Earlier today the Academy announced Chris Rock as host of the 88th Oscars, to be held on Sunday February 28th 2016 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. But does the comedian have what it takes to ‘do an Ellen’ and win over the crowd in his second outing as host?
“Chris may be best known as a stand-up comic, but we think of him as a creative innovator in many other ways” said Academy CEO Dawn Hudson, noting Rock’s credentials as an actor, writer and producer. Last year he was briefly winning buzz for a potential awards run as the star of Top Five, a comedy drama about an ageing celebrity desperate to put some credibility into his career. Perhaps bitter notes of reality in a film which mildly undertones his waning bankability at the box office, and the plight of many comedy stars to break out of the mold.
Rock was a controversial choice back in 2005, considering his racially motivated subject matter for which he built his stand-up reputation. This of course was no accident; awards shows always come under fire for viewing figures, and for ABC to justify their rate cards they needed something to get people tuning in.
It wasn’t one of the best hosting duties, but it also wasn’t the worst. Perhaps unfortunately for Chris Rock is how forgettable this year was, though the nominees were also far from blockbusting. Was this his fault? Well, no. He delivered what was expected of him, and what was likely asked of him, and it wasn’t bad.
Just a few months ago, as soon as show producers David Hill and Reginald Hudlin were announced, they publicly stated their interested in hiring a double act to front proceedings, so the real question here is not just why Chris Rock, but why the sudden change of heart?
Anyone with a memory longer than a goldfish will recall the scandal last year over the snubbing of Selma, in particular African American director Ava DuVernay. The Academy have since come under fire not just for apparent over-whiteness, but for over-malesness, over-straightness and practically anything that can label them any form of prejudice. Did you know no dogs have ever been nominated for leading actor? We don’t want to put words in your mouth, but doesn’t that say something…
You get our point. The Academy are reacting to a backlash which has left them with some reputational damage. Chris Rock is not hosting the Oscars on behalf of African Americans, but on behalf of all minorities. It’s the response of an organisation that persistently use the Academy Awards as a platform for controlled self-ridicule, in other words hiring someone inside Hollywood to represent everyone outside.
The Oscar host needs to appear controversial by purporting rebellious, niche or minority qualities that challenge dominant perceptions of the Academy, but at the same time be connected and familiar enough that they can be trusted to ridicule without humiliating. This year the honor falls to Chris Rock, and let’s not deny that this decision was racially motivated one, albeit a pretty good one.
Expectations will be high, and rightly so, if not deservedly so for a guy that has consistently delivered as a performer and a comic. He may have lost his direction over the last few years with some box office misses, but this could serve him well. We anticipate the Rock will come back to Hollywood with a mighty bang, and you won’t want to miss it.