A Slap in the Face to Filmmakers Sharing Underrepresented Stories

by John Downey '23 on April 8, 2022
A&E Co-Editor

Arts & Entertainment

A Slap in the Face to Filmmakers Sharing Underrepresented Stories

A Recap of The 94th Academy Awards

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.

Book Review: Will Smith’s Will

by The Cowl Editor on November 18, 2021

Arts & Entertainment

Book Review: Will Smith’s Will

The Actor Shares Personal Struggles and Growth

Grace O’Connor ’22

Actor Will Smith has released a new memoir highlighting his resilience and strength, offering hope for those facing similar struggles. Known for bringing smiles to his fans through his often blunt comedy, Smith’s career began in the 1990s with the television show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. From there, he found success starring in movies such as the Men in Black films, Independence Day, and I Am Legend. He currently plays the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams in King Richard. 

Smith’s memoir goes in depth about instances of trauma he experienced as a child and how he has since grown from them. As he explained to NPR, “Those difficulties and those traumas and the mental anguish that I had to overcome was a big part of me growing into the person I am today, and I love my life. I’m happier than I have ever been. And it is largely based on the perception of myself that I can survive anything.” 

Smith also details his relationship with his father in the memoir, discussing how he always looked up to him. According to NPR, Smith describes his father as “one of the greatest men I’ve ever known,” and expresses that “my father was brilliant. My father was wise, and not unlike other little boys, my father was the Superman image in my mind.” However, these many great qualities Smith felt his father had were tainted by the abuse that Will and his mother experienced at his father’s hands. Although Smith does not shy away from discussing instances in which his father abused his mother, he also notes the guilt he feels in doing so as he knows that it paints his father in a bad light. He thus takes care to additionally focus on how his dad was a great teacher and upheld his duties to his family. 

Another aspect of his life Smith discusses in the memoir is his mental health experience as a child. Entertainment Tonight explains how Smith “reveals that he thought about killing himself twice in his life, with the first time being when his mother left his father” in response to her husband’s abusive behavior when Smith was 13. In his memoir, Smith not only reflects on how his mother leaving the household spurred a downward spiral in his mental health, but also examines how he found himself projecting this troubled aspect of his past onto his own relationships with women. He was concerned that he was hurting them the same way his father hurt women. It took many years for Smith to acknowledge this behavior and to grow from it rather than perpetuate it. 

Needless to say, Smith’s memoir is eye-opening, bringing to light the importance of reflecting on one’s past in order to bring about a healthier future. Smith’s transparency is refreshing, and his desire to help others by sharing his own experiences is praiseworthy.