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Clarence Thomas Speaks in Supreme Court; Chris Rock Takes on Oscars, Race at Academy Awards. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired February 29, 2016 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:30:10] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Something pretty rare happened at the United States Supreme Court this morning. For the first time in more than 10 years, Justice Clarence Thomas spoke out loud in the form of a question.
Let me bring in justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, with the significance of this; and also CNN legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, on the phone to react to this.
First to you, Pamela.
What exactly did he ask?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Justice Thomas frankly stunned the reporter listening to oral arguments today, Brooke in this under the radar criminal case about whether domestic abuser should lose gun rights. This is the first time in more than a decade, in fact, last week was the ten-year anniversary of him never asking a question during oral arguments and then today he spoke up and not only that, he posed some tough questions, several questions, to the assistant solicitor general. In one exchange, he asked the government's attorney about his second amendment, saying this say misdemeanor violation, can you give me another area here a misdemeanor violation suspends a constitutional right? So everyone at that point leaned in, sort of in disbelief, according to one of the reporters in there, and as I said, the exchange included several questions and reporters said there was a lot of back and forth that happened at the end of the oral arguments. The timing of this, of course, cannot be ignored because it's just the second week of arguments since his friend, Justice Antonin Scalia, died. Thomas and Scalia sat next to each other on the Bench. They share similar views but had radically different styles during oral arguments. It could be that Justice Thomas today was trying to fill the void with Justice Scalia's voice now absent.
BALDWIN: Jeffrey Toobin, you wrote the book on these justices. Do you think this absolutely had to do with the passing of his friend?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST (voice-over): I think it probably does. Justice Scalia was such a dominant presence at oral arguments and the void left by his absence is so great in these cases that I think Justice Thomas used this opportunity to basically rejoin the other justices. This silence has kind of taken over his public reputation. And I think that's too bad. I think he would argue it's too bad, because there's a lot more to Justice Thomas's tenure than just his silence. I think to rejoin the others in a normal level of questioning is probably a good idea for all concerned.
BALDWIN: OK. Jeffrey Toobin, thank you.
Pamela Brown, thank you.
Next, Chris Rock. Chris Rock's Hollywood take-down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS ROCK, COMEDIAN: Well, I'm here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the white people's choice awards.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: And that was just the beginning of that opening monologue there. Much more on tackling the controversial issue there head on from that stage.
Also ahead, more from those fiery protests that just erupted at Donald Trump's rally today there at Radford University in Virginia. These protesters here, demonstrators, holding hands, chanting "Black Lives Matter." See what happened next, coming up.
[14:37:49] BALDWIN: Chris Rock taking on racism and Hollywood head on at the Oscars. He spent the entire monologue talking the race controversy. It has everyone talking today. Here's a look at what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS ROCK, COMEDIAN: The big question, why this Oscars, why this Oscars, you know, it's the 88th Academy Awards, it's the 88th Academy Awards, which means --
-- this whole "no black nominees" thing has happened at least 71 other times.
OK. You got to figure that didn't happened in the '50s, in the '60s. You know, in the '60s, one of those years, Sidney didn't put out a movie. I'm sure, I'm sure there were no black nominees some of those years. Say '62 or '63. And black people did not protest. Why? Because we had real things to protest at the time. You know?
ROCK: We had other things to protest. Too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer.
You know, when your grandmother's swinging from a tree, it's really hard to care about best documentary foreign short.
But what happened this year? What happened? People went mad, you know. Spike got mad. Jada went mad. And Will went mad. Everybody went mad, you know. It's quite like Jada got mad. Jada says she's not coming. Protesting. I'm like, you sure? Jada's going to boycott the Oscars. Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna's panties.
I wasn't invited!
ROCK: Oh, that's not an invitation I would turn down.
But I understand. I'm not hating. I understand you're mad. Jada's mad. Her man, Will, was not nominated for "Concussion." I get it. I get it. Tell the truth. I get it. I get it. You get made. It's not fair that Will was this good and didn't get nominated. You're right. It's also not fair that Will was paid $20 million for "Wild, Wild West." OK?
[11:40:17] OK? Things, you know, this year, the Oscars -- things are going to be a little different. Things are going to be a little different at the Oscars. This year, in the memoriam package is just going to be black people shot by the cops on their way to the movies.
ROCK: Yes, yes. I said it, all right.
Hey, if you want black nominees every year, you need to just have black categories. That's what you need. You need to have black categories. You already do it with men and women. Think about it. There's no real reason for there to be a men and a women category in acting. It's -- come on. There's no reason!
ROCK: It's not track and field.
