Sunday night’s Oscars featured several curious song selections — from Dave Grohl’s “Blackbird” in memoriam tribute, to the Son of Saul winners being played off by Hitler’s favorite composer, to Sam Smith’s overall regret. And for the broadcast’s opening and closing number, the producers opted for a head-scratcher in Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” the 1990 protest theme of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. This year’s Oscars did all the wrong things with regard to the racial makeup of its acting nominees — so to bookend the show with a song targeting institutional oppression felt, to many, a little too on the nose. Following the show, Public Enemy’s Chuck D tweeted his displeasure with the choice: “The point of the song is a call to making change eventually, not just applauding the thought.” Professor Griff has since echoed his frustration with the song’s use, telling TMZ, “The show can’t claim the blackness of Public Enemy’s message.”
Explaining why the Oscars chose “Fight the Power” for both its intro and outro, the show’s music supervisor Byron Phillips says it was intended to be provocative. He tells EW, “[We wanted to] really set the tone for what the night was going to be and do something that was representative of Chris, and who Chris was, and the vibe and tone Chris wanted to set for the evening. There was obviously nothing more perfect than ‘Fight the Power’ for that. You’ve never had a song like that open the Oscars. I think anytime you do something that’s some dramatic break with what you’ve seen historically on the show, I think that people will always be interested in how it happened or certainly talk about it in social [media].”
Sadly, because Universal owns the rights to license “Fight the Power,” Public Enemy would’ve been powerless to fight the Oscars from using it anyway.