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How one slap overshadowed groundbreaking historical wins at this year’s Academy Awards

How one slap overshadowed groundbreaking historical wins at this year’s Academy Awards

“This is for everyone who feels like they don’t belong. Anyone who feels like they’re stuck in no man’s land. You’re not alone. We’ll meet you there. That’s where the future is.”

These were the words from newly academy winner Riz Ahmend at the 94th Academy Awards, who won Best Live-Action Short Film for his short film The Long Goodbye, becoming the first Muslim to win in that category. His words were exactly how Sunday night needed to be remembered. A bunch of people who normally “don’t belong”, won that day. There were historical firsts and diversity was celebrated like never before. However, just like the 2014 Oscars will be remembered by Jennifer Lawrence’s fall, and the 2017 Oscars as the mix up between La La Land and Moonlight, this years Oscars will be remembered by that slap. 

Before that misplaced joke was made, the ceremony went perfectly coordinated on script. It started off with tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams, whose story was used in the Best Picture nominated film King Richards. They announced Beyonce, who gave a visually-stunning performance with a tennis yellow-green colored theme from the Williams sisters hometown Compton. She performed her Oscar nominated song “Be Alive” from King Richards. She later lost this award to Finneas O’Connell and Billie Eilish who won with their original song No Time to Die from the James Bond film with the same name. Billie Eilish is the first person who is born in the 21st century that won an Oscar. 

After three years, the Academy Awards had welcomed back hosts. The comedic trio of Amy Schumer, Regina Hall, and Wanda Sykes booked the job. On Twitter the opinions on their performance were divided, some were positive, and some were negative. Amy Schumer received great laughter from the audience with her first punchline already: “This year the Academy hired three women to host, because it’s cheaper than hiring one man.” She also tried to lift some dark weight from the audiences’ shoulders after that messy situation between Will Smith and the Chris Rock. “Did I miss anything?”, is what she said after she returned to the stage since we had not seen her way before the incident. However, some found the jokes offensive and misplaced. For example, mistreating and embarrassing actress Kirsten Dunst for a skit. 

Continuing the historic night, Troy Kostur picked up the Oscar for Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance as Frank Rossi in CODA, becoming the first deaf male actor to take home the prize. He ended his emotional speech by dedicating the award to the deaf and disabled community and signed “This is our moment.”. However, this wasn’t the only prize CODA had won that night. The writer-director of the film, Siân Héder, took home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, the first woman to win the award by herself since Emma Thompson, who won the award for Sense and Sensibility in 1995. Furthermore, CODA was crowned Best Picture winning the most important award of the night. It is the first movie from a streamer (Apple), that won Best Picture, which marks a new era for streaming services and their serious part in the movie industry. 

The public favorite film Encanto went on to win Best Animated Feature with producer Yvett Merino being the first Latina nominated and winning in the category. However, the win wasn’t the only Encanto content we got that evening. The number one megahit “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” was made into an unexpected but entertaining remix with superstars Megan Thee Stallion, Becky G and Luis Fonsi, along with the actors from the original cast. Megan Thee Stallion is the first female rapper to perform at the Oscars, creating another historical moment.

Another memorable moment was the win of Jane Campion, who took home the prize for Best Director for The Power of the Dog. She is only the third women to receive that status, and for the second year in a row a woman was crowned Best Director! Also, Ariana DeBose extended the diverse evening by taking home the statue for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Anita in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story. This remarkable win made her the first openly queer woman and only the second-ever Latina to win an Oscar. The only Latina that went before her was Rita Moreno, who one the award for the same role in 1961 version of West Side Story. Now, she was in the audience admiring Ariana DeBose collecting her Oscar and finishing her powerful speech with: “Imagine this little girl in the backseat of a white Ford Focus. Look into her eyes, you see an openly queer woman of color, an Afro-Latina, who found her strength in life through art. So, to anyone who has ever questioned their identity ever…I promise you this, there is indeed a place for us.” Actress Jessica Chastain won Best Actress for The Eyes of Tammy Faye and gracefully drew attention the LGBTQ community in her acceptance speech. 

Then, the moment everyone is still talking about. The endless memes and videos that have followed the incident. Chris Rock joined the stage to hand out an award and made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s, Will Smith’s wife, bald head. The joke didn’t sit well with Will Smith, so he walked on stage and slapped Chris Rock across his face, for which he has now apologized. The shocking moment had the whole audience silent with everyone trying to figure out whether it was just an act or not. Somehow, Chris Rock managed to continue presenting the award, but that griming moment became the main atmosphere of the evening. Sadly, he overshadowed his own historic moment, because not even 30 minutes later, Will Smith won the Best Actor award for King Richard. With this long awaited and deserved win, he could have had his 2016 Leonardo Di Caprio moment. It has been a long time coming for the actor, everyone was rooting for him. He is also only the fifth black actor to take home this prize, with Forest Whitaker being the last one in 2006. Yet, when people think of Will Smith and the Academy Awards, sadly his hands and frustrations are going to be the only things that will be remembered. 

Author: Rashmi Baldew

Editor: Phoebe Elliott

Visuals by: Alisa Mahaletska

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