He was expected to get his hands dirty, and Chris Rock didn't waste any time getting down to business.

The controversial choice of host for this year's Academy Awards took about two seconds to address the '#OscarsSoWhite' controversy which saw accusations of "whitewashing" over the lack of ethnic minority acting nominees in the category of best actor.

"Well, I'm here at the Academy Awards - otherwise known as the white People's Choice awards. You realize if they nominated hosts, I wouldn't even get this job. Y'all would be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now," joked Rock, 51, as he began his opening monologue.

Rock, a stand-up comedian and actor himself, then turned to calls for him to quit as host.


"I thought about quitting," Rock said. "But I realised they'd have the Oscars anyway and the last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart."

Rock then delivered his most controversial joke.

"This year's going to be different," he said. "This year's in memoriam package will just be images of black folks shot on their way to the movies."

He also suggested more black actors might be nominated if the Academy introduced new categories, like "best black friend".

"It's the 88th Academy Awards, which means this whole no black nominees thing has happened at least 71 other times, okay? You got to figure that it happened in the '50s, in the '60s," Rock said, caustically joking that blacks did not protest about it before.

"You know, when your grandmother's swinging from a tree, it's really hard to care about best documentary foreign short."

The 88th Academy Awards got underway with Hollywood's finest walking up a sun-drenched Oscars red carpet.

Survival epic The Revenant leads the charge for golden statuettes and is expected to be awarded best picture at the climax of a three-hour show.

- nzherald.co.nz with AFP