I hated Chris Rock’s opening monologue for the 88th Annual Academy Awards. I hated his Stacey Dash stunt. I probably would have hated more things, but I changed the channel and fled social media.
My reasons for detesting the monologue are pretty old-Black and, therefore, not so popular. Here they are anyway, in no particular order:
One: Rock was foul for saying that Jada Pinkett Smith was only boycotting the Oscars because she wasn’t invited. I can see why some see Pinkett Smith’s actions as calculated and insincere, but Rock didn’t say that. Instead, he reduced everything—the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, the boycott and the alternate events (including one starring his brother)—to the sour grapes of a self-centered, spoiled, unqualified Black woman. It was also dumb. Because Jada Pinkett Smith can get into the Oscars.
Two: #OscarsSoWhite isn’t some silly little hashtag. This year, people of all races have used it to talk about the problems large and small with an awards show that nominates strictly White actors across 20 categories. Plus the hashtag, news coverage and discussions provided Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the Black woman who heads up the Academy, with the political cover I believe she needed to change membership and voting rules that have grossly privileged elderly White men for years.
Three: Claiming that Black people care about #OscarsSoWhite because we have nothing real to be mad about was hostile to the truth. Here is a man who made an (uneven, sexist) documentary about Black hair in 2009 because his daughter was sad about not having "good hair." But in 2016, Rock knows nothing of contemporary Black struggle? Like, when people say "Black lives matter," does he hear, "Tekjjdioj gj()gui p;/00+"? Does "I can’t breathe" bring anything to mind? How about "Sandra Bland," "Michael Brown," "Eric Garner" and "not guilty"?
Four: Using the image of a Black grandmother hanging from a tree as a punch line was blasphemous. This country has never atoned for its history of lynching, castrating and fatally dragging Black people from pickup trucks. Nor has it meaningfully addressed the burning of entire Black towns, race riots and other lynching-adjacent crimes.
And, while nooses are no longer all the rage, it is quite on trend for law enforcement and self-declared surrogates to shoot, strangle, rape, beat, harass, sit on, throw to the ground, falsely imprison and otherwise terrorize Black people of all ages and gender expressions. Just a day before Rock did his monologue, Salt Lake City police shot a 16-year-old Black boy for holding a fucking broomstick. On February 21, Inglewood, Calif., police fatally shot a Black couple who were asleep or unconscious in their car. Police did so after spending 45 minutes "trying to rouse them," according to the mayor’s account. Kisha Michael was a 31-year-old mother of three sons. Marquintan Sandlin, 32, had four daughters. Now these parents are dead.
Five: Even without the anti-Asian bit after the monologue* that my colleague Sameer Rao cited earlier today, Rock’s disrespect didn’t stop at Black struggle. He effectively disappeared an encyclopedia of interlocking issues within the broader movement for racial justice. Among these real-people problems:
- A popular Republican presidential candidate plans to build a wall between the United States and Mexico and ban all Muslims—a.k.a. Arabs and South Asians—from the country.
- Another GOP candidate says that if elected, he will immediately deport and forever ban some 12 million undocumented people, most of whom are Latino like him.
- White supremacists and other civilians are straight killing and beating men and women they perceive to be Muslim because news media, politicians and Hollywood conflate Islam with terrorism.
- Police are more likely to kill Native Americans than those in every other racial group besides Blacks.
- There’s one abortion provider left in Louisiana.
- Millions of people have lost their homes thanks to predatory lending.
- We couldn’t get sane gun reform even after a gun-toting young man massacred 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
- People of all races are trying to support their families on $7.25 an hour. Meanwhile Alabama and other states are outlawing hard-won minimum-wage increases.
- Trans women of color are murdered at an alarming rate, and unemployment among trans people of color is up to four times that of cisgender people.
And the list goes on.
Six: Rock spending all that oxygen on Pinkett Smith was sexist. She wasn’t the one who told him to quit his hosting gig; Tyrese Gibson and 50 Cent did that. Boycotter Spike Lee said essentially the same thing about Rock as Pinkett Smith did, that he was a friend whom he wished well. But somehow a woman stating the obvious—that the Oscars have a race problem—was just about her caping for her husband? Stop it.
Also, that part about Rihanna’s panties was nasty. To put this in perspective, Rihanna was only 3 when a fully grown Rock played Pookie in "New Jack City."
Seven: Rock mocking Pinkett Smith for being on TV was reality-avoidant. Nowadays, television offers more consistent, even quality, work for actors of color and aging White ones. It’s where you find characters that are complicated, provocative, contradictory, quirky, silly and powerful. TV—network and streaming—is why we have "Jane the Virgin," "black-ish,""Master of None," "Fresh Off the Boat," "American Crime," "Mr. Robot," "Scandal," "How to Get Away With Murder," "The Walking Dead," "Orange is the New Black," and a grip of other programs that aren’t perfect but don’t limit people of color to bouncing basketballs, running convenience stores, acting spicy, calling everyone esé, and being inherently passive grade-grubbers. Film is where you get a bunch of White people playing Egyptians in a $140-million flop.
Eight: It was humiliating and painful to watch a Black man make fun of a Black woman and Black struggle for the uneasy laughter of a staggeringly White audience. It’s almost cliché to point out that there’s a difference between laughing with us and laughing at us. But Rock was such a cliché monster at the 88th Annual Academy Awards, this may be the only language he understands nowadays.
*Post has been updated for clarity. The racist bit targeting Asian people took place during the broadcast, after the monologue.