Controversy surrounded the 2016 Oscars after, for a second year in a row, no black actors or actresses received any nominations. Boycotts from Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Jonze, along with a #OscarSoWhite campaign, added to the public outcry at the ceremony’s lack of diversity. Some even called for Chris Rock to quit his role as host — thankfully, he didn’t.
Rock’s opening monologue was not only one of the funniest in recent memory, but it also addressed the evening’s serious subtext and held the industry accountable. “I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards,” he started. “Why are we protesting now?” he asked, noting that for 71 of the last 88 Oscar ceremonies, there were also no black nominees. “Say in ’62 or ’63, black people did not protest… We had real things to protest. You know, we were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer.” Is Hollywood racist? “You’re damn right Hollywood is racist,” but, Rock maintained, it’s more of a “sorority-racist,” as in “we like you, Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa.”
“We want black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors,” he said. “Leo gets a great part every year, but what about the black actors?”
Rock’s monologue brought levity to the room, but had enough stinging power to retain throughout the remainder of the evening through little quips (introducing presenter Michael B. Jordan as a “shoulda-been-nominee”) and hilarious bits (the lack of diversity skit that parodied movies like Joy and The Danish Girl by inserting Whoopi Goldberg and Tracy Morgan into the scene). Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs took the stage to address the controversy as well, emphasizing how important diversity is in Hollywood and ending her speech with a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King.
Largely, the stage at the 2016 Oscars was used to make principled statements.
United States Vice President Joe Biden received a standing ovation as he walked out to speak out against sexual assault and introduce Lady Gaga’s performance of “Til It Happens To You,” nominated for Best Original Song from the documentary The Hunting Ground. Gaga’s performance, which featured a stage full of young men and women with words like “survivor” penned on their arms, was both beautiful and powerful, and visibly moved the crowd to tears. Sam Smith, winner of the category for “Writing’s On The Wall,” dedicated his award to the LGBT community.
Leonard DiCaprio finally won his first-ever Oscar for Best Actor in The Revenant and the committed environmental activist took the opportunity to speak out against climate change. “Making The Revenant was about man’s relationship to the natural world,” he said. “A world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history… We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most affected by this… Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted.”
DiCaprio’s The Revenant director, Alejandro Iñárritu, who won the Oscar for Best Director, echoed the sentiments of the evening, saying as he accepted his award that it was a “great opportunity to our generation to liberate ourselves from all prejudice” and that the colour of someone’s skin should be “as irrelevant as the length of their hair.”
Upon winning Best Documentary Short for A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Pakistani-Canadian journalist and filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy said that the impact of the film has been so great that Pakistani Prime Minister has decided to change the law of honour killing in the country.
Early Best Picture favourite Spotlight, about Boston Globe reporters investigating into a sex abuse scandal involving Catholic priests, won the award for Best Picture. “This film gave a voice to survivors,” producer Michael Sugar said. “And this film amplifies that voice, which we hope will become a choir that will resonate all the way to the Vatican.”
The politically-charged point was driven home as Rock delivered his last statement to the camera just before the credits rolled to Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power”: “Black lives matter.”
Best Picture: Spotlight
Actor in a Lead Role: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Actress in a Lead Role: Brie Larson, Room
Directing: Alejandro González Iñárritu, The Revenant
Original Score: Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight
Original Song: “Writings on the Wall,” Spectre, Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith
Best Foreign Language Film: Hungary, Son of Saul
Live Action Short Film: Stutterer, Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage
Documentary Feature: Amy, Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees
Documentary Short Subject: A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
Actor in a Supporting Role: Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Animated Feature Film: Inside Out, Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera
Animated Short Film: Bear Story, Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala
Visual Effects: Ex Machina, Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett
Sound Mixing: Mad Max: Fury Road, Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo
Sound Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road, Mark Mangini and David White
Film Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road, Margaret Sixel
Cinematography: The Revenant, Emmanuel Lubezki
Makeup and Hairstyling: Mad Max: Fury Road, Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian Martin
Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road, Production Design: Colin Gibson; Set Decoration: Lisa Thompson
Costume Design: Mad Max: Fury Road, Jenny Beavan
Actress in a Supporting Role: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short, Charles Randolph and Adam McKay
Original Screenplay: Spotlight, Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy
Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award: Debbie Reynolds
Honorary Oscar: Spike Lee
Honorary Oscar: Gena Rowlands