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Janelle Monáe took the stage first. After a Mister Rogers-inspired bit, the singer-actress performed an uptempo number backed by dancers wearing costumes from nominated and snubbed films like Little Women, Joker, Queen and Slim, Dolemite Is My Name, Midsommar and Us.
Singing about celebrating the art of storytelling and the nerves of the night for nominees, Monáe was briefly joined by Billy Porter, sporting a sparkly gold cape, who sang a few bars of best song nominee Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing.”
Monáe later returned to the audience — wearing a flower-covered cape, an homage to Midsommar — where she expressed appreciation for all of the women who directed films this year, none of whom were nominated by the Academy.
“I’m so proud to stand here as a black queer artist celebrating telling stories,” Monáe said. “Happy Black History Month!”
At the end of her performance, she shouted, “Welcome to the 2020 Oscars!”
Chris Rock and Steve Martin then took the stage, where they skewered some of the nominated films, including Joker, Ford v Ferrari and The Irishman, with Rock calling the three-and-a-half hour Netflix movie the “first season.”
Rock and Martin also called out a number of stars in the audience including Brad Pitt, Mahershala Ali, Martin Scorsese and Jeff Bezos.
When he got to Ali, Rock noted that the actor has won two Oscars, before joking that if Ali were pulled over by the police, those two awards would mean “nothing.”
After Rock pointed out Bezos in the audience, Martin quipped, “great actor.”
Rock, meanwhile, focused on the Amazon CEO’s wealth, joking that when Bezos “writes a check, the bank bounces.”
“He got divorced and he’s still the richest man in the world,” Rock said. “He saw Marriage Story and thought it was a comedy.”
Martin, however, demurred on the chance to take a shot at Bezos.
“I like getting my packages on time,” he said.
Bezos was seen smiling and slightly laughing at the jokes in the audience.
Rock also briefly mentioned the “terrible homeless problem in L.A.” before Martin cut him off: “Thank you, Chris! So many stars!”
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reported last year that there were 58,936 homeless people in Los Angeles, a 12 percent rise from last year’s tally of 52,765 people, with the city of Los Angeles showing a 16 percent rise to 36,300. While Los Angeles County has helped more than 20,000 people move into permanent housing, thousands more have become homeless due to economics and issues with the foster care, mental health and criminal justice systems as well as the housing market.
The New York Times, in a recent investigative piece, called homelessness the city’s “defining crisis.”
The duo also called out the lack of nominated female directors, with Martin saying that something was missing from this year’s list of best director nominees. “Vaginas?” Rock asked. Martin agreed that was it.
Rock also highlighted the fact that Harriet star Cynthia Erivo is the only black person nominated for an acting award this year.
“Cynthia did such a great job in Harriet hiding black people [as Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman], that the Academy got her to hide all the black nominees,” he quipped. “Cynthia, is Eddie Murphy under this stage?”
Later the pair observed that when the Oscars began in 1929, there were no black acting nominees, and now, in 2020, there’s one. “Amazing growth,” Martin said.
Rock last hosted the Oscars in 2016, the last time the Oscars had an all-white group of acting nominees, which spawned the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite and prompted a boycott from stars like Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith. This year, the Academy barely avoided a repeat.
Commenting on the #OscarsSoWhite trend during his 2016 monologue, Rock joked that the show should be called the “White People’s Choice Awards.”
He added, “You realize, if they nominated host, I wouldn’t even get this job! Y’all would be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now.”
Rock later admitted he thought about quitting as host after the lack of black acting nominees before musing about why this was an issue in 2016.
“Why this Oscars? Why this Oscars, you know? It’s the 88th Academy Awards,” Rock said. “Which means this whole “no black nominees” thing has happened at least 71 other times, OK? You gotta figure that it happened in the ’50s, in the ’60s — you know like one of those years Sidney [Poitier] didn’t put out a movie. I’m sure there were no black nominees some of those years. Say ’65, ’62 or ’63 — and black people did not protest! Why? Because we had real things to protest at the time. We had real things to protest. We were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer. When your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about best documentary foreign short!”
He also addressed the larger question of whether Hollywood is racist.
“You’re damn right Hollywood’s racist, but not the racist that you’ve grown accustomed to,” he said. “Hollywood is sorority racist. It’s like, ‘We like you Ronda, but you’re not a Kappa.’ That’s how Hollywood is.”
Martin is also a three-time Oscar host, emceeing the show in 2001 and 2003 solo and in 2010 with Alec Baldwin.
The pair referenced their past hosting gigs when they began their 2020 Oscars monologue, with Martin calling their opening bit “an incredible demotion.”
When Martin asked why the Oscars doesn’t have hosts anymore, Rock said, “Twitter! Everybody’s got an embarrassing tweet. I know I do.”
ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke announced in January that the 2020 Oscars would go without a host.
“Let me confirm it now, together with the Academy, that there will be no traditional host this year,” Burke said, emphasizing that they wanted to stick with what worked last year.
The 2019 Oscars drew an average of nearly 30 million viewers, up 11.5 percent year-over-year, a rare ratings uptick, with Burke indicating just a few weeks after the show that ABC would likely repeat “what we consider to be a successful formula.”
This year’s ceremony is being produced by Oscar-nominated producers Lynette Howell Taylor and Stephanie Allain, in their first involvement with the Academy Awards show.
Last year’s ceremony was the first Oscars without a host in 30 years, with the last being the year of the infamous Rob Lowe-Snow White duet in 1989, but the 2019 show opened with a performance by Queen and singer Adam Lambert followed by a monologue from non-hosts Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph.
Fey, Poehler and Rudolph repeatedly insisted they weren’t hosting the show (indeed, they were technically there to present the award for best supporting actress). Still, Fey joked that they would stay onstage a little longer, “so the people who get USA Today tomorrow will think that we hosted.”
In 2019, Kevin Hart was initially announced as the host, but he backed out shortly afterward amid controversy over old homophobic tweets. It later emerged that Dwayne Johnson had been asked to host prior to Hart, but the WWE star turned actor couldn’t make the timing work. The Academy had also considered having three separate hosts, one for each hour of the telecast, which a source told The Hollywood Reporter would be less of a “burden for the talent.” ABC and the Film Academy officially confirmed that year’s ceremony wouldn’t have a host just weeks before the show.
Since then a number of other awards shows have gone without a host including the 2019 Emmys and this year’s SAG Awards, but the 2020 Grammys and 2020 Golden Globes did have hosts, in Alicia Keys and Ricky Gervais, respectively. And Fey and Poehler have already been lined up to return as Golden Globes hosts in 2021.
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