Recapping the Academy Awards
The Oscars were on Sunday, March 27. Or, more accurately, Sunday was the night that Will Smith smacked Chris Rock, something that happened to occur at the Oscars.
If you need a quality rundown of what happened, I’d recommend reading Michael Schulman’s piece in the New Yorker from inside the ceremony. If you know what happened, perhaps it’s worth talking about the rest of the ceremony.
International movie star Will Smith slapping comedian Chris Rock at a famously stuffy award ceremony because Chris Rock made a joke about Jada Pinkett-Smith’s alopecia is the kind of thing that tends to dominate the conversation.
But let’s talk about the rest of the show.
“CODA,” a movie that is good, nice, and completely without innovation won Best Picture. Your response to that will likely depend on whether or not you think that a movie that has extremely low ambition should win Best Picture. I find myself excited that CODA, a movie with a largely deaf leading cast, has broken through, but I think “Best Picture” is a bit far. It is telling that “CODA” is the first movie since 1932’s “Grand Hotel” to win Best Picture with fewer than four nominations. It is a movie that is more than the sum of its parts, but perhaps the parts should matter a bit more if you’re the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
As of now, it seems like next year’s Best Picture will go to the gif of Will Smith slapping Chris Rock, if the amount of attention is anything to go by.
Sorry, not focusing on that. Instead, I’ll focus on Jessica Chastain’s win for Best Actress. She won for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” a performance that rests on makeup in a movie that rests on melodrama. It was a showy and transformative role, but not one of quality.
Now, I suppose it would be only fitting to look at Best Actor, but — oh God — it’s Will Smith again. Perhaps I can talk about his role in the film and his speech? Well, no. Smith’s speech was largely about how his character in “King Richard,” Richard Williams, would do anything to protect his family. Which is what Smith did. Moving along.
Two of the best moments of the night occurred during the supporting acting categories, both of which made history: Ariana DeBose won Best Supporting Actress for her role in “West Side Story,” making her the first out queer person to win an acting Oscar, and Troy Kutsor won Best Supporting Actor for “CODA,” making him the first deaf man to win. Both performances were wonderful, and their history-making contexts were only bonuses, but what bonuses they were.
As far as down-the-ballot awards were concerned, there was controversy. The Academy had already announced that eight categories — Production Design, Documentary Short, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Score, Animated Short, Live Action Short, and Sound — would be pre-taped, and only an edited version of their speeches would air. This was, and is, incredibly insulting to the film professionals in those categories, as their work is necessary for any film’s success. Going into the ceremony, many reported anger and sadness at the choice, which was made with the hopes that the show would be shorter and gain viewership — the show was ultimately longer than last year’s. It was difficult, going in, to know that this year’s Oscars would be marred by that controversy. Spoiler: that was not the controversy that marred the Oscars.
Perhaps it is worth talking about the slap. I can’t seem to get around it, no matter how diligently I attempt to — it’s a difficult task. If I have a take on the slap, it’s this: to act like this was, in any way, the most heinous thing to happen at an Oscars ceremony. It was ahistorical, uninformed, and likely racist.
Judd Apatow and Mia Farrow have both come out with statements against Smith. Perhaps they should be checked for memory loss, lest they forget that this century already saw Roman Polanski, a man who fled the United States to avoid conviction for raping a child, get a standing ovation after winning Best Director, an award he could not be present to accept because he, again, fled the country after raping a child. This century has also seen Harvey Weinstein win multiple Oscars while sexually and physically abusing people on his film sets. It’s further seen Mel Gibson be nominated for Best Director in 2016, years after his anti-Semitic tirades, which accused Jews of being responsible for all the world’s wars, as well as anti-Black hate speech and a domestic violence-related restraining order.
I do not support violence. But I also don’t support the idea that Smith could have his Oscar taken away from him. Polanksi has his. Weinstein has his. Gibson has his. They all committed much worse crimes than a slap. It’s very common, historically speaking, for white people to blow violence committed by a Black man out of proportion. To act like the response to Smith’s slap is immune from that is to be blind to how systemic racism operates. So before we do that, perhaps we can focus on the rest of the evening instead.
Why not try: weren’t Lady Gaga and Liza Minnelli wonderful?