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“CODA” and “Dune” win big amidst an uneven and uncomfortable Oscars show

"Dune" won six awards and "CODA" took home Best Picture at the 2022 Academy Awards, but the evening was dominated by Will Smith slapping Chris Rock.
"Dune" won six awards and "CODA" took home Best Picture at the 2022 Academy Awards, but the evening was dominated by Will Smith slapping Chris Rock.

An altercation between Will Smith and Chris Rock emerged as the highlight of an otherwise arduous and painfully average Academy Awards on Sunday, March 27.

“CODA” was the big winner of the night, taking home the award for Best Picture. The coming-of-age film about a deaf family also picked up Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Troy Kotsur, the first  deaf male actor to win an Oscar.

Kotsur’s acceptance speech was a high point of the show, a moving tribute to his family and the Deaf community.

Best Supporting Actress went to Ariana DeBose for her performance in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of “West Side Story,” while Best Actress went to Jessica Chastain for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.”

The two women also delivered strong speeches, both focusing on family and LGBTQ+ issues. DeBose is the first openly queer woman of color to win in her category.

Science-fiction epic “Dune” won six of its 10 nominations, including Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects, giving it the most Oscars of the night. In contrast, western drama “The Power of the Dog” entered the ceremony with the most nominations, but only earned one award out of 12 possible – Best Director for Jane Campion.

Other significant wins included Japanese drama and best picture nominee “Drive My Car” taking Best International Feature Film, Disney’s “Encanto” taking Best Animated Feature Film, Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical “Belfast” taking Best Original Screenplay and “Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” taking Best Documentary Feature.

Multiple nominees for Best Original Song were performed throughout the show, with Beyoncé’s “Be Alive” from “King Richard” opening the ceremony. Later impressive showcases included Sebastián Yatra’s “Dos Oruguitas” from “Encanto” and Billie Eilish’s “No Time to Die,” the eventual winner of the category.

This year’s Oscars were marred with controversy both before and during the ceremony, and the show itself suffered as a result.

The decision to pre-tape eight of the awards before the main ceremony had already received pushback from those within the industry. The Academy made the decision in an effort to shorten the ceremony and allow for more variety within the show, but the final runtime clocked in at half an hour longer than planned, which made the removal of these categories make even less sense.

It didn’t help that much of what was left probably should have also been cut, as large chunks of time were taken up by random clip shows and poor attempts at comedy.

Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes split hosting duties. While they had some comedic chemistry, their material was often either incredibly surface-level or aggressively unfunny.

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Hall was the biggest offender, responsible for possibly the worst bit of the night where she objectified several actors under the guise of needing COVID-19 tests and joked about the age of consent. She then proceeded to pat down incoming presenters Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa.

Sykes emerged mostly unscathed, producing one of the few comedically effective moments of the show where she toured the recently opened Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, making several witty comments regarding the various exhibits on display.

Meanwhile, Schumer was mostly restrained but largely disconnected from the rest of the ceremony. She provided a passible opening monologue and proceeded to disappear for much of the remaining show, only popping up briefly in a mediocre group sketch and again toward the end in a segment recognizing the recipients of the Governors Awards.

The biggest headlines of the Oscars came from a confrontation between Will Smith and Chris Rock during the announcement of the best documentary feature.

As Rock was introducing the category, he took a few improvised jabs at some of the celebrities in attendance. He turned his attention to Jada Pinkett Smith, sitting next to her husband in the audience, and made a joke referencing her bald appearance.

"Jada, I love you, 'G.I. Jane 2,' can't wait to see it" said Rock, in reference to the 1997 film in which Demi Moore’s character shaves her head after joining the United States Navy.

Pinkett Smith suffers from alopecia, a condition that causes hair loss, and has been open about her struggles with it in interviews and on social media.

In response to Rock’s joke, Smith walked onstage and slapped Rock before returning to his seat. The two then engaged in a brief back-and-forth, much of which was muted in the US broadcast but aired unedited in other countries.

"Keep my wife's name out your fucking mouth," Smith shouted twice at Rock following the slap.

The incident cast a noticeable shadow over the remainder of the show, not helped by Smith returning to the stage to accept the award for best actor for his performance in the biopic “King Richard.”

Clearly still shaken from earlier, Smith delivered a messy and rambling speech where he initially appeared to double down on his decision to engage Rock, citing his character in “King Richard” as someone who, like himself, would defend his family at all costs.

He then apologized to the Academy and ended the speech joking, “I hope the Academy invites me back.” Nowhere in his speech did he directly address Rock by name.

Smith issued a formal apology to Rock on social media the following day.