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‘CODA’ triumphs at Oscars, as Will Smith slaps Chris Rock on stage

Deaf family drama “CODA” won best picture honors at the Oscars Sunday, the first ever triumph for a streamer, in a ceremony that was overshadowed by best actor-winner Will Smith striking comedian Chris Rock on stage for making a joke about his wife. Seeking to reassert its relevance, the Academy Awards gala was packed with big musical performances and three wise-cracking female hosts—but will enter the history books for the shocking Smith-Rock altercation, which changed the mood of the night before the final prizes were announced.

US actor Will Smith slaps US actor Chris Rock onstage during the 94th Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on March 27, 2022.

“CODA,” a feel-good indie drama starring deaf actors in lead roles which had been presumed a longshot for Hollywood’s biggest prize until very recently, pulled off a remarkable late surge to emerge triumphant. The film bagged the historic prize for Apple TV+, a relative newcomer in a streaming market dominated by rivals like Netflix. “Thank you to the Academy for letting our ‘CODA’ make history tonight,” said producer Philippe Rousselet.

“Coda” cast and crew accept the award for Best Picture for “CODA” onstage during the 94th Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California.

Taking its title from the acronym for child of deaf adult, the movie also won for best adapted screenplay, and best supporting actor for Troy Kotsur, who plays the father of a teenage girl who can hear and wants to pursue a career in music. Kotsur dedicated his golden statuette to the deaf and disabled communities. “This is our moment,” he said. Jessica Chastain won best actress for “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” in which she played a real-life televangelist who became an unlikely champion for the LGBTQ community. “We’re faced with discriminatory and bigoted legislation that is sweeping our country… in times like this, I think of Tammy and I’m inspired by her radical acts of love,” she said.

US actor Will Smith accepts the award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for “King Richard” onstage during the 94th Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

‘Art imitates life’

But Tinseltown’s biggest night was dominated by a shocking moment in which Smith—who won best actor for his work on “King Richard”—slapped Rock on stage, before returning to his seat alongside his wife Jada Pinkett Smith and shouting profanities. “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” yelled Smith, forcing the producers to bleep out several seconds of audio from the televised broadcast in the United States.

Rock, presenting the best documentary prize, had compared Jada’s tightly cropped hair to Demi Moore’s appearance in the film “G.I. Jane.” Jada suffers from alopecia, a condition causing hair loss. The moment left stunned viewers questioning if it had been scripted or genuine.

But when he returned to the stage to accept his award, a tearful Smith lamented “people disrespecting you” in Hollywood, and apologized to the Academy “and all my fellow nominees.” Smith, who plays the father of tennis greats Serena and Venus Williams in “King Richard,” added: “Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams.” Los Angeles police said they were aware of the incident but that Rock had not filed a police report. The Academy tweeted that it “does not condone violence of any form.”

Actress Ariana DeBose poses with her Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for ‘West Side Story’ in the press room.

‘Diverse characters’

Until recently it had appeared that dark, psychological Western “The Power of the Dog” was set to earn Netflix its much-coveted first best picture statuette. As it turned out, the film won only best director for Jane Campion. She is only the third woman to do so in Oscars history, just a year after Chloe Zhao became the second (“Nomadland”). Kathryn Bigelow was the first for “The Hurt Locker.” Kenneth Branagh  triumphed for best original screenplay for his childhood-inspired “Belfast”—another presumed best picture frontrunner.

Ariana DeBose won best supporting actress for playing Anita in “West Side Story,” and Disney’s “Encanto” was named best animated feature. DeBose, who first made her name on Broadway, celebrated her historic win for “an openly queer woman of color, an Afro-Latina.” Yvett Merino, producer of Colombia-set “Encanto,” said she was “so proud to be a part of a film that put beautiful, diverse characters in front and center.”

“Summer of Soul” won best documentary for musician Questlove’s first movie about the huge “Black Woodstock” festival that took place in 1969 Harlem. Japan’s “Drive My Car,” a Japanese arthouse film based on a short story of the same name by Haruki Murakami, was named best international film.

Japanese director Ryusuke Hamaguchi (center) poses with the award for Best International Feature Film for “Drive My Car”, alongside the cast.

Powerhouse music

Pop megastar Beyonce began the televised broadcast with her nominated tune from “King Richard,” from the Compton courts where Serena and Venus trained as girls. But the award for best original song went to Billie Eilish for her James Bond theme song “No Time to Die.” In another musical highlight, viral sensation “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” was performed live, with Megan Thee Stallion adding an Oscars-themed verse to the “Encanto” hit song.

S singer-songwriter Billie Eilish (left) poses with the award for Best Music (Original Song) for “No Time to Die”, US musician Questlove poses with the award for Best Documentary Feature for “Summer of Soul”, and US singer-songwriter Finneas O’Connell poses with the award for Best Music (Original Song) for “No Time to Die”.

Hosts Wanda Sykes, Amy Schumer and Regina Hall kicked off proceedings inside the Dolby Theatre—where the Oscars returned after a year away due to the pandemic—with an opening skit that poked fun at everything from sexism in Hollywood to Florida’s “Don’t say gay” bill. “This year, the Academy hired three women to host because it’s cheaper than hiring one man,” said Schumer. Sci-fi epic “Dune” ended the night with the most wins, earning six in craft and technical categories—best sound, score, editing, production design, visual effects and cinematography.

‘Devastation

The annual “in memoriam” paid tribute to cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who was shot dead by Alec Baldwin in a tragic accident on the set of Western “Rust” last year. Recently deceased Hollywood greats also honored in the segment included Sidney Poitier—the first Black man to win best actor. The gala held a moment’s silence for Ukraine, while presenter Mila Kunis—who was born in the country—said it was “impossible not to be moved” by the resilience of “those facing such devastation.” Several attendees wore blue ribbons reading #WithRefugees. — AFP

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