Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Why Chris Rock Should Not Resign as Oscar Host

Chris Rock
The Academy Award nominations haven't been out a week, and the backlash has been very, very ridiculous (so much so that I'd say that I've done an insubstantial job of covering every comment). The Oscars So White movement seems to have become a big phenomenon for anyone who is not among those 20 nominees in the acting fields. However, there is one person left in the game that could make or break from this news: Chris Rock. While he hasn't made a public statement, actors like Tyrese have publicly encouraged Rock to step down from hosting the gig on the grounds of the recent exclusionary factors. However, is that really a smart thing, especially with many publicly already boycotting the ceremony? It's a tough call, but I definitely am on the side that maybe him hosting will remain a good thing.

I acknowledge that the Oscars So White storm is likely only going to get bigger in the weeks to come. Even if the results have become controversial and divisive, I do think that there's some merit to this year's group of nominees. Maybe it's unfortunate that they're all white and reflective of the prestige class system that has been in hold of The Academy for most of the past decade. Of course, attention has also thankfully been paid to the other problem: the industry not giving these actors their due with quality role. While The Oscars have taken a big piece of the problematic pie, at least the conversation is going after everyone. It is not an overnight problem solver. This will take time. 

I'll also be honest that I unfortunately am partial to place, as I didn't see a lot of the films made by black artists last year. While I did get around to Straight Outta Compton following its nomination, I was unable to see why many called it snubbed for Best Picture. I would still have hoped that Creed gave director Ryan Coogler or actor Michael B. Jordan more of a shot instead of just giving the sole nomination to the white MVP of the franchise. As it stands, it annoys me that one of the only filmmakers of color is last year's Best Director and Best Picture winner Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, whose film The Revenant I generally don't like at all. I'll admit that very little of my viewing habits rely on acknowledging whether a director is white or black, male or female, or what have you. I just see movies based on quality. I know that this makes me part of the problem (though I do try to recognize talents when I see them), but I still do believe we need diversity. And besides, it feels unfair to stop at the argument that this year's nominees are very white. They're also very straight, as The Academy continues to not acknowledge queer cinema with a Best Picture field lacking quality LGBT films such as Carol or Tangerine.

But the issue at hand is race. It's a fiasco to even think about right now. In a hypothetical situation, what good would come from Rock stepping down? Who would replace him? In 2011, Billy Crystal replaced host Eddie Murphy following producer Brett Ratner's firing due to problematic comments. While it isn't entirely a racial thing, it does have an indicator to what will happen if Rock steps down and someone who is white will step in. Crystal's involvement is often seen as The Academy playing it safe and turning in one of the more lackluster ceremonies in recent years. As much as I enjoyed Crystal's familiar shtick, I am aware that audiences weren't as keen to its dated nature. I just think that this will happen again, provided that Rock steps down and those who are boycotting the ceremony get their way. Yes, the diversity problem is real, but how will this solve an issue?

It isn't like Rock is a new face. In fact, it's appealing and ironic that he was chosen as host after a long string of white hosts. It also happened before any of this Oscars So White backlash happened (unless you count last year's comparatively tepid response). If anything, Rock's involvement already feels like it's the one thing that The Academy could possibly have done right. The comedian has popped up at various ceremonies and has caused conflicts, even making enemies with Jude Law and El Chapo compadre Sean Penn. He gets attention, basically. Speaking as his stand-up is full of biting routines that deal with racial issues, it wouldn't be too surprising if this was a chance for him to dust off his old classics while throwing in some new names.

I acknowledge that The Oscars should be sort of fun. Even if I don't care about the ceremony itself, there's always a need to make a spectacle of it. After all, it is the one night to honor film culture. One shouldn't watch it to be insulted nonstop for three hours. It turns out to be a miserable experience (Did you not watch The Golden Globes?). However, I do think that there's precedent this year to let Rock say some things that will dig at The Academy and reflect that yes, there's a problem. Neil Patrick Harris last year tried it last year with a joke that went "We're here tonight to honor Hollywood's best and whitest... I mean brightest." It was too self-aware and without stakes to mean anything. Rock, who has been very vocal in the past, stands a chance to say something of value. Even if this isn't the catalyst for a changing culture, it will at least serve as something to remind us of what film culture has. If he can be remembered for annoying Law and Penn, then he can easily do something to agitate someone bigger.

Technically, you could even add selfish bitterness into the question if you wanted. A few years back, Rock directed the very enjoyable Top Five, which was absent from Oscar nominations. It wasn't surprising, but considering that it was an intelligent black comedy that contradicts the "no quality roles" dilemma, one could easily see him using it as fuel for The Academy not recognizing black talent. He is passionate and always trying interesting things. That seems to be a good starting point. The question though is if he hosts, will he actually bring up the issue at all? He has to, right? Well, that will be the fun of it. He has an unprecedented platform. He could easily attack the Oscars So White dilemma on Hollywood's most important night and have it mean something. 

I don't agree that Rock should step down, even if the problem is rampant and likely only to get worse. If nothing else, he could serve as a man on a soapbox, yelling to a crowd who will listen to him not because he's black, but because he is the host. He has the power to persuade people to his side (Also, there's not enough time to get a legitimately great replacement and have a show ready in time). I know that it would seem smart to step down, but what good will come of it beyond a stubborn realization that everyone is annoyed by this issue? I say stay on and prod some people to see what happens. It's likely what Rock will do, and it's only going to make for a far more interesting ceremony.

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