The Oscars always promises high emotions, beautiful fashion, and unforgettable moments. The 94th Annual Academy Awards, hosted by Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes, and Regina Hall, certainly did not disappoint. Check out our highlights from last night’s show.
Hollywood Stands With Ukraine
Despite the buzz over whether or not the Oscars should happen amidst the ongoing conflict in Eastern Europe, the Academy ultimately decided that the show must go on. In addition to a spattering of blue ribbons expressing support for Ukrainian refugees and a few pocket-squares representing the colors of the Ukrainian flag, the Oscars featured a moment of silence for its celebrity audience and at-home viewers. Appearing right after Reba McIntyre’s performance of “Somehow You Do” from Four Good Days—a song sending a message of strength and perseverance amidst hard times—the 30-second tribute urged viewers to donate in order to help provide families in Ukraine with the necessities such as food, medical care, clean water, and emergency services.
The moment was certainly poignant, especially since the song and ensuing pause was introduced by Ukrainian-born Mila Kunis, who expressed her awe in the displays of strength, dignity, and resilience in Ukraine. However, one can’t help but think whether it was enough. The onscreen message during the moment of silence pleaded for help, but failed to highlight any aid-giving resources, choosing instead to put a hashtag. Additionally, the moment came squeezed right at the halfway mark of the awards, a notorious time where audiences at home and in the Dolby Theatre tend to take a break before the illustrious final awards of the night. However, regardless of whether the acts of support for Ukraine were enough, it’s important to highlight film and Hollywood’s role in making a change and providing solace in times of conflict.
Reunited, and it Feels So Good
The theme of this year’s Oscars seemed to be anniversaries and reunions. The Academy celebrated some of Hollywood’s most famous films and stars by bringing together actors that worked together on previous films to present different awards. The first trio to reunite included Woody Harrelson, Rosie Perez, and Wesley Snipes to honor 30 years of White Men Can’t Jump. While their presenting bit of acting intoxicated fell a little flat, the Pulp Fiction reunion saved the day as John Travolta and Uma Thurman reenacted their dancing scene behind Samuel L. Jackson. Juno was the other, and perhaps most relevant, reunion featuring Jennifer Garner, J.K. Simmons, and Elliot Page.
While White Men Can’t Jump, Pulp Fiction, and Juno received their moments of recognition, the big moments of honoring Hollywood’s past came in celebrating 60 years of James Bond films and 50 years since the premiere of The Godfather. Both had touching video tributes, with the Bond montage serving as a nice prelude to Billie Eilish’s haunting performance of “No Time to Die” and her incredible win for Best Original Song. Out of all the reunions and anniversaries, though, the greatest was seeing Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Francis Ford Coppola come out. It was a moment all-too-brief, but still incredibly impactful, commending the legacy of The Godfather and three of the franchise’s biggest icons.
Will Smith’s Emotional Night
All eyes were on Will Smith heading into a night that was almost certain to end in him receiving one of the night’s biggest honors. Heading into the two-hour mark, however, eyes were on Will Smith for an entirely different reason. As comedian Chris Rock came out to present the Academy Award for Best Documentary, he took a few moments to comment on the celebrities in the first few rows, including a sharp jab aimed at Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head. The comments caused Will Smith to stride onto the stage, slap Rock, and return to his seat, yelling twice that Rock needed to keep Pinkett Smith’s name out of his mouth. The moment instantly became viral—with many turning to videos on social media of foreign livestreams considering ABC quickly censored both the violence and ensuing profanity—and sparked intense discourse surrounding violence, class, race, and fame.
Will Smith, as expected, went on to receive the Oscar for his titular role in King Richard and his speech was an emotional highlight of the night. Through tears, he expressed his belief that God put him on this Earth to protect his family and loved ones. He compared that to the role of Richard Williams in tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams’ lives. Though he didn’t comment on the previous incident directly, he did apologize to the Academy and the fellow nominees, and the implied subtext of his emotions and his speech is that he acted in such a way because it’s his duty to protect his wife.
He has since released an apology.
Ariana DeBose Makes Oscars History
The night started with a bang as the first award was given to Ariana DeBose for her role as Anita in the remake of West Side Story. DeBose was favored to win throughout the awards season, but it was still emotionally gratifying to see her receive accolades for such an iconic role. Amplifying the significance of this moment was seeing Rita Moreno cheer her on in the audience. Moreno is known for her turn as Anita in the original West Side Story, which also garnered her an Oscar in 1962. This full-circle moment celebrated the two women, their outstanding performances, and the character of Anita as a powerfully independent, yet emotionally vulnerable, woman.
DeBose’s early win was also historic as she became the first openly queer woman of color and the first Afro Latina actress to win an Oscar. Her acceptance speech powerfully embraced her identity and the overarching LGBTQIA+ community as she tearfully stated, in a touching nod to West Side Story, that there is a place for everyone in this world. DeBose’s speech couldn’t have come at a more necessary time, what with the political context of a series of anti-LGBTQIA+ laws being passed around the nation. She was not alone in her sentiments, as Best Actress winner Jessica Chastain also used her acceptance speech to support the LGBTQIA+ community. It’s in the moments like these that we are reminded why film, entertainment, and even the Oscars are so important after all these years: they have the ability—if used correctly—to be a beacon of hope, representation, and acceptance for all identities.
CODA Wins Big
Speaking of representation, the final, and biggest award, of the night went to CODA, a film following the child of Deaf adults(the meaning behind the acronym title) as she follows her musical dreams to the Berklee College of Music. The film is a groundbreaking win for multiple reasons, primarily in how it marks the first film featuring a predominantly Deaf cast to win for Best Picture. Additionally, it’s the first time that a streaming service has been behind a Best Picture film. All the more surprising is that the streaming service was Apple TV+. They reached this feat before even Netflix, who has had multiple films nominated for the award in the past few years, and two nominees this year with Don’t Look Up and The Power of the Dog.
In addition to CODA’s Best Picture win, Troy Kotsur also took home the trophy for his role as the father. He himself marked history as the first Deaf man to win the award and only the second Deaf person to do so, following costar Marlee Matlin’s win 35 years ago. Kotsur’s speech—done entirely in ASL and interpreted to the live and at-home audiences—was filled with jokes(including one about wanting to teach President Joe Biden dirty jokes in ASL), a powerful tribute to his late father, and a moment of gratitude for CODA director Sian Heder’s communicative ability on set. Hopefully Kotsur and CODA’s win open the doors for more representation of diverse communication and various disabilities on the screen and the Oscars stage.