Chris Rock, fighting the power at the Oscars.



The Highs and Lows from the 2016 Oscars

There were two reasons to watch the Oscars this year. One, as always, was for the celebrity of it all. Was Hollywood’s child prodigy Leonardo DiCaprio finally going to get the medal he had clearly aimed for? Was [insert celebrity] going to flub their acceptance speech, jamming under the mounting pressure and accelerating orchestral strings trying to shoo them off? The other reason was to see how the Oscars were going to address their own, widely-covered controversy. Was host Chris Rock going to turn Dolby Theater into a moshpit? Would the Academy’s absentees speak as loudly as the nominees?

By and large, the answers to these questions went as expected. Yes, Dicaprio finally an Academy Award for his role in The Revenant, putting a kibosh on tired Leo memes internet-wide. Chris Rock toed a delicate line, frequently calling attention to Hollywood’s “not burning cross racist, but sorority racist” attitude while at the same time downplaying and mocking its biggest critics. After 88 years of back-scratching, the Academy attempted to go for some honest introspection. But, usually, it felt like tongue-in-cheek self-awareness played for laughs and retweets. Here are our 3 wins and 3 fails from a star-studded night.

Win: Mad Max Leaves With Mad Stacks

Mad Max: Fury Road is by no definition Oscar fodder. It came out early in the 2015 calendar year. There were rumors that it didn’t even have a script. And it’s essentially a 90-minute adrenaline shot of pure vehicular action. But Mad Max: Fury Road‘s engrossing, all-out assault on the senses made it a big audio-visual winner on Oscar night. The movie crossed the finish line with six Oscars for a Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. Hopefully the winners will do the right thing and spray paint their Oscars chrome.

Win: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy Gives Us a Fleeting Moment of Sincerity

Funnyman Louis C.K. introduced the nominees for Best Documentary Short by reminding us that not every Oscar attendee is a one-percenter. “These people will never be rich as long as they live,” he said. “So this Oscar means something.” But it turns out the Oscar meant even more than money to winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. The Pakistani-Canadian took home the Oscar for her work on A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, a documentary that interrogates the practice of “honor killing” in rural areas of Pakistan. Her acceptance speech highlighted the political change that movies can actualize: “This week the Pakistani Prime Minister has said that he will change the law on honor killing after watching this film. That is the power of film,” said Obaid-Chinoy. The short will debut nationwide on HBO later this year.

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy gave a beautiful speech about honor killing in Pakistan.

Win: Adam McKay Yearns to Bern

After winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Big Short, director and screenwriter Adam McKay took a moment to get political. He described the film–his first foray into drama–as “financial esoterica,” and said, “Most of all, if you don’t want big money to control government, don’t vote for candidates that take money from big banks, oil, or weirdo billionaires. Stop.” Hmm, I wonder who that weirdo billionaire is…

Loss: Oscar’s Attempt at Self-Awareness Is Only Somewhat Successful

Remember last year, when the NFL tried really hard to convince us that it was a humanitarian organization working against the abuse of women, instead of an overstuffed gladiatorial arena for juiced-up treemen? Well, yesterday, the Oscars really tried to sell itself as a self-aware organization, willing to poke fun at its institutionalized prejudices, while at same time operatically yelling, “The show must go on!”

It’s clear the event was shaken by the ongoing narrative of #OscarsSoWhite, and it handled the controversy with a mix of grace and cringe-worthiness. Chris Rock’s opening monologue was an absolute win, acknowledging both how far the racial discussion has come in the Academy Awards’ 88 years and how Hollywood had a checkered past of racial exclusion. He recalled a conversation with President Obama at a Hollywood fundraiser: “I’m like ‘Mr. President, you see all these writers and producers and actors? They don’t hire black people, and they’re the nicest white people on earth! They’re liberals!'”

But elsewhere, the event felt insincere. Fox Correspondent Stacey Dash’s brief introduction as the Academy’s new cultural embassador might have been playful, but it complicated the Academy’s narrative by palling around with such a controversial figure. At least we have the audience reactions to hold onto.

And Ali G’s brief appearance, where he described himself as a black person next to an uncomfortably mute Olivia Wilde, might have been funny and edgy in the early 2000s, but no longer resonates in today’s climate. It felt like an odd nod to a time where movies like Malibu’s Most Wanted got greenlighted by white collar execs.

Loss: Ride of The Valkyries Was Aggressive AF

There’s always that orchestral accompaniment that is meant to tell Oscar winners that their time in the spotlight is over. “Get the fuck off of stage,” it signals with an all-string swell.

But yesterday’s hurry-up music, Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” isn’t passive-aggressive, it’s aggressive-aggressive. And when candidates are trying to fumble over their thanks in order to advocate for cultural inclusiveness, like director Alejandro G. Iñárritu did during his acceptance speech for The Revenant, that music comes as a real shock. The awards are already 3 hours long, no matter what. At least give the winners some time to speak their mind without playing the music that Elmer Fudd tried to murder Bugs Bunny to.

Loss: The Death of “Leo Never Won An Oscar” Memes

Do I just delete my folder of Leo memes? Please help.

Congrats on the bear assault, buddy.

Images courtesy of Business Insider,, and the Los Angeles Times.

Stay tuned to Milk for more Oscar mania.

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