There were several historic "firsts" at the 94th Academy Awards ceremony on March 27a win from Ariana DeBose, an openly queer woman of color; and the first Best Picture winner, CODA, to feature a largely deaf cast, were among them. But at least one "first"an onstage confrontation between nominee Will Smith and comedian Chris Rockwas likely not a moment anyone in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wanted to happen that evening at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood.
Rock was about to present the award in the Best Documentary Feature category when he cracked jokes about various audience members. Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, had a shaved head, inspiring Rock to say that he was looking forward to G.I. Jane 2.
But Pinkett Smith's head was shaved for neither professional purposes nor affectationshe has been living with alopecia and has been very vocal about that struggle. Pinkett Smith was visibly upset by the remark and, seconds later, Smith walked onstage and slapped Rock, warning him to "keep my wife's name out of your fucking mouth."
Later in the evening, Smith won the Oscar for King Richard. He shed tears in his speech, wherein he apologized to the audiencebut not to Rockabout the outburst. The Los Angeles Police Department issued a statement saying that they were aware of the incident but indicated that Rock would not be pressing any charges. Sean "Diddy" Combs told Page Six that Smith and Rock made amends later at the Vanity Fair post-Oscar celebration.
The incident came during a ceremony that entertainment commentators had ironically predicted few surprises for. Award presentations in general have struggled as the entertainment landscape has dramatically evolved. (According to media reports, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has launched a formal review of Smith's slap.) "Prestige" films aimed at adult audiencesi.e, the ones most likely to be nominated for Oscarshave largely become the province of streaming services such as Netflix, Prime Video and Apple TV+.
Three Best Picture nomineesCODA, The Power of the Dog (which is LGBTQ+-themed) and Don't Look Upwere produced for streaming services. While that made the features widely available, it can also potentially flatten their cultural impact since they are competing against thousands of other streaming products and likely won't "stand out" in memories of viewers like theatrical films. However, films such as Steven Spielberg's 2021 adaptation of West Side Story (another Best Picture nominee), specifically geared for adults to see in cinemas, largely failed to get older audiences to return to theaters.
One inspiring moment that nevertheless emerged from West Side Story's various nominations at the March 27 ceremony was DeBose's win for Best Supporting Actress as Anita. DeBose is the first openly queer woman of color to be nominated and win an Oscar.
Rita Moreno, DeBose's West Side Story co-star and who also played Anita in the 1961 film version of the musical play (for which she also won an Oscar), looked on from the audience as DeBose said, "Imagine this little girl in the back seat of a white Ford Focus. Look into her eyes. You see a queeropenly queerwoman of color, Afro Latina, who found her strength in life through art. … That's what I believe we're here to celebrate."
Another openly LGBTQ+ member of West Side Story's crew, Paul Tazewell, was the first openly queer Black man to be nominated in the Best Costume Design category, but he lost to Jenny Beavan for her work on Cruella. West Side Story's creation for the stage back in 1957 was a collaboration between several gay men, including Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Jerome Robbins, though they were in various stages of openness about their homosexuality at the time.
Among those losing to DeBose was Kirsten Dunst for her supporting role in Jane Campion's The Power of the Dog. Additional acting nominations for that film were Benedict Cumberbatch as Best Actor, and Jesse Plemons (who is married to Dunst in real life) and Kodi Smit-McPhee for Best Supporting Actor.
The Power of the Dog garnered 12 nominations but received only one award, for Campion as Best Director. The film concerned a wealthy family of ranchers at the mercy of one abusive member in particular, a closeted cowboy portrayed by Cumberbatch.
Campion stepped into controversy earlier during awards season when, when accepting a Critics Choice Award, she boasted to Serena and Venus Williams, who were present in support of King Richard, that, unlike them, she had to "play against the guys," a remark for which she later apologized. Accepting her Oscar March 27, Campion thanked the author of the novel upon which The Power of The Dog was based, Thomas Savage.
"He wrote about cruelty, wanting the opposite: kindness," Campion said.
Troy Kotsur won Best Supporting Actor for CODA, making him the first Deaf man to win an Oscar.
Queer actress Kristen Stewart was nominated for her role as Diana Spencer in Spencer, but lost to Jessica Chastain's turn as LGBTQ+ ally Tammy Faye Baker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye.
Chastain made reference to numerous hardships facing members of the LGBTQ+ community during her acceptance speech, among them anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and an epidemic of suicide among LGBTQ+ young people.
"In times like these, I think about Tammy Faye and her radical acts of love," she added.
The Danish animated documentary Flee, which recounted the story of a gay man who fled his home country of Afghanistan, had two nominations, for Best Documentary Feature and Best International Feature Film. However, Flee lost to Summer of Soul and Drive My Car in those categories, respectively.
While much ado was made about the 50th anniversary to the release of The Godfather, 2022 also marked the golden anniversary of the 1972 musical Cabaret. To mark the occasion, that film's star, Liza Minnelli, alongside Lady Gaga, announced CODA for Best Picture. Black queer actress Janora McDuffie served as the evening's announcer.
Page Six's report on Smith's apology to Rock is at pagesix.com/2022/03/28/diddy-will-smith-chris-rock-settled-feud-after-oscars-2022/ .