After the mixed reception received from the preceding year's ceremony, Neil Meron and Craig Zadan announced that they would not be returning to produce the show for the fourth year. Shortly afterwards, actor Neil Patrick Harris announced that he would not host the Oscars for a second time. In an interview released by The Huffington Post, he said "I don't know that my family nor my soul could take it. It's a beast. It was fun to check off the list, but for the amount of time spent and the understandable opinionated response, I don't know that it's a delightful balance to do every year or even again." With re-elected Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs assuming leadership duties, the Academy hired David Hill and Reginald Hudlin in September 2015 to produce the ceremony. A day after they were announced as the producers, Hill said that the show would have two hosts.
However, in October 2015, it was announced that actor and comedian Chris Rock would be hosting the telecast. They explained why they brought Rock back as host, saying, "Chris Rock is truly the MVP of the entertainment industry. Comedian, actor, writer, producer, director, documentarian — he's done it all. He's going to be a phenomenal Oscar host!"
Rock expressed that he was thrilled to be selected to emcee the gala again, commenting, "I'm so glad to be hosting the Oscars, it's great to be back."
Several other people were also involved with the production of the ceremony. Harold Wheeler served as musical director and conductor for the event.Derek McLane returned to design a new set and stage design for the show.Fatima Robinson served as choreographer for several musical numbers during the event. The Oscar statuettes were made by Polich Tallix Fine Art Foundry in Rock Tavern, New York. In a further effort to streamline acceptance speeches, dedications were displayed on an on-screen ticker, rather than read by the winner.Sacha Baron Cohen did not tell producers beforehand that he would appear on stage as his Ali G character instead of himself. He and his wife, actress Isla Fisher, locked themselves in the bathroom for 40 minutes to secretly apply on his costume, after telling people he had food poisoning.
Box office performance of nominated films
North American box office gross for Best Picture nominees
Pre-nomination (Before Jan. 15)
Post-nomination (Jan. 15 – Feb. 28)
Post-awards (After Feb. 28)
Mad Max: Fury Road
Bridge of Spies
The Big Short
The combined gross of the eight Best Picture nominees at the United States and Canadian box offices was $804.6 million, at an average of $100.6 million which is the sixth-highest of all time in the past 33 years. 2015's eight Best Picture nominees were in the second highest average number of theaters per film at 2,323, second only to 2003 where the average theater count per nominee was 2,368. However, the average gross per theater ranks 26th out of the 33 years evaluated with an average of $32,636 per theater.
When the nominations were announced on January 14, 2016, The Martian was the highest-grossing film among the Best Picture nominees with $226.6 million in domestic box office receipts.Mad Max: Fury Road was the second-highest-grossing film with $153.6 million; this was followed by Bridge of Spies ($70.7 million), The Revenant ($54.1 million), The Big Short ($44.6 million), Spotlight ($28.8 million), Brooklyn ($22.7 million), and Room ($5.1 million).
Of the top 50 grossing movies of the year, 46 nominations went to 11 films on the list. Only Inside Out (4th), The Martian (8th), Straight Outta Compton (18th), The Revenant (15th), Mad Max: Fury Road (21st), Creed (29th), and Bridge of Spies (42nd) were nominated for Best Picture, Best Animated Feature, or any of the directing, acting, or screenwriting awards. The other top 50 box office hits that earned nominations were Star Wars: The Force Awakens (1st), Cinderella (9th), Spectre (10th), and Fifty Shades of Grey (17th).
Criticism regarding lack of diversity
Shortly after the nominations were announced, many media outlets observed a lack of diversity amongst the nominees in major categories for the second year running. Shortly after, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs stated:
"Of course I am disappointed, but this is not to take away the greatness (of the films nominated). This has been a great year in film...However, we are not stopping...We are moving forward and will continue to move forward with conversation and action. That needs to happen not just within the Academy, but the entire motion picture industry.
