Chris Rock Talks About 2016 Oscars, Diversity and Black Actresses' Challenges in Hollywood

The 50-year-old comedian and actor was among the first celebs to comment publicly about the lack of diversity among this year's Academy Awards acting nominees

By Corinne Heller Feb 04, 2016 4:34 PMTags
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Before the 2016 Oscars' diversity controversy, host Chris Rock had long spoken out about racial issues in America and he recently brought up another "real problem" in Hollywood.

The 50-year-old comedian and actor was among the first celebs to comment publicly on the lack of diversity among this year's acting nominees. One of the most vocal critics is Jada Pinkett Smith, who posted an online video vowing to boycott the Oscars. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o told E! News that "what we are calling for, asking for, is for there to be inclusion in the kinds of stories that are being told in the first place."

"I've never done a movie, any movie, the silliest movie, where someone, some studio person hasn't gone, 'Does the girl have to be Black?'" Rock told Essence magazine in an interview carried out this past December, before this year's Oscar nominations were announced. "It happens every time."

Rock's comments are published in Essence's March 2016 Hollywood issue, which features him on the cover. It is set to hit newsstands on Feb. 12. He also made his remarks weeks before the Essence's 2016 Black Women in Hollywood, which takes place on Feb. 25 and which will air on OWN on Feb. 27.

"Black women get paid less than everybody in Hollywood," he said. "Everybody's talking about Jennifer Lawrence."

Lawrence, an Oscar winner and star of the hit movie franchise The Hunger Games, had made headlines last October with an op-ed titled, "Why Do I Make Less Than My Co-Stars." 

"Talk to Gabrielle Union," Rock told Essence. "If you want to hear stories, talk to Nia Long. Talk to Kerry Washington. They would love to get to Jennifer Lawrence's place, or just be treated with the same amount of respect. Black women are the least represented on-screen. They just are. You can go see a lot of movies and there's not one black woman in there with, like, a real part. It's a real, real, real problem."

Rock, who often talks about racial issues in his comedy sets, had voiced a similar option about black actresses in an interview with The New Yorker last month.

"Black women have the hardest gig in show business," he said. "You hear Jennifer Lawrence complaining about getting paid less because she's a woman—if she was black, she'd really have something to complain about."

This year marks the second year in a row that solely white actors and actresses have been nominated for an Oscar. Rock had tweeted last month that the 2016 Oscars are the "White BET Awards." His tweet remains pinned on top of his page, as of Thursday.

Rock is expected to address the lack of diversity among the nominees and the controversy's backlash while hosting the event. Meanwhile, the Academy has vowed to boost the number of female and "diverse" members over the next five years.

In his interview with Essence, Rock said he is going to do his best hosting the Oscars, which will mark his second time since 2005.

"It could go horribly wrong," he told the magazine. "Don't ever think that it can't. That's when it goes wrong—when you don't think there's any chance of it going wrong. If you know it won't, it probably won't."

Rock last hosted the prestigious movie awards show in 2005. That year, Jamie Foxx won the Oscar for Best Leading Actor for Ray and Don Cheadle was nominated in the same category. Morgan Freeman won Best Supporting Actor for Million Dollar Baby, while Foxx was also nominated.

Other non-white acting nominees that year included Colombian actress Catalina Sandino Moreno, who lost Best Leading Actress to Freeman's co-star, Hilary Swank, and British star Sophie Okonedo, who lost Best Supporting Actress to The Aviator's Cate Blanchett