In Oscars crisis, Chris Rock and a microphone loom large

NEW YORK -- When Chris Rock first hosted the Oscars in 2005, the four black actors nominated that year -- Morgan Freeman, Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo and Jamie Foxx (twice!) -- didn't escape his notice.

See Full Article

"It's like the Def Oscar Jam!" Rock exclaimed.

The story will be slightly different this time around.

When Rock strides onto the Dolby Theatre stage on Feb. 28, he'll see no nominated African-American actors before him. He'll instead be greeted by a Hollywood beset by a crisis over diversity that has led to calls for a boycott of the broadcast, spurred the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to rewrite its membership bylaws and even sparked pleas for Rock, himself, to pull out.

In the ongoing fallout, Rock has loomed on the horizon like Judgment Day. But it's unclear just what awaits the academy and Hollywood come show time. A reckoning? A catharsis? Awkward fits of laughter?

Probably all of the above.

What is certain is that a confluence of events has placed one of America's most perceptive and sharp-tongued commentators on race smack dab in the middle of a storm that could hardly suit anyone better. It's safe to say that no Academy Awards opening monologue has ever been more anticipated. The spotlight on Oscar night will be trained on no one -- not Leonardo DiCaprio or Jennifer Lawrence -- like it is on Rock.

"This could be a defining moment for Chris Rock," Cheadle told The Associated Press. "And I hope it is."

Cheadle is far from alone. In the turmoil that has enveloped the Academy Awards since a second straight year of white nominees filled the acting categories, everyone from Spike Lee to George Clooney has had their say on the issue.

But despite constant clamouring -- and TMZ cameras chasing him outside a comedy club over the weekend -- Rock has been mum. Other than a tweet in which he unveiled his first promo for the show --and referred to the Oscars as "the White BET Awards" -- he has stayed quiet amid uproar all around him.

Reginald Hudlin, who's co-producing this year's broadcast, sought to assure viewers, telling "Entertainment Tonight" that Rock is "hard at work" and that he had thrown out preparations and was now "writing a new show."

"And, yes, the academy is ready for him to do that," Hudlin said. "They're excited about him doing that."

But Rock's publicist, Leslie Sloane, on Monday shot down Hudlin's remarks, saying the comedian "has made no decisions about the content of the show." The point was clear: No one is going to speak for Rock except Rock himself. "All will be revealed on February 28th," said Sloane, ominously.

His silence hasn't stopped others from chiming in. R&B singer Tyrese Gibson and rapper 50 Cent have said Rock should step down. Golden Globes host Ricky Gervais encouraged Rock to start the show "in a KKK hood, then whip it off & say, 'Sorry, it's the only way I could get in."'

Whoopi Goldberg has defended him: "Boycotting doesn't work and it's also a slap in the face of Chris Rock," she said. And Arsenio Hall, who helped give Rock his start, said: "It's so important that he's on the mic that night."

As one of the top stand-ups in the country, the 50-year-old Rock has long weaved uncommonly frank and provocative discussions about race into his act, movies and TV shows. His first comedy album, "Born Suspect," was about being presumed guilty of any crime because of his skin colour. One of his most divisive routines was when he drew a contrast between "black people" and "n------" in his special "Bring the Pain."

In 2014, as he was releasing his last movie, "Top Five," which he wrote and directed, Rock turned to Hollywood in a widely hailed essay in which he was both critical and sanguine about what he called "a white industry."

"Just as the NBA is a black industry," he wrote. "I'm not even saying it's a bad thing. It just is."

He continued: "They don't really hire black men. A black man with bass in his voice and maybe a little hint of facial hair? Not going to happen. It is what it is. I'm a guy who's accepted it all. But forget whether Hollywood is black enough. A better question is: Is Hollywood Mexican enough?"

In choosing Rock to host this year's Oscars, the academy sought a kind of antidote to last year's safer show, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris. His presence creates a difficult choice for would-be boycotters: Tune out and you'll miss a potentially riveting showdown. The prospect of such fireworks is expected to lift ratings for the telecast, which dipped for last year's show -- also the target of a boycott -- to a six-year low.

