Chris Rock Opens Oscars With Barbs for All-White Nominees

  • Alicia Vikander wins supporting Oscar for `Danish Girl' role
  • Rylance is longshot supporting winner for `Bridge of Spies'

The 88th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California.

Photographer: Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Comedian Chris Rock tackled the Oscars’ diversity problem head on Sunday, opening the annual Academy Awards broadcast with a few barbs at this year’s roster of all-white acting nominees.

“I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the white people’s choice awards,” Rock, one of the best-known black comedians and entertainers in the U.S., said in his opening monologue on Walt Disney Co.’s ABC network as host of the ceremony in Los Angeles. “This is the 88th Academy Awards. You gotta figure this all white nominee thing has happened at least 71 other times.”

Academy Awards host Chris Rock

Photographer: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The controversy over the nominations, which left out potentially Oscar-worthy performances by Will Smith, Idris Elba and the cast of “Straight Outta Compton,” put Rock in a tricky spot. He was expected to lambast the industry over its lack of diversity, yet also has the job of hosting a show that celebrates Hollywood’s best work. Activists including Rev. Jesse Jackson have called for a boycott of the ceremony. Smith and director Spike Lee, whose film “Chi-raq” was snubbed, have said they won’t attend.

“How come all these unemployed people are telling you to quit something?” Rock said. “I thought about quitting, but they’re going to have the Oscars anyway. All I need to do is lose another job to Kevin Hart.”

On a more serious note, he added: “We want opportunities, we want the black actors to get the same opportunities, and that’s it.”

Advertising Costs

Kantar Media, an industry researcher, estimates marketers are paying as much as $2 million for a 30-second spot, compared with more than $1.8 million on average last year, when total Oscar ad spending reached $110 million for the telecast. The Oscars are routinely one of the most-watched TV shows of the year.

Supporting Roles

Alicia Vikander won best actress in a supporting role

Photographer: Chris Pizzello/Invision via AP Photo

In the supporting-actress category, the Oscar went to Alicia Vikander. She co-stars as the artist Gerda Wegener, the wife of one of the first men to undergo sexual reassignment, in “The Danish Girl.” Vikander was given a 77 percent winning probability by the U.K. bookmaking company Ladbrokes Plc. The picture was distributed by Comcast Corp.’s Focus Features in the U.S.

The Oscar for best supporting actor went to Mark Rylance, a long shot win for his role as the Russian spy Rudolf Abel in Steven Spielberg’s Cold War thriller “Bridge of Spies.” Tom Hanks starred in the Disney-distributed film, based on the true story of lawyer James Donovan, who negotiates a prisoner swap for U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers, who was shot down while flying over the Soviet Union.

Best Picture NomineeLadbrokes
The Revenant 2 to 5
Spotlight 3.5 to 1
The Big Short 6.5 to 1
Room 25 to 1
Mad Max 50 to 1
The Martian 80 to 1
Brooklyn100 to 1
Bridge of Spies200 to 1

In a shot at the business community, Adam McKay, director of “The Big Short,” used the film’s victory for adapted screenplay to lash out at politicians who take contributions from Wall Street, Big Oil or “weird billionaires.” The film focuses on the 2008 financial crisis and investors who saw the crisis coming.

“Big money is taking over our government,” McKay said backstage after collecting his award.

The early leader of the night was “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which gathered six awards for categories as diverse as costume design, editing and sound. Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. is the distributor.

Oddsmaker’s Favorite

“The Revenant” is the Ladbrokes favorite in three top categories: best picture, best director and best actor. Leonardo DiCaprio is favored for his starring role as a frontiersman who seeks revenge after being left for dead. The film’s director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, who won the Oscar last year for “Birdman,” is projected to repeat again this year. The film unit of 21st Century Fox Inc. is the U.S. distributor.

Brie Larson is the overwhelming favorite to win best actress for her role in “Room,” which is also one of the eight best picture nominees. Ladbrokes puts her at 1 to 25, a 96 percent probability, for her role as “Ma,” a woman trying to raise her young son while held captive in a 10-by-10 cell. It’s distributed by A24.

Rock returned often to the big topic of the night -- the lack of serious leading roles for black actors and a roster of all-white nominees, playing both joker and scold. Yet in his second turn as Academy Awards host, the comic also kept the focus on the films and actors vying for top honors.

In one prerecorded segment, he interviewed filmgoers in the predominantly black city of Compton, California, and asked them about the controversy. Many said they’d never heard of the best picture nominees.

Daniel Fienberg, TV critic for The Hollywood Reporter, gave Rock high marks for his opening remarks.

“Chris Rock had one job and one job only in opening the 2016 Academy Awards: addressing the Academy’s diversity crisis sufficiently that the show could move on without guilt,” Fienberg said in an e-mail. “And he did that with 10 hilarious minutes of blistering #OscarsSoWhite material.”

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