year, the Oscars script calls for all or nothing.

I'm not a Hollywood insider, and I don't pretend to know what Rock ought to do. But it is remarkable that we're asking this question, and waiting for him and other members of the powerful Hollywood elite to answer. To go on the record and be held accountable for where they stand. My prediction: This year's Oscar controversy will trickle down.

For the rest of us, I say: Look around. That #OscarsSoWhite hashtag (substitute your award, your company, your profession for "Oscars") may be coming soon to a theater near you.

- Washington Post

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