When Chris Rock hosted the Oscars in 2005, he rattled the establishment — notably a grumpy Sean Penn. Now, he's coming back when that establishment needs to be rattled more than ever. Oscar hosts over the past couple of years have eagerly celebrated the movie business during a time when it deserved some side-eye. Seth MacFarlane’s stint in 2013 was remarkable for its nastiness — a nastiness that fueled the sexist status quo. (Ahem, "We Saw Your Boobs.") The following year, Ellen Degeneres hosted an Oscar-themed slumber party where stars in fancy clothes ate pizza and took a big selfie. Then, Neil Patrick Harris tried to turn the 2015 ceremony into a big magic show. It didn’t really work. (Remember that briefcase?) The Oscars will always be a self-congratulatory affair, and Rock is all but certain to inject some much needed electricity into the proceedings. Last year, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite emerged after the nominations paid short shrift to Selma and yielded a field of acting contenders that included not a single person of color. This year's list of possible contenders isn't shaping up to be much more diverse. And it's likely Rock will take the industry to task for that, especially considering that he told David Letterman shortly after his first hosting gig that he would do it again “if there’s a lot of Black people on it.” (In 2005, four Black actors were nominated; Jamie Foxx, who won Best Actor for Ray, received two nominations.) One of the highlights of the 2005 show was Rock's pre-taped segment at the Magic Johnson Theatre in Harlem, which demonstrated how the majority of that year's Best Picture nominees (including Sideways and Finding Neverland) existed in a very small, very white bubble.
In 2012, when he was presenting the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, Rock used his platform to call attention to how even that type of movie limits roles for Black people. He also called bullshit on anyone who says that voicing an animated character isn't an easy payday.
Looking back, the joke from the 2005 ceremony that Rock is most remembered for — which essentially amounted to, "Jude Law was in a lot of movies" — doesn't feel that malicious, even though it's now been excised from the official YouTube video of Rock's opening. The riff on what makes a movie star versus what just makes someone "popular" even included a bit of self-ribbing, in which Rock said, "If you want Denzel and all you can get is me, wait."
Rock cuts through Hollywood bullshit. Which is exactly what the ceremony needs right now.