Isaacs said the Academy is taking "dramatic steps to alter the makeup" of its membership and diversify it in areas of "gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation." In response to the lack of diversity, several celebrities including Spike Lee, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, and Best Original Song nominee Anohni, announced their decision to boycott the ceremony. Anohni expressed embarrassment over how both she and fellow nominee David Lang were not asked to perform due to "time constraints", despite Dave Grohl performing without a nomination. She suggested "singing about eco-cide... might not sell advertising space" and that the system is one "of social oppression and diminished opportunities for transpeople that has been employed by capitalism in the U.S. to crush our dreams and our collective spirit".George Clooney,Lupita Nyong'o,Viola Davis and several other actors also commented on the lack of diversity. In addition, host Chris Rock also faced pressure to step down as host. Rock nevertheless hosted the ceremony and focused his entire opening monologue on the controversy. President Barack Obama also spoke up about the controversy saying,
"I think that California is an example of the incredible diversity of this country...I think that when everyone's story is told then that makes for better art, it makes for better entertainment it makes everybody feel part of one American family, so I think as a whole the industry should do what every other industry should do which is to look for talent, provide opportunity to everybody. And I think the Oscar debate is really just an expression of this broader issue. Are we making sure that everybody is getting a fair shot?”
Many celebrities and Academy members, including Michael Caine, Charlotte Rampling, Whoopi Goldberg, Penelope Ann Miller, Helen Mirren and Gerald R. Molen voiced their defense of the Oscars, saying that the nominations are based on performance and merit, not race. Michael Caine stated, "In the end you can't vote for an actor because he's black. You can't say 'I'm going to vote for him, he's not very good, but he's black, I'll vote for him."Ice Cube, who produced the hit biopic film Straight Outta Compton, stated that "It's crying about not having enough icing on your cake. It's just ridiculous.”Penelope Ann Miller responded to the criticism by stating "I voted for a number of black performers, and I was sorry they weren't nominated. To imply that this is because all of us are racists is extremely offensive. I don't want to be lumped into a category of being a racist because I'm certainly not and because I support and benefit from the talent of black people in this business. It was just an incredibly competitive year." Oscar winner and former host Whoopi Goldberg defended the Academy as well by saying, “The issue is not the Academy. Even if you fill the Academy with black and Latino and Asian members, if there's no one on the screen to vote for, you're not going to get the outcome that you want. I won once, so it can't be that racist. I've been black the whole time."
Producer Gerald R. Molen called the idea of a boycott "ridiculous" stating: "There is no racism except for those who create an issue”, while adding, “That is the worst kind. Using such an ugly way of complaining.” Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren defended the Academy, saying it's "unfair" to attack the organization; "It just so happened this year, it went that way." Mirren mentioned actor Idris Elba of Netflix's Beasts of No Nation, as someone who would have been nominated, but was not "because not enough people saw or wanted to see a film about child soldiers." Mirren noted that the issue rests on the industry; "what happens before the film gets to the Oscars, what kinds of films are made and the way in which they're cast and the scripts. It's those things that are much more influential, ultimately, than who stands there with an Oscar." Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman also said that the problem begins with "[who is] behind the camera, who’s helping to make movies", and that the industry especially needs more writers of color. Actress Janet Hubert criticized Jada Pinkett Smith for a Facebook video calling for black actors to "stand in our power" rather than look to the Oscars for validation.
Academy's diversity improvement plan
In January 2016, the Academy issued a statement on a commitment to reform the voting rights and membership rules. Among other changes, it will increase the number of women and minorities in the membership and change lifetime voting rights to a requirement of three ten-year terms of active status in the industry, unless a person has won or been nominated for an Academy Award. Issacs said, "The Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up, these new measures regarding governance and voting will have an immediate impact and begin the process of significantly changing our membership composition." The Academy will establish three new governor seats that will be nominated by the Academy President for three-year terms and confirmed by the Board. The Academy will also add new members who are not Governors to its executive and board committees where key decisions about membership and governance are made. However, the Academy's actions also include taking away the membership rights of academy members who have not recently worked in the industry, such as actor Bill Mumy and award-winning screenwriter Patricia Resnick. "Replacing sexism and racism with ageism is not the answer," Resnick said.
Late February, Creed director Ryan Coogler and Selma director Ava DuVernay announced they would hold a charity event addressing the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan on February 28, coinciding with the Academy Awards ceremony. As a number of prominent critics of the Academy's "all too white" nomination list decided to turn the ceremony down in order to attend #JusticeForFlint, it has been widely regarded as an alternative event for those disappointed with – or even boycotting – the Oscars ceremony.