(LAUGHTER) You don't have to separate them. You know, Robert DeNiro's never said, I'd better slow this acting down so Meryl Streep could catch up.
No. Not at all, man. If you want black people every year at the Oscars, just have black categories. Like best black friend.
That's right. And the winner for the 18th year in a row is Wanda Sykes.
This is Wanda's 18th black Oscar.
But here's the real question. The real question everybody wants to know, everybody wants to know, in the world, is Hollywood racist. Is Hollywood racist? You know, that's a -- you know, you got to go at that the right way. Is it -- is it burning cross racist? No. Is it fetching you some lemonade racist? No, no, no. It's a different type of racist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: He goes on to say it's sorority racist. We're going to get in this. We'll talk all about Chris Rock and some of the lines that are definitely being questioned by critics.
Stay with me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[14:46:23] ROCK: It's not about boycotting anybody. We want opportunity. We want the black actors to get the same opportunities.
ROCK: And that's it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Just like that, Chris Rock came out swinging, taking on the elephant in the rule, the Oscar's diversity controversy.
Let's get straight to it. I wanted to bring the same panel back. Don Lemon, live in Los Angeles in the room. So we'll chat with him on how it felt in the room versus how we watched it on TV. Chris Witherspoon is with me in New York, CNN analyst and entertainment editor of thegrio.com; and back with us as well -- we're so thankful -- Miki Turner, USC Annenberg lecturer and pop culture critic.
Miki, I want to go to you first because you covered so many different Academy Awards. To watch Chris Rock go on, how did he do, what did you think?
MIKI TURNER, USC ANNENBERG LECTURER & POP CULTURE CRITIC: You know, everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to J.J. Abrams has said he rocked it last night. I don't think he Rocked it so much as he kept it moving. A lot of his jokes fell flat. I think part of the reason is there's the fatigue factor because this hash tag has been going on for a couple months and probably 101 percent people in the room don't care anymore. And the other thing, I think it just went above people's heads. You know, they didn't get the humor. They didn't know how to react.
BALDWIN: But the lines about -- stay with you, the lines about my grandmother hanging from a tree, lynching, raping, was that too far for you or appropriate?
TURNER: Absolutely too far. I think there's a segment of the population where that memory is still too fresh and it's too dark. If he had said something about the holocaust, he probably wouldn't have been able to get out of the room alive. So, yes, I think that went too far.
BALDWIN: Don, you were sitting there in the room. How did it feel? How did people there react?
DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I love Miki. I think she's right on point about some things, but, Miki, I have to disagree with others.
I expect Chris Rock to go there. The grandmother hanging from the tree didn't offend me. He's a comedian. I want him to be controversial. He should and he was. I thought he was perfect. I thought, you know, he made people think when he said that racism is not, you know, what it was. Yes, black people had more important things to think about in times past. We want thinking about in the '60s when Sydney Poitier was receiving Oscars or received the first Oscar. That wasn't the big deal -- that was not the top priority for us. I also think he was right on about it being a sorority. Just in life, African-Americans are not included. People don't understand what, you know, what it's like to not be a part of the fraternity. That's kind of what it is, everyday jobs. Even in our job, at broadcasting. There are certain people who always invited to the table. Sometimes the people who are not invited to the table are often people of color. I think that's what he's saying. I think executives and others should check themselves and see if they are allowing, you know, a fraternity sorority leader and not allowing everyone to the table. I thought he was right on. Perfect, loved it.
BALDWIN: Chris Witherspoon?
TURNER: And I think that speaks to the issue of nepotism that we talked about before. It is a sorority, it is a fraternity and not everyone is included.
BALDWIN: We were just talking before the commercial break, the executive producer --
(CROSSTALK) CHRIS WITHERSPOON, CNN ANALYST & ENTERTAINMENT ANALYST, THEGRIO.COM: -- who's an African-American man who really gave Chris Rock free rein. He said Chris Rock can do whatever he wanted to do. I think ultimately Chris Rock had really big shoes to fill. I don't think any of his contemporaries wanted his job last night.
But also, some of the things he said were distasteful, like the lynching, the hangings from the trees. I don't want to hear that in a joke. That's something that's very serious and diminishes the movement happening in this country. For many, they feel he didn't even really address the Oscars.
[14:50:22] BALDWIN: Miki saying it went too far --
WITHERSPOON: I agree with Miki.
BALDWIN: -- just in time. It wasn't just the opening monologue --
WITHERSPOON: It kept coming back.
BALDWIN: -- a half an hour in, he was alluding to it and cracking jokes. And you think --
LEMON: In comedy, nothing is off limits. Nothing should be --
BALDWIN: Go ahead, Don.
