The 2022 Oscars made history while mired in controversy


Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Maya Alexander

The 94th Academy Awards arrived quietly and went with a firestorm of controversy. The telecast, which aired Mar. 27, turned out to be a jumbled frenzy of lavish musical performances, stale comedy bits and a slap—you know the one—that has still managed to draw Twitter debates by the hundreds days later.

Before that fateful moment, however, the Oscars were still dealing with their fair share of controversy. In case anyone has forgotten, the Academy Awards is a celebration of the beauty of films and the people who work tirelessly to make them possible. This year’s ceremony seemed to want to focus on everything but films.

In the weeks leading up to the official ceremony, the Academy released a statement announcing that eight awards that normally appeared in the telecast would not be presented on air. This, of course, led to extreme and critical backlash against what seemed like the Academy’s obvious commercial pandering.

“After carefully listening to feedback and suggestions from our film community, our network partner, and all those who love the Oscars, it was evident we needed to make some decisions about the broadcast that are in the best interest of the future of our show and our organization,” Dave Rubin, the Academy president, penned a letter in response to the ensuing negative press.

The letter went on to say that although the eight awards would not be presented on-air, “the in-person ceremony at the Dolby Theatre will begin one hour earlier to present eight awards categories before the live telecast starts.” This clarification appeased no one and out of this debacle arose the “#PresentAll23” which trended on Twitter through the day Sunday.

Already marred with controversy, the Oscars were not off to a smooth start. A part of the reason behind not presenting those eight awards was to create time for more music performances in order to boost ratings from last year’s telecast.

That is why the ceremony started off in a surefire way to draw in viewers — a Beyoncé performance. The singer delivered an entrancing vocal and visual performance live from a Compton tennis court that tennis phenoms Venus and Serena Williams trained at as children. The song, “Be Alive,” comes from the movie “King Richard” which is a dramatic portrayal of the Williams sisters’ rise as superstars in the sport due to the continued support of their father, Richard Williams.

The film earned six nominations at this year’s Oscars, including one for best original song, which became Beyoncé’s first Academy Award nomination. The category went to siblingduo Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell for their James Bond tune, “No Time to Die.”

After the initial excitement of Beyoncé’s performance wore off, the show buoyed along with the help of grandiose music numbers and hackneyed comedy bits, sandwiched in between the two somewhere was the presenting of the actual awards.

When the awards were actually given out, history was made. Ariana DeBose, who won best supporting actress for her role as Anita in the 2021 reprise of “West Side Story,” became the first Afro Latina and openly queer woman to win an Academy Award.

“Imagine this little girl in the back seat of a white Ford Focus. When you look into her eyes, you see an openly queer woman of color, an Afro Latina, who found her strength in life through art,” DeBose, who was clearly overcome with emotion due to the significance of the moment, said in her acceptance speech. “And that’s what I believe we’re here to celebrate.”

Pop culture history was made roughly two hours into the telecast when eventual  Oscarwinner Will Smith, slapped Chris Rock in the face after the comedian told an ill-suited joke that insulted Smith’s wife, Jada-Pinkett.

Since the telecast, the Academy has put out a statement condemning Smith’s actions, and Smith himself has posted an apology letter on his Instagram account. On Friday came the news that the actor would be resigning from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In a letter, Smith relayed that he was “heartbroken” over the decision. At the moment it is unclear if the Academy’s Board of Governors will take further action against him. Rock has yet to say anything publicly about the incident.

The night of history-making moments continued with the big wins for the film “CODA.” The movie, which focuses on the experiences of a hearing girl who has two deaf parents, won all three of the awards that it was nominated for. Troy Kotsur made history as the first deaf man to win an Oscar for acting.

The night rounded out with some more significant wins like Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s win for best documentary feature for the film “Summer of Soul.” The highest prize of the evening, best picture, went to “CODA.”

During the acceptance speech, the film’s producer Philippe Rousselet thanked the Academy for “letting our CODA make history tonight.”