by John Downey '23 on April 8, 2022
Arts & Entertainment
Grace Whitman ’22
Art has the power to tell the stories of people who would otherwise be unrepresented and thus forgotten, and this year’s Academy Awards truly encapsulated this fact.
In 2020, the Academy, the governing body that oversees the Oscars, set new diversity requirements for movies seeking to be nominated for Best Picture. One of the major requirements is that “the film must either feature at least one lead actor or significant supporting actors from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group, have at least 30 percent of all actors in secondary and more minor roles from at least two underrepresented groups or include a main storyline centered around an underrepresented group.”
Although these conditions will not become mandated until 2024, this year’s Best Picture perfectly captures the diversification of the Oscars that said conditions are intended to facilitate: Apple TV’s CODA, which is an acronym for Children of Deaf Adults.
CODA is a heartwarming story about a senior in high school named Ruby who is the only member of her immediate family who is hearing. For this reason, Ruby is a key asset to her family’s fishing business, but because of their dependency on her, Ruby struggles to tell them that she wants to study music—something her parents do not see beauty in—instead of working for the family business. A large portion of the film is in American Sign Language, and it truly brings to light the struggles that deaf people face every day.
In addition to CODA’s win for best picture, Troy Kotsur, who plays Ruby’s father in the movie, won Best Supporting Actor. Notably, Kotsur is the first deaf man to win an Academy Award for acting. His win and moving acceptance speech brought the entire audience to their feet with silent applause.
Another major winner of the night was Ariana Dubose for her role of Anita in the newest adaptation of West Side Story. In her acceptance speech as the first openly queer Afro-Latina to win an Oscar for acting, she said, “Now you see why that Anita says, ‘I want to be in America,’ because even in this weary world that we live in, dreams do come true.”
Other notable winners were Billie Eilish and her brother FINNEAS, who won Best Original Song with “No Time to Die,” Jane Campion, who won Best Director for her work on The Power of the Dog, and Disney’s Encanto, which won Best Animated Feature.
Evidently, the films nominated at the Oscars this year were created by empowered filmmakers and actors that were able to tell great stories. Unfortunately, however, their art was overshadowed by Will Smith’s altercation with Chris Rock.
The altercation began after Rock made an offensive joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Pinkett Smith recently found out that she has alopecia—an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss—which led her to shave her head. In an attempt to be humorous, Rock compared her to G.I. Jane. Attendees and viewers at home alike could clearly see Pinkett Smith’s disgust with the joke, followed by Smith walking on stage and slapping Rock across the face. Neither those present at the Oscars nor those at home immediately knew if the incident was staged or authentic.
Later in the evening, the answer to this question became clear. Smith won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his role in King Richard as the father and coach of famous tennis players Venus and Serena Williams. In his acceptance speech, Smith said, “Love will make you do crazy things” in reference to his earlier altercation with Rock, asserting that he will do anything for the people he loves, just like his character Richard Williams always did for his family.
Overall, while Smith and Rock’s confrontation at the 94th Annual Academy Awards was a bit of a slap in the face to the nominated individuals and projects that aimed to share underrepresented stories, the presence of such individuals and projects marks a promising trend for future Oscars.