LEMON: Nothing should be off limits in comedy because those things make you think. The truth is often spoken in jest. And listen, we can't have a different set of standards for black comedians we have. We can't have a different standard for Chris Rock. I want -- comedians are supposed to take it to the edge or over the edge or not -- and try to figure out where the line is to get people to think. Yes, we have more important things to think about. We did then. It's the truth. Why is the truth offensive? That's not offensive.
WITHERSPOON: I think Chris Rock had one solid moment where he really kind of encaptured what was happening with his Oscars and what folks really feel at home.
LEMON: He's a comedian.
WITHERSPOON: And I think he did. He did.
LEMON: He's not a scholar.
LEMON: He's a comedian that's doing the Oscars.
BALDWIN: OK, here is -- as I was watching, you know, I wasn't in the room, but I was just like everyone else watching on tv, and I kept watching the cut-aways of all these actors, and I was almost cringing for them because, do you applaud on these lines?
BALDWIN: I mean, Don, you were there. Did it feel -- how did it feel to watch these people?
LEMON: So, OK, I had a very interesting moment, because people were actually looking around to see if they should laugh, right. And I started looking around because I was the only person in my row that was cracking up. Well, Michaela and I were cracking up. After Michaela left, there were some jokes that went even a little bit further. This lady behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said, I'm glad you're enjoying this because it would be very disappointing if you weren't. And so people -- most of the room, most of the room, obviously it's the Oscars, were filled with people who were not of color. So the Stacey Dash thing where Stacey Dash comes out, I cracked up because I got it, right, it's part of, you know, black culture, we get it. But most of the people in the room have no idea. Some people were turning to each other going, who's she, is that the girl from such and such, which is important, because sometimes we give too much credence and too much importance to people who have no voice or have very little platforms are not that important. And so that moment sort of showed me, like, why are we paying so much attention to Stacey Dash, why does she get under our skin that much? She's not that important, her voice is not that big.
BALDWIN: Let me ask you --
TURNER: I think where they went wrong --
TURNER: No, I think where they went wrong with Stacey Dash is Stacey needed more of a setup. I agree with you, Don.
TURNER: Not a lot of people in the room knew who she was. You know, essentially, she's the epitome of her most famous movie. She's kind of "Clueless." I think if she included that in there, maybe people would have drawn some sort of correlation, but, yeah, that was a missed moment for sure.
BALDWIN: Let me follow up with you, Miki. It's a bit of a delay. But he was making the point when a lot of women on the red carpet are asked what are you wearing and they're saying, ask me more. Chris Rock was saying we're not all sexist and we're not all racist.
WITHERSPOON: Yeh, Chris Rock.
BALDWIN: Yeah, yey, Chris Rock, for this. Then this joke about Asians. Here he was.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROCK: The result of tonight's Academy Awards has been tabulated by accounting firm of Price, Waterhouse and Cooper. They sent us their most hard working representative. I want you to please welcome Ming Zu, Bo Ling and David Maskowitz.
ROCK: Yeah. It's OK, it's OK. Thanks, guys, thanks a lot.
If anybody's upset about that joke, just tweet about it on your phone that was also made by these kids, OK?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: OK, so, yes, he's a comedian, you know, that was a bit, that was a bit. But Miki, the question is this -- "The New Yorker" posed this, quote, "Why give anyone room to rationalize a double standard?"
TURNER: Well, you know, I think what was wrong with a lot of the humor last night is that it wasn't very inclusive. You know, that bit I have to admit I missed the first time around because I was ordering shirts online, but I thought that was actually one of the funnier bits that night. You know, but, you know, we didn't include the Arabs and the Asians and the Latinos in this whole discussion about Oscars So White. So that was one of my main criticisms of the show.
BALDWIN: It should be about everyone?
[14:55:] TURNER: It should be about everyone, yes.
I thought the funniest joke of the night was Will Smith making the $20 million for "Wild, Wild West."
TURNER: So he spread it out a little bit but not enough.
BALDWIN: Miki Turner --
LEMON: The Rihanna thing was pretty funny. BALDWIN: It was a good one.
Don Lemon, thanks for waking up with us. I'm sure you had some fun after partying.
Thank you, all.
Make sure you watch Don tonight at 10:00 eastern on "CNN Tonight."
Thank you all so much.
Coming up next here, we have to talk about what happened at this Donald Trump rally just a bit ago in Virginia. These men and women holding hands, chanting "Black Lives Matter." We'll show you exactly what happened.
Also, touching moments today. This member of SEAL Team Six honored with the nation's highest military award today at the White House. Hear what he did that got him the Medal of Honor.