Academy Awards 2015 Venue

Oscars 2016: 'Spotlight' Surprises, Diversity Takes Center Stage

Image: Chris RockThe 88th Academy Awards have been steeped in controversy over their overwhelmingly white nominees — triggering #OscarsSoWhite and calls for a boycott.

Host Chris Rock signaled early on that he'd address the elephant in the room — joking about the upcoming "White BET Awards" in a promo for the event last month.

Chris Rock speaks at the Oscars on Sunday. Chris Pizzello / AP

Dozens of protesters converged near the Oscars venue on Sunday holding signs with slogans such as "Hollywood Must Do Better" as stars walked the industry's most celebrated red carpet.

"You realize, if they nominated hosts, I wouldn't even have this job, " he cracked.

Rock went on to deliver a scorching monologue, noted how Oscars diversity was an issue this year but not in the 1950s or 60s when blacks had "real things to protest."

"We were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer, " he said. "You know, when your grandmother's swinging from a tree, it's really hard to care about Best Documentary Foreign Short."

Image: Mark Rylance, Brie Larson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Alicia VikanderWhile Rock delivered a stream of snappy punchlines, he also took time to send a straight message to the crowd by wrapping up with the simple statement: "We want opportunity."

With that the stream of gold statuettes were rolled out — earning several rising stars and some veteran actors the coveted award in an evening which repeatedly touched on the theme of diversity and social justice.

"Spotlight, " which chronicled the Boston Globe's explosive investigation into child sex abuse by Catholic priests, won best picture.

"We would not be here today without the heroic efforts of our reporters, " producer Blye Pagon Faust said while accepting the night's top honor. "Not only do they effect global change, but they absolutely show us the necessity for investigative journalism."

The film also won best original screenplay.

"The Revenant" — which went into the Academy Awards with a leading 12 nominations — earned Alexjandro Gonzalez-Inarritu a second Best Director Oscar. The Mexican director had nabbed the same prize in 2015 for "Birdman" and on Sunday became the first filmmaker in over 60 years to win back-to-back Academy Awards.

Image: Stacey Dash at the Academy Awards"What a great opportunity for our generation to really liberate ourselves from all prejudice and this tribal thinking and to make sure for once and forever that the color of our skin becomes as irrelevant as the length of our hair, " Inarritu said.

And then, there was DiCaprio, who drew a standing ovation from the star-packed audience.

DiCaprio's portrayal of a fur trapper in "The Revenant" beat out "Trumbo"'s Bryan Cranston, "The Martian"'s Matt Damon, "The Danish Girl"'s Eddie Redmayne and "Steve Jobs"' Michael Fassbender.

The environmental activist took a moment to thank family, friends and colleagues — but used his acceptance speech to send a message about climate change, too.

"Let us not take this planet for granted, " DiCaprio said. "I do not take tonight for granted. Thank you so very much."

Mark Rylance, Brie Larson, Leonardo DiCaprio and Alicia Vikander in the press room. Jordan Strauss / AP

While "The Revenant" may have led the number of nominations, "Mad Max: Fury Road" was the biggest winner of the night.

It took home six Oscars — largely in technical categories like costumes and make-up — prompting such raucous backstage celebrations that the film's sound editors didn't hear their colleagues' name announced for another win for sound mixing.

Rock made sure diversity remained front and center. He jokingly introduced actress Stacey Dash — who recently drew fire for suggesting there should be no Black History Month — as director of the Oscar's minority outreach program.

While that joke fell flat, the comedian came through with a plethora of other punchlines throughout the evening. One sketch where Oscar-nominated films starred additional black actors was a particular highlight.

Actress Stacey Dash during her appearance Sunday at the Academy Awards. Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Rock also at one point told the audience that Hollywood might not be "burning cross racist" but "a difference kind of racist."

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