After weeks of getting beaten up on social media and in the news media for being #SoWhite, the organizers of this year’s Academy Awards had a choice: forge ahead with the traditional ceremony as they always have, or frankly acknowledge the fact that the Oscars, and Hollywood, has an inclusion problem. Ultimately, the 88th Academy Awards opted to do both. It gave America what it’s long become accustomed to: a ceremony that runs way too long, contains some comedy bits that don’t quite work and distributes trophies to actors whom everyone expected to seize shiny gold statuettes. But it also acknowledged its own biases with a frankness that’s unprecedented for this famously self-congratulatory ceremony.
There’s no way that any reasonable human could give the Academy Awards anything other than a failing grade for diversity this year. But in terms of its willingness to own up to its own failings and its ability to honor a range of different film genres, I honestly have to give the Oscars a solid B+ . Was the show always wildly entertaining? Not at all; it’s entirely possible that I’m actually typing this column in a dream that began sometime after Sam Smith’s performance of “Writing’s on the Wall” lulled me to sleep. (That song is literally the musical equivalent of warm milk.) Did the ceremony drag on to a ludicrously maddening degree? Of course, because that’s what Oscar ceremonies do. Were all of Chris Rock’s remarks 100 percent on-point? No. The joke that poked fun at the effort to encourage better red carpet questions for women seemed tone deaf in light of all the arrows Rock flung at antiquated attitudes toward blacks. The same goes for the bit where the PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants were replaced by young Asian children who, as Rock quipped, also made the phones that everyone would use to angrily tweet about the gag. As Jessica Contreras of The Washington Post noted, “there was a lack of diversity in the diversity” commentary.