April 1, 2022 | LIFE | By Alexandra Akinchina | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian
The Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, held their 94th ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood this past Sunday.
For the first time, the Oscars was led by an all-black production team and was hosted by three women – Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes. Jane Campion became the third woman in history to win best director for “The Power of the Dog,” and “CODA” became the first film with a largely deaf cast to win best picture.
This year, the Academy made more revisions to the award show – stirring up anger and starting conversation. The main theme for this year’s Oscars was to “bring your movie love,” and the changes made seemed to reflect just that.
Throughout the show, the Oscars recognized and celebrated the anniversaries of the films, “White Men Can’t Jump,” “Juno,” “The Godfather,” and “Pulp Fiction.” A notable revision was two brand-new awards called the “Fan-Favorite Award” and the “Oscars Cheer Moment,” both of which were based on a popular vote on Twitter with the purpose of highlighting films, such as Marvel movies, that are usually not recognized by the Academy.
As evident by these changes, it is clear that the Academy is trying to balance the act of criticism and satisfying audiences. The share of controversy from a lack of diversity coupled with a change in award category presentations resulted in headlines that read “Are the Oscars Over?”
This balancing act was seen when social media went up in flames after Rachel Zegler, the star of the 7-nominated “West Side Story,” revealed she did not get an invite to the Oscars. Many started commenting on the fact that the Oscars were hypocritical because they seemed to be promoting diversity and inclusion yet failed to invite the Colombian-American actress who played the titular role of Maria. The Academy quickly made Zegler a presenter at the Oscars, with Zegler joking, “I never thought that I would be here six days ago!”
Not inviting Rachel Zegler to the Oscars became the least of the Academy’s problems. The award show and all of its changes, wins, and category snubs were quickly overshadowed by the altercation between Will Smith and Chris Rock.
Jada Pinkett Smith, Smith’s wife, has been public about her struggle with alopecia, a condition which causes hair loss. So, when Rock joked that he couldn’t wait to see Jada Pinkett Smith in “G.I. Jane 2,” referencing her shaved head, Will Smith made his way to the stage and slapped Rock in the face. Smith sauntered back to his seat and shouted at Rock to keep his wife’s name out of his mouth.
Rock continued with the show but was clearly shocked after the strike. The atmosphere in the room seemed to change, with Schumer commenting later on, “Did I miss anything? There’s, like, a different vibe in here.”
Tension was present when Smith made his way up to the stage to receive the Oscar for best actor for his role as Richard Williams in “King Richard.” As he stood on the stage and wiped away tears, his speech bounced between the topics of love, protection, and embarrassment. He apologized to the Academy and the nominees but did not mention why he was sorry. His act of violence eclipsed the award and film, one that honored Richard Williams and the Williams family.
Afterwards, Jessica Chastain won best actress for her role as Tammy Faye in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” and her speech highlighted compassion and the ability and importance to live a life without the fear of violence. Her words rung true not only for the audience, but also for the millions of people watching at home.
There were some other historic wins at the Oscars. Troy Kotsur won best actor in a supporting role for his depiction of Frank Rossi in “CODA,” which ended up winning best picture. Kotsur is the first deaf man to win an Oscar for acting. Ariana DeBose also made history as the first openly queer women of color to with an Oscar in the category for best actress in a supporting role for “West Side Story,” where she played Anita.
The night, which was filled with comedic quips and historic changes was, unfortunately, overshadowed by the altercation. While the actors and brilliant hosts tried to keep the awards ceremony as normal as possible, the tension throughout the night was evident. Otherwise, it was clear that the Oscars is trying to do right with the ceremony and unite movie lovers around the world – something that has evidently not come easily for the Academy.