Chris Rock, clad in a white tuxedo, kicked off the 88th Academy Awards — "the White People's Choice Awards," he called them — in an unflinching, rip-roaring opening monologue that confronted head-on the uproar over the lack of diversity of this year's nominees.
"Is Hollywood racist? You're damn right it's racist," said Rock, who then took a measurement of the problem. "Hollywood is sorority racist. It's like: We like you Rhonda, but you're not a Kappa."
Rock immediately launched into the topic Sunday at the Dolby Theatre. "If they nominated a host, I wouldn't even get this job," he said.
Rock had stayed quiet before the ceremony as the controversy raged over the second straight year of all-white acting nominees, leaving Hollywood and viewers eagerly awaiting his one-liners. He confessed he deliberated over joining the boycott of the Oscars and bowing out as host, but concluded: "The last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart."
Aside from pleading for more opportunity for black actors, Rock also sought to add perspective to the turmoil, which included a protest outside the Dolby on Sunday led by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Rock said this year didn't differ much from Oscar history, but black people in earlier decades were "too busy being raped and lynched to worry about who won best cinematographer."
"Mad Max: Fury Road," George Miller's post-apocalyptic chase film, exploded with six wins in technical categories for editing, makeup, production design, sound editing, sound mixing and costume design. Roundly acclaimed for its old-school craft, Miller's "Mad Max" is virtually assured of becoming the most awarded film.
"Us Mad Maxes are doing OK tonight," said editor Margaret Sixel, who's also Miller's wife. The flurry of wins brought a parade of Australian craftsmen onstage, including sound editor Mark Mangini, who celebrated with a loud expletive.
Best supporting actress went Alicia Vikander for the transgender pioneer tale "The Danish Girl." Vikander, the 27-year-old Sweden-born actress was ubiquitous in 2015, also winning awards for her performance in the sci-fi "Ex Machina."
Alejandro Inarritu's frontier epic "The Revenant," which came in with a leading 12 nods and the favorite for best picture, notched an early, unsurprising win for its maverick cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki. Famed for his use of natural light in lengthy balletic shots, Lubezki became the first cinematographer to win three times in a row (following wins for "Gravity" and "Birdman"), and only the seventh to three-peat in Oscar history.
Other early awards went as expected, including two movies seen as the stiffest competition to "The Revenant."
Best original screenplay went to the newsroom drama "Spotlight," an ode to hard-nose, methodical investigative journalism penned by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer. Backstage, a cord from a light suddenly fell behind the winners, prompting McCarthy — whose film shows the discovery of extensive sex abuse by Catholic priests — to exclaim in mock paranoia: "That is the power of the Catholic Church, ladies and gentlemen!"
Adam McKay and Charles Randolph took best adapted screenplay for their self-described "trauma-dy" about the mortgage meltdown of 2008. McKay thanked Paramount Pictures for taking a risk on a movie about "financial esoterica."
McKay, best known for broader comedies like "Anchorman" and "Step Brothers," gave an election-year warning to power of "big money" in the presidential campaign and government.
The Academy Awards, normally decorous and predictable, are this year charged with enough politics and uncertainty to rival an election debate.
Down the street from the Dolby Theatre, Sharpton led several dozen demonstrators in protest against a second straight year of all-white acting nominees. Demonstrators held signs reading "Hollywood Must Do Better" and "Shame on You."
"This will be the last night of an all-white Oscars," Sharpton vowed at the rally.
The nominees restored the hashtag "OscarsSoWhite" to prominence and led Spike Lee (an honorary Oscar winner this year) and Jada Pinkett Smith to announce that they would not attend the show. Several top African American directors — Ryan Coogler (whose "Creed" is expected to land Sylvester Stallone a best supporting actor) and Ava DuVernay ("Selma") — won't be at the Oscars, but will instead host a live benefit in Flint, Michigan, for the water-contaminated city.
In a quick response to the growing crisis, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, pushed ahead reforms to the academy intended to diversify its overwhelming white and male membership. But those changes (which included stripping older, out-of-work members of their voting rights) precipitated a backlash of its own. A chorus of academy members challenged the reforms. Others have cast doubt on how effective the changes will be.
Isaacs defended the changes on the red carpet ahead of the show. "We are going to continue to take action and not just speak," Isaacs told ABC.
How the controversy will affect ratings for ABC is also one of the night's big questions. Last year's telecast, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, slid 16 percent to 36.6 million viewers, a six-year low. While the appeal of seeing Rock face Hollywood's diversity crisis head on should help drive curious viewers, a long night of dutiful speeches on the issue could turn away others more interested in glamour and celebrity.
While smaller, independent films have in recent years dominated the Oscars (the last two years were topped by Fox Searchlight releases "Birdman" and "12 Years a Slave"), five of this year's eight best picture nominees come from major studios. That includes the hits "The Martian" and "Mad Max: Fury Road," but, alas, not "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." J.J. Abrams' movie, the biggest box-office smash of the decade, earned five nods in technical categories.
Security around Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue was especially heightened because Vice President Joe Biden will be attending to give a special presentation with Lady Gaga aimed at combating sexual violence.
Derrik J. Lang contributed to this report.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP