April Reign, a writer, editor, and former lawyer, originally created the #OscarsSoWhite to mock the lack of diversity in the Oscar nominee line-up. Twitter users quickly picked it up in order to address the need for more stars of color to be included. The hashtag picked up steam immediately following Reign’s post, and when the list of nominees remained essentially unchanged the hashtag picked up even more. Actors, activists, producers, and moviegoers echoed calls for greater diversity. This hashtag is now emblematic of a movement fighting for fair representation and recognition of people of color in films.
In his opening monologue, Chris Rock did not simply acknowledge the hashtag but also spoke directly to the people who wanted him to turn down the hosting gig. He started off by saying, “Well, I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People Choice Awards. If they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job.” Though his response to the social movement was mostly light-hearted and comical, he made an extremely provocative point with respect to why this protest is happening now: “Why this Oscars? It’s the 88th Academy Awards, which means this whole ‘no black nominee things’ has happened at least 71 other times. You have to figure it happened in the 50s, in the 60s… And black people did not protest. Why? Because we had real things to protest at the time. We were too busy being raped and lynched to care about best cinematography. When your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, you’re too busy to care about winning best documentary short.”
Contrary to the searing effects of other recent powerhouses on white stages – namely Beyoncé at the Super Bowl and Kendrick Lamar at the Grammys – there was essentially nil conversation about Rock’s performance as host. The feebly apologetic response of the Oscars – constantly reminding viewers that a mistake was made while inculcating devotion to nominees – coupled with the typical award-giving and Oscar moments made for a show that really didn’t do justice to the outrage the hashtag elicited. The zeal for a more inclusive nominee roster may live on, but the 88th Academy Awards did little to assuage concerns about diversity.