It’s easy to slam the OSCARS as a superficial contest of egos on parade. Not sure what it says about me that I love every gown and gaffe, every windy speech and backfiring joke, every upset, melt-down, frozen-faced loser, and tear-filled acceptance–as well as all the long stretches in between. Every year it’s the same but different. A different complexion, a complexion that reflects the face of the global popular culture of the times; this year “complexion” was very much at issue and host Chris Rock took it and ran with it. Was it the time and place? You bet.  And there were many other issues on the table, and they all had their place in the sun. Truth is stranger than fiction making the Oscar telecast the greatest reality show on earth.

Rock hit the stage with a few predictable jokes: “…the Oscars, otherwise known as the white people’s choice awards” and it wobbled as it landed. But gradually the host found his stride, taking his time and wading into the thick of it, making folks uncomfortable, slowing down the pace, and calling out the deluded self-righteousness on all sides from Jada and Will to the self-conscious grandiosity of the whole ritual itself.

“When grandma’s swingin’ from a tree, it’s hard to get upset about who won best documentary foreign short…”  Yikes– did he just say that? Yes, and we needed to hear it. He wisely put it all in perspective, told it like it was, made us uncomfortable, then clinched it with the sincerely observed heartfelt plea for equal opportunity and fair play. Leo gets a chance every year. Does Jamie Foxx?

And this was only the beginning. This year the Oscars rolled out the red carpet providing a stage for a diversity of heartfelt issues and justice denied– for rape victims, the victims of honor killings, for sexually abused children at the hands of priests; it called out the daily scourge of sexism, racism, domestic violence, and called for the recognition of LGBT rights, our responsibility to the planet and to indigenous people whose voices have been drowned out.

Finally the Oscars invoked the power of film itself to show us who we are and inspire us to change. Perhaps because it’s an election year, there was an old-fashioned revival of political feeling at a time when our values are being tested and we are actively deciding who we are and who we want to be as a country.

Chris Rock bravely and smartly took us down that path. He wasn’t as debonair as Johnny, as quick with a light quip as Hope, as consistently funny as Crystal. No– he was the right man for the moment, sometimes cracking us up, sometimes saying the hard things from the heart, and often doing both, shocking us with his biting and brilliantly funny observations. He dared to define the particular cast of systemic racism that infects the culture. Rock interviewing folks from Compton about the movies was both hilarious and painful. How much clearer could it be that blacks and whites in this country live in two different worlds?

Our host and his team kept it up rather than moving on as if from some unpleasant subject that had to be brought up then quickly put down. We live this reality every day, and it will be a LONG time before things change.  One more thing. That Tracy Morgan bit with the comedian in the Eddie Redmayne role, transgendered in heels, lipstick, and chemise munching a danish was one of the funniest things I have ever seen– and said a mouthful.