HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 27: (L-R) Troy Kotsur, winner of the Actor in a Supporting Role award for 'CODA' and presenter Youn Yuh-jung pose in the press room at the 94th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on March 27, 2022 in Hollywood, California. David Livingston/Getty Images /AFP
David Livingston / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP
We all know it: There may have been a time when the Oscars was an awards show juggernaut, but it’s just not as great or as fun anymore. Its cultural relevancy is vanishing every year. This showing was especially disappointing, with the powers that be cutting eight categories from being televised in favor of having DJ Khaled and their Twitter Fan Favorite Poll, I guess. It’s screaming desperation as they try to chase new viewers while alienating their existing audience. It’s “How do you do, fellow kids?” with a side of the cursed celebrity “Imagine” cover.
That said, there were some notable moments at the ceremony earlier that made me think that maybe, just maybe, the show was still worth seeing.
Ariana DeBose winning Best Supporting Actress
Ariana DeBose won Best Supporting Actress for the “West Side Story” remake, making her the first openly queer person of color to win an acting Oscar as well as the second Latina playing a Latina role. It’s especially touching given that the first Latina actress to do so was Rita Moreno for the same role in the original movie.
“Imagine this little girl in the back seat of a white Ford Focus. Look into her eyes. You see a queer—openly queer—woman of color, an Afro-Latina who found her strength in life through art, and that’s what I believe we are here to celebrate. So to anybody who has ever questioned your identity ever or you find yourself living in the gray spaces, I promise you this: There is indeed a place for us,” she said while accepting her award.
As touching as this moment is, however, it does also make me question why so few Latina actresses have won. A total of four Latinas have won acting Oscars: Moreno, Mercedes Ruehl, Lupita Nyong’o, and now, DeBose. However, the Best Actress award has yet to be handed to a Latina. For all its performative shows of diversity, it still continues to be true—the Oscars is so, so white.
Youn Yuh-jung signing “Congratulations” before announcing Troy Kotsur as winner
“Minari’s” endearing grandma, Youn Yuh-jung, stole the show again this year. As is tradition for acting award winners, as last year’s Best Supporting Actress, she presented the award for Best Supporting Actor. And she did it in the sweetest way possible—she announced his win first by signing “I love you, congratulations” to him in American Sign Language before saying his name. When he came to the stage to accept his award, she held the statuette for him so he could sign with both hands. We love a supportive and caring ajumma.
Troy Kotsur winning Best Actor
Of course, Kotsur’s win itself was such a great moment. He is the first Deaf male actor to win an acting award, and the second Deaf actor to win—35 years after his “Coda” co-star Marlee Matlin won in 1987. Kotsur accepted the win to the sight of the entire Dolby Theater signing the ASL visual for applause.
“This is dedicated to the deaf community, the ‘CODA’ community, and the disabled community. This is our moment!”@TroyKotsur is the first deaf man to win an Academy Award for acting.
His speech was equal parts funny and heartwarming. He recounted going to the White House to meet American President Joe Biden (“I was planning on teaching them dirty sign language but Marlee Matlin told me to behave myself. Don’t worry, Marlee, I’m not dropping any F-bombs in my speech today”), thanked director Sian Heder and the Deaf theater stages that allowed him to develop his craft, and gave a nod to the fishers of Gloucester, Massachusetts his movie is based on (“Hey fishermen, hey Popeyes, don’t forget to eat your spinach).
He also dedicated his speech to his father. “My dad was the best signer in our family. But he was in a car accident and he became paralyzed from the neck down and he was no longer able to sign. Dad, I learned so much from you. I’ll always love you. You are my hero,” he signed.
It was an emotional speech, and you can audibly hear his interpreter tearing up as he relayed Kotsur’s speech, especially when he signed, “This is dedicated to the Deaf community, the ‘Coda’ community, and the disabled community. This is our moment.”
For better or worse (mostly worse), today’s ceremony was filled with musical intermissions. While I personally preferred Beyonce’s “Be Alive” performance (the way she sang “Do you know how much we have pride? How hard we had to fight?” plus all that lime green? Divine), I live for the “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” remix as a sparkle-emoji-cursive-font moment. The cast of “Encanto” comes in to sing the familiar lines of the song only to give way to Megan Thee Stallion, who takes over to sing about Bruno having hoes. Brilliant, stunning. I won’t listen to anyone who’ll try to correct me and say she was actually rapping about the Oscars and said hosts, not hoes.
Will Smith slapping Chris Rock, then winning Best Actor
Don’t disrespect Will Smith’s wife.
This is probably the takeaway Chris Rock should have after Will Smith came on stage and slapped him in front of the live audience.
Here’s the moment Chris Rock made a “G.I. Jane 2” joke about Jada Pinkett Smith, prompting Will Smith to punch him and yell, “Leave my wife’s name out of your f–king mouth.” #Oscarspic.twitter.com/kHTZXI6kuL
It was a shocking, headline-grabbing moment, one that made many question if it was staged or not. (In fact, my coworker hit up the GCs to ask this exact question.) However, it doesn’t seem fake. Smith seemed genuinely incensed, and ABC cut off the American viewing when he said, “Keep my wife’s name out of your f*cking mouth.” Also? Considering how badly the Oscars has been run, I don’t think the Academy could’ve cooked up this moment.
So what happened, you may ask. Well, Chris Rock made a joke at the expense of Jada Smith, Will’s wife. That might not seem like much unless you consider two things: One, he joked about Jada before in 2016 when the couple boycotted the show for not nominating people of color. “Jada [Pinkett Smith] boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna‘s panties. I wasn’t invited,” he said then. Two, this year’s joke was him saying that Jada would join a “G.I. Jane” sequel because of her shaved head. Jada famously has been suffering from alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that causes one to lose their hair. She shaved her head last year after her condition grew worse.
So given that context, I think that slap was well-deserved. Violence may not be great, but the man was just standing up for his wife. And as many have pointed out, he was standing up for his wife against ableism and misogynoir. And honestly? Comedians like Chris Rock have been whining about cancel culture for years but nothing really bad has happened to them, unless you count people on Twitter thinking your show wasn’t funny as the worst thing that can ever happen to a person. And after that one lady did an impromptu stand-up comedy set at a movie theater, it’s about time we put fear back into the hearts of all stand-up comedians. Bring back the tomato throwing!
The biggest serve in this story is what came after, though: Not long after the slap, Will Smith won his first ever Oscar for “King Richard.” (There’s been some talk of his Oscar being revoked because of the slap, to which I say: Harvey Weinstein still has his 81 Oscars.)
In his speech, Smith talked about being able to protect people with his work, including his co-stars.
“I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do, you gotta be able to take abuse. You gotta be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, you gotta be able to have people disrespecting you and you gotta smile and pretend like that’s okay,” he said.