If, as many expect, Chris Rock mocks the Academy Awards for its all-white slate of acting nominees when he hosts the Oscars on Sunday, it won’t be the first time the ceremony’s emcee has taken a shot at the organization’s diversity issues. It won’t even be the first time for Rock, who hosted the 2005 ceremony and joked about the very topic during his opening monologue. Ahead, a look back at Rock and four other comedians who tackled the subject of race during Hollywood’s biggest night.
Richard Pryor (1977)
Pryor delivered one of the most direct jabs at the start of the 49th Academy Awards. “I am here tonight to explain why no black people will ever be nominated for anything,” he said. “Black people love to act. We can cry at the drop of a hat or laugh. These are some of the things black people can do.”
The comedian, who co-hosted that year with Chevy Chase, continued, “We’re also going to stop entertaining. That will show you. We refuse to be in show business all together. We are quitting. Then see who sings and dances for you. You’ll have to listen to Lawrence Welk forever. Try to boogaloo to that.”
“But seriously, when we cut to the audience and you win, we don’t want to see you mouthing [holy s—] or anything like that,” Pryor added. “The show is going out to 75 million people. None of them are black. We don’t even know how to vote. There’s 3,349 people in the voting thing and only two black people, Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte.”
Whoopi Goldberg (1996)
Goldberg addressed race a number of times in her four turns as host, including during the 68th Academy Awards ceremony, which was criticized heavily for its lack of black nominees. Rev. Jesse Jackson planned to protest the awards, and asked supporters attending the show to wear ribbons.
Jackson and the ribbons — and ribbons for other causes as well — made it into Goldberg’s opening monologue. “I want to say something to all the people who sent me ribbons to wear. You don’t ask a black woman to buy an expensive dress and then cover it with ribbons.” She added, “Jesse Jackson asked me to wear a ribbon. I got it, but I had something I wanted to say to Jesse right here, but he’s not watching, so why bother?”
Chris Rock (2005)
“We have four black nominees tonight,” Rock began in his opening monologue at the 77th Academy Awards, citing eventual winners Jamie Foxx (a double nominee that year) and Morgan Freeman, as well as Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo. “It’s kind of like the Def Oscar Jam tonight.”
He went on to joke of movie titles, saying, “At least they make movies for white people to enjoy, real movies with plots, with actors not rappers, with real names like Catch Me If You Can, like Saving Private Ryan. Black movies don’t have real names. You get names like Barbershop. That’s not a name, that’s just a location! Barbershop, Cookout, Car Wash. They’ve been making the same movie for 40 years. That’s right, you know Laundromat is coming soon, and after that Check Cashing Place.”
Billy Crystal (2012)
Crystal hosted the 84th Academy Awards, marking his ninth time as ringleader, and took heat for a comment following Octavia Spencer’s best supporting actress win for The Help. “After I saw The Help I just wanted to hug the first black woman I saw — which, from Beverly Hills, is about a 45-minute drive.”
Additionally, Crystal portrayed Sammy Davis Jr. in black makeup during a pre-taped bit where he popped into Midnight in Paris as himself and as Davis, alongside Justin Bieber. Crystal had played Davis before, most memorably on Saturday Night Live, but the backlash was still strong. After the ceremony, however, Davis’ daughter told The Hollywood Reporter, “I am 100 percent certain that my father is smiling.”
Neil Patrick Harris (2015)
Hosting in 2015, Harris called attention to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy straight away, greeting the crowd with a brief one liner.
“Welcome to the 87th Oscars,” he began. “Tonight, we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest — sorry, brightest.” As with this year’s ceremony, every acting nominee at the 2015 Oscars was white.
Additional reporting by Mary Sollosi.