But for now, the only thing Rock has said publicly are the words of James Baldwin, in a Martin Luther King Day reading of the author's 1963 letter to his nephew, "My Dungeon Shook."

One excerpt: "The black man has functioned in the white man's world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations. You, don't be afraid."

------

AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr contributed to this report from Los Angeles.



Advertisements

Latest Entertainment News

  • SNL writer suspended for 'insensitive' tweet about Barron Trump

    Entertainment CBC News
    A Saturday Night Live writer has been suspended indefinitely after tweeting a poorly received joke about U.S. President Donald Trump's youngest son, Barron. A person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly told The Associated Press that Katie Rich was suspended immediately after writing an offensive tweet about the 10-year-old. Source
  • 'SNL' writer suspended for tweet about Barron Trump

    Entertainment CTV News
    NEW YORK - A "Saturday Night Live" writer has been suspended indefinitely after tweeting a poorly received joke about Donald Trump's 10-year-old youngest son, Barron. A person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly tells The Associated Press that Katie Rich was suspended immediately after writing an offensive tweet about the child. Source
  • Ryan Reynolds under consideration for Green Lantern return

    Entertainment CTV News
    He played Deadpool in a bad movie and again in a very good one, and executives at DC Entertainment are considering whether Ryan Reynolds could do the same for their Green Lantern character when "Green Lantern Corps" hits in 2020. Source
  • Alec Baldwin to host ’SNL’ for record-setting 17th time

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    NEW YORK — At the dawn of the Donald Trump administration, “Saturday Night Live’s” own Trump — Alec Baldwin — will be back as the show’s guest host for the 17th time. The NBC show said Monday that Baldwin will host the Feb. Source
  • Hollywood takes on Calgary's 'mysterious and sexy' Bre-X scandal

    Entertainment CBC News
    Twenty years ago, a small Calgary-based mining company called Bre-X Minerals duped thousands of people out of millions of dollars. On Friday, the story of that company will be cast onto the big screen as the basis for the movie Gold, starring Matthew McConaughey. Source
  • Aaron Rodgers' family feud in spotlight after NFC championship loss

    Entertainment CBC News
    The Green Bay Packers' season may be over, but that doesn't mean their star quarterback's time in the hot seat is done. Following Green Bay's 44-21 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship Sunday, Aaron Rodgers' long-time girlfriend and actress Olivia Munn took to Instagram to voice support for her beau — and also disapproval of his family. Source
  • Canadian pop singer Alessia Cara to play 'Saturday Night Live' in February

    Entertainment CTV News
    TORONTO -- Alessia Cara is the latest Canadian performer set to take the stage for "Saturday Night Live." The 20-year-old pop singer from Brampton, Ont., will be the comedy sketch show's musical guest on Feb. Source
  • Matthew McConaughey relishes weighty role in ‘Gold’ [Video]

    Entertainment Toronto Sun
    NEW YORK — Matthew McConaughey is stretched out in a chair sunning himself in a hotel window, just like a big cat. A cool cat, that’s for sure. It’s a bit of a relief to see the actor, shaggy-haired and handsome as always, having just watched him in the new movie, Gold. Source
  • Music industry veteran Randy Lennox to receive Juno's Walt Grealis award

    Entertainment CTV News
    TORONTO -- Randy Lennox, once head of Universal Music Canada and now a leading executive at Bell Media, will be honoured at this year's Juno Awards. Organizers say the music industry veteran will receive the 2017 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award for his longstanding commitment to Canadian music. Source
  • Soulja Boy charged with felony weapons possession

    Entertainment CTV News
    Los Angeles prosecutors on Monday charged Soulja Boy with felony weapons violations stemming from a police search of his home last month that found an assault weapon and a stolen police handgun. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office announced Monday that it had charged the rapper, whose real name is DeAndre Cortez Way, and that his arraignment was scheduled for Monday. Source