The 94th Academy Awards opened in dramatic fashion on Sunday, praising Dunes with six trophies out of 10 nominations, rewarding CODA in best picture and two other categories for which it was nominated, making history for deaf, female and LGBTQ+ actors – and nearly collapsing following a chaotic and violent moment between Will Smith and Chris Rock .
The night was a triumph for Canadian Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic Dunesand a return to form for a beleaguered show struggling to rekindle relevance and once spark it, until the shocking moment between Smith and Rock left audiences in stunned silence and viewers at home puzzled and wondering what what they saw was real.
As Rock presented the Best Documentary Feature award, he threw a flippant joke at Smith’s wife, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, pointing at her and saying, “GI Jane 2Can’t wait to see this.”
The joke was an apparent comparison between Pinkett Smith, who shaved her head late last year after a long battle with alopecia, and Demi Moore, who sported a buzzcut in the 1997 film. G.I. Jane.
Deliberately walking onto the stage, Smith slapped Rock before returning to his seat. The live broadcast cut the audio as Smith yelled at Rock that he should, “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”
Later, a tearful Smith took the stage to accept his Best Actor award for King Richard— a film about the life of Richard Williams, the father and coach of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. Smith struggled to deliver an emotional speech as he apologized to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and spoke about learning to protect his family and co-workers.
“Art imitates life. I look like a crazy dad, as they said of Richard Williams,” Smith said to laughter and applause.
It was a strangely uplifting response when he slapped Rock, which had happened minutes earlier, but the explosive moment – and the confused response to it – represented both the worst and the best result that the organizers might have hoped.
Trying to put aside seven years of bad luck – the show brought in record ratings for each of those presentations – the shocking encounter interrupted a ceremony that began unfolding at a rapid pace, before ending after its nearly four hours Duration.
The organizers had tried a bit of everything to recapture the audience, peppering the ceremony alternately with live and pre-recorded sketches, but it was the moment between Smith and Rock that caught the attention on social networks. And while it spoiled the seemingly joyous ‘movie fans unite’ theme, clips from the exchange garnered millions of views within minutes and brought the entertainment world – once again – into focus. only on the Oscars.
The academy had tried to achieve this through more traditional means. Venus and Serena kicked off the show by introducing Beyoncé for her first-ever awards appearance, as she performed her King Richard-nominated song To be alive alongside a phalanx of tennis-yellow dancers.
This was followed soon after by the first live performance of Charmit’s We’re not talking about Bruno and Billie Eilish’s Bond theme no time to die. And while Charm won Best Animated Feature, Eilish managed to beat the mainstream musical for Best Song with this track.
Balancing the chaos, a series of positive stories developed throughout the night.
Veteran actor Troy Kotsur won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role CODA, becoming the second deaf actor to win an Oscar. He thanked both the academy and the “deaf theater stages” for giving him space to hone his craft, before thanking his father – who was also deaf, but unable to use sign language after he been paralyzed in a car accident – like his sign language interpreter. seemed to struggle through her own tears.
“I just wanted to say that this is dedicated to the deaf community, the CODA community and the disability community,” Kotsur said through an interpreter. “Now is our time.
Ariana DeBose won Best Supporting Actress, one of the most hotly contested categories in this year’s awards. His interpretation of Anita in the film adapted from Steven Spielberg West Side Story put her above a group of difficult actresses, including Judi Dench in BelfastKirsten Dunst in The power of the dogJessie Buckley in The lost girl and Aunjanue Ellis in King Richard.
In doing so, she became the first Afro-Latin and openly LGBTQ+ person to win in the category — a fact she enthusiastically highlighted in her acceptance speech.
“To anyone who’s ever questioned your identity,” she said, “I promise you there’s a place for us.”
Jane Campion won the Best Director Oscar for her work on The power of the dog, becoming the first woman to be nominated for the honor twice. She was previously nominated for this category in 1994 for her film The pianofor which she won Best Original Screenplay.
Apart from individual victories, Dunes came out as the star performer.
Before the show even started, he had won four awards, capturing Best Production Design (for Montreal’s Patrice Vermette), Sound, Film Editing and Original Score for Hans Zimmer – his first since 1994. Lion King — in a series of categories away from the main events of the night.
The decision to remove these categories (as part of a strategy to streamline and energize the show) was controversial, as insiders felt it was an insult to tech workers removed from the ceremonies. But the controversy turned out to be mostly much ado about nothing, as the winners’ speeches were integrated in full into the live stream.
Dunes continued his reign in the technical categories as Greig Fraser took care of the cinematography once the live event had begun. It went on to beat out some of the biggest films of the year, including Spider Man, Shang Chi and free guywho were all nominated in this category only — for visual effects.
Apart from Vermette’s victory for DunesNova Scotia’s Ben Proudfoot started the evening in one of eight non-television categories, winning his first Oscar, for Documentary Short The queen of basketball, follows the story of Luisa (Lucy) Harris, a pioneering women’s basketball player who scored the first field goal in Olympic women’s basketball history and died just two months ago. Last year Proudfoot was nominated in the same category for A concerto is a conversation.
While The power of the dog and Belfast were both heavily favored on the night, they only managed to win one award – Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, respectively. Indeed, apart from Dunes, CODA and Tammy Faye’s eyes (which managed to win two), no film won more than one award.
Just another disappointing surprise on a night that had its overwhelming moments.