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Richard Pryor Called the #OscarsSoWhite Before Twitter

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Portrait of American comedian Richard Pryor (1940 - 2005) as he mugs for the camera, New York, New York, 1977. The picture has been altered to remove the background. (Photo by Susan Aimee Weinik/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Portrait of American comedian Richard Pryor (1940 - 2005) as he mugs for the camera, New York, New York, 1977. The picture has been altered to remove the background. (Photo by Susan Aimee Weinik/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)The LIFE Images Collection/Getty

"Tonight we honor today’s best and whitest—sorry, brightest!"

Oscar host Neil Patrick Harris topped off the night with a one-liner to address the lack of diversity in nominees but quickly moved on, launching into his musical number.

It was a moment reminiscent of Richard Pryor's turn as co-host in 1977:

“I am here tonight. To explain why black people. Will never be nominated for anything,” started Pryor.

After the chuckles settled, Pryor continued with his dig at number of black acting nominations, which like this year, were a grand total of zero.

The sharp, yet humorous critique of Hollywood’s lack of recognition for actors of color generated laughs and quite possibly served as the first #OscarsSoWhite moment, way before social media was even a thought.

1977 was a year filled with bonafide classics: “Network,” “All the President’s Men,” “Carrie,” “A Star is Born,” “Taxi Driver,” and of course the champ, “Rocky.”

They had one thing in common. They lacked diversity.

(Skip the opening dance number and scroll to 7:40 in the YouTube clip)

Pryor — who was one of four co-hosts along with Warren Beatty, Ellen Burstyn and Jane Fonda — continued his stinging and stilted monologue.

"Black. People. Love. To act. We. Can. Cry. At the drop of a hat. Or laugh. [Awkward laugh] These are. Some of the things. Black people can do."

A-listers laughed as he launched into mock-protest:

"We’re also going to stop entertaining. That will show you. We refuse to be in show bid’ness all together. We are quitting. Then see who sings and dances for you."

Sidenote: There were a handful black presenters that night, and it's not hard to find irony in the fact that “Black and White in Color” was actually the name of the Best Foreign Language Film.

Pryor went on to echo — or foreshadow, rather— a systemic problem: the lack of diversity in the Academy.

"This show is going out to 75 million people. None of them are black. We don’t even know how to vote. There’s 3,349 people in the voting thing. And only two black people. Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte."

According to a 2012 study by the L.A. Times, Oscar voters are nearly 94 percent Caucasian and 77 percent male. Blacks make up about 2 percent of the academy, and Latinos are less than 2 percent, and the number of Asians is so small, it's not even listed.

This year’s “white-wash” in acting nominations propelled the conversation on the importance of diversity in filmmaking. Of the 20 actors nominated, there were no persons of color. (It should be duly noted however, that Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu took the top prizes as Best Picture and Best Director.)

But back in ‘77, it didn’t take a snubbed film or actor for Pryor to address this issue comedically. What’s remarkable is Pryor’s lashing of the Academy got no press attention at the time.

Thirty years before #OscarsSoWhite was anywhere close to trending, there went Pryor. A whole generation has passed, yet his remarks are still relevant today.

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