Just when you think the Oscars are starting to drag, Will Smith slaps Chris Rock across the face on live television.
The 94th Academy Awards, known colloquially as the Oscars, took place on Sunday night and as far as Oscar broadcasts go, this was one for the books.
This year, the Oscars were surrounded by controversy. Producers chose to pre-tape eight categories: documentary short subject, film editing, makeup and hairstyling, music (original score), production design, short film (animated), short film (live-action) and sound, presenting them before the show and splicing them into the broadcast. This was met with backlash from creatives across the industry. Among those categories, Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” swept, winning best sound, best production design, best film editing and best original score, among other awards. “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” nabbed best makeup and hairstyling along with best actress, “The Long Goodbye” won best live-action short, “The Windshield Wiper” took best animated short and best documentary short went to “The Queen of Basketball.”
In lieu of airing those eight categories live, the academy opted instead to add two categories in an attempt to up viewership: the “fan favorite” moment and the “most cheer-worthy moment.” The contests, which took place on Twitter and allowed for a film like “Cinderella” to be mentioned at an event as prestigious as the Oscars, were also met with controversy. The presentations for these awards were as wonky as the presentations for the pre-taped awards and the fan awards were somewhat useless, unlike the cut awards, spliced into the main ceremony with little pomp and circumstance.
The live ceremony was hosted by Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall, who alternated between hosting portions of the ceremony solo and performing skits as a trio. Several mini-reunions happened for award presentations, including Al Pacino, Francis Ford Coppola and Robert De Niro for “The Godfather;” Wesley Snipes, Rosie Perez and Woody Harrelson for “White Men Can’t Jump” and Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman and John Travolta for “Pulp Fiction.” The night featured some great strides for inclusivity in Hollywood, with Tony Kotsur winning best supporting actor for “CODA,” becoming the second Deaf actor to ever win an Academy Award and the first Deaf actor to ever win best supporting actor, and Jane Campion winning best director for “The Power of the Dog,” becoming the third woman to receive the honor. There were also some upsets: Kenneth Branagh winning best original screenplay for “Belfast,” rather than the fan-favorite and heavily predicted “The Worst Person in the World,” and “CODA” overtaking frontrunner “The Power of the Dog” for best picture.
Naturally, it would be outrageous not to mention the giant elephant that traipsed through the Dolby Theatre. The infamous slap. Following Chris Rock’s “G.I. Jane” joke about Jada Pinkett Smith, because she shaved her head due to alopecia, Will Smith strode onto the Oscar stage and, with impeccable form, smacked Rock across the face and shouted, “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth!” twice.
At first, audience members at the Dolby Theatre and viewers at home assumed the moment was a preplanned sketch as Rock laughed it off and stumbled through presenting the winners for best documentary feature. However, it quickly became clear that the “slap heard ’round the world” was not a bit as a Twitter user from Australia tweeted a video of the ceremony that was not muted, seemingly circumventing the seven-second delay that was created for moments like this. In a beautiful display of Hollywood magic and insanity, Smith won the Oscar for best actor in a leading role half an hour later for his performance as Richard Williams in “King Richard.” Through tears — that were most assuredly not brought on by the bizarrely upbeat In Memoriam segment — Smith apologized to the academy and fellow nominees and noted that “love will make you do crazy things.”
The slap sparked a lot of conversation on social media, with it rivaling the pure absurdity of the 2016 “La La Land”/”Moonlight” best picture mix-up, which was previously one of the most bonkers and fantastic moments to happen at the Academy Awards. The fact that those two incidents even exist and can be compared proves one thing: the Oscars will never be boring.
“CODA” shockingly won best picture, and not so shockingly won best actor in a supporting role, but writer and director Sian Heder also picked up a win for best adapted screenplay. Other wins included Ariana DeBose with a best supporting actress win for “West Side Story” for her portrayal of Anita, becoming the first openly queer Afro-Latina to win an Oscar, a victory which was highly predicted considering her success at previous award shows. The best animated feature was similarly unsurprising with a win for “Encanto.” “Dune” pulled two more awards during the live show for best cinematography and best visual effects. Best international feature, a category that saw “The Worst Person in the World” and “Drive My Car” butting heads for the win, went to “Drive My Car.” Disney’s “Cruella” won best costume design, Billie Eilish and FINNEAS won for best original song with “No Time To Die,” and best documentary feature went to “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised).” Best documentary feature was called by Rock moments after the incident, but director Questlove managed to ground the Dolby Theatre again with a beautiful, heartfelt speech.
Though best actor in a leading role was heavily predicted to go to Smith, best actress in a leading role was a toss-up. Initially, critics favored Kristen Stewart and Jessica Chastain, but Penélope Cruz became a serious contender shortly before the Academy Awards when a second wave of praise poured in for her performance in “Parallel Mothers.” Ultimately, Chastain won for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” in her speech, she gushed over her coworkers and called to attention the wave of anti-LGBTQ+ bills sweeping the United States. Lady Gaga and Liza Minelli wrapped up the night by presenting best picture, which went to “CODA,” and then the ceremony, with a vibe now entirely different than it had been when it began, ended. Somewhere backstage, we can imagine that a bag of frozen peas was provided to Rock. In the Dolby Theatre, members of the academy wiped their tears, left their seats and went home to sleep. Now, it’s time to prepare for the next Academy Awards. Audiences can only hope that next year will be just as exciting.
Will Smith slap rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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