Host Chris Rock received a mixed to positive reception from media publications, with critics praising host Chris Rock for his handling of the diversity problem.Los Angeles Times' television critic Mary McNamara said that, "Rock's Oscars had some of the most powerful moments seen in the telecast's history," and felt that his honest answer to the question "Is Hollywood racist?" was "brave and effective." She concluded that, "After years of being dissed for its irrelevance, this year's Oscars took action. The results were mixed, to be sure, and Rock did not ever settle into his usual balance of outrage and humanity." Writing for The New York Times, James Poniewozik commented, "with Chris Rock, the Oscars find a lucky pairing of host and subject," and praised Rock saying, "his performance was an example of something the industry is still trying to learn: that you can achieve both inclusion and entertainment by giving the right person just the right opportunity."Variety's chief television critic Brian Lowry wrote, "meeting the high expectations the build-up engendered, Chris Rock brilliantly threaded the needle with his opening monologue." Daniel D'Addario of Time said, "with scathing humor and freewheeling unpredictability, this year's Oscars were an unusually satisfying watch", adding that the ceremony was "defined more by its host than by any of the winners. It was better for it." He felt, however, that Rock's hosting "fell apart" after the monologue. Robert Bianco of USA Today said, "Rock pointedly tackles Oscars, and race" and described the ceremony "funny, pointed and gasp-inducing."
Some of the critics were more negative toward Rock's hosting. Civil right activist Shaun King writing for New York Daily News panned the Rocks' hosting and monologue, calling it "distasteful, uncomfortable, and just plain wrong ... I kept waiting for him to say something, anything that made one bit of logical sense, but it quickly devolved into a garbled mess of illogical nonsense." Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter remarked, "Chris Rock led a telecast that had important things to say, but still felt endless." In addition he called the ceremony "overstuffed" and the on-screen running scroll a "total failure". Writing in Time Grace Ji-Sun Kim commented on Rocks' monologue saying, "Chris Rock should know that racism isn't black and white," and suggested that "if we are going to conquer racism, we need to acknowledge it's not binary. White supremacy works when we continue to speak about racism in binary terms."San Jose Mercury News' critic Tony Hicks said, "The Academy made a mistake in giving Oscar host Chris Rock so much leeway to smother Sunday night's Oscars with one issue -- that people of color aren't getting fair opportunities in Hollywood."
Asian jokes controversy
Criticism ensued after host Chris Rock and Sacha Baron Cohen told jokes on stage that were considered stereotypical and offensive towards Asians. During the show, Rock brought three children of Asian heritage onto the stage in order to pose as accountants, where he said "They sent us their most dedicated, accurate and hard working representatives...Please welcome Ming Zhu, Bao Ling and David Moskowitz;" he continued with saying "If anybody's upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids." In addition, Baron Cohen, as a co-presenter with Olivia Wilde and in character as his creation Ali G, said "How come's there's no Oscar for those dedicated, accurate, and hardworking little yellow people with tiny dongs. You know, the Minions." Many, including Lowen Liu of Slate, took issue with the joke's double entendre towards Asians. Baron Cohen's wife, actress Isla Fisher, helped him don the character's costuming just before going on stage; he had been explicitly unauthorized by the event's producers from appearing as any of his characters as a condition of his participation, but claims he was emboldened to proceed with his intentions after he encountered Rock, let him in on his plan, and was encouraged.
In addition to criticism from the public, especially online, the jokes faced criticism from publications such as GQ,The Hollywood Reporter,The New York Times, and The Washington Post. Jessica Contrera of The Washington Post noted "There was a lack of diversity in the lack of diversity. This became most apparent when Rock brought three Asian children to the stage, posing as 'bankers' from finance firm PricewaterhouseCoopers." Actress Constance Wu, of Fresh Off the Boat, and basketball player Jeremy Lin also commented on the jokes, with the former stating "To parade little kids on stage w/no speaking lines merely to be the butt of a racist joke is reductive & gross," and the latter writing on Twitter that he was "tired of it being 'cool' and 'OK' to bash Asians."
Ratings and reception
The American telecast on ABC drew 34.43 million people over its length, which was a 4% decrease from the previous year's ceremony. The telecast also garnered lower Nielsen ratings compared to the previous ceremony with 23.4% households watching over 37 share. In addition program scored the lower 18-49 demo rating with am 10.5 ratings over 31% share. It was the lowest viewership for an Academy Awards telecast since the 80th ceremony, held in 2008.