For the first time in a long while, the Academy Awards were actually a hot topic for reasons beyond just the big winners. It was, for the most part, your pretty standard awards event with some groundbreaking wins for some of the biggest movies this year, including Dune, West Side Story, The Power of the Dog, and a surprise Best Picture winner, Apple TV+’s CODA.
But the event also saw some interesting additional moments on stage and off, including one that will go down in Oscars history as one of the most controversial.
Not long before being called up to the stage to accept his Best Actor award, Will Smith had a public altercation with Chris Rock. When the comedian walked on stage to introduce the nominees for Best Documentary, he cracked a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s hair, suggesting she would be appearing in G.I. Jane 2. In the original G.I. Jane movie, of course, Demi Moore famously shaved her head for the role. Pinkett Smith has been public about her ordeal with alopecia, a condition that causes hair loss on one’s scalp, or even entire body. Smith did not appreciate the joke, so he calmly walked up on stage, slapped Rock in the face, then walked back to his seat. He then proceeded to scream for Rock to “keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth!” Rock, who looked stunned, told the audience that “Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me” and promised not to speak of his wife again. He then continued the script and handed out the award before departing the stage.
The moment had fans wondering at first if it was a staged bit before realizing it was indeed an actual, unscripted altercation between the two. While some believe Smith overreacted in the moment, making the wrong choice by resorting to violence, others point out that there is a history between the two. When Rock hosted the Academy Awards in 2016, he called out Pinkett Smith then as well, saying her boycotting the Oscars was like “me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.”
The moment was followed by Smith’s acceptance speech for the Best Actor award in King Richard, which marks the longtime A-list’s actor’s first-ever Academy win. Visibly in tears, Smith, who had reportedly been consoled by Denzel Washington, Tyler Perry, and Bradley Cooper during the commercial break that followed the slap, apologized to the Academy and quoted Washington, saying he told him “at your highest moment, be careful. That’s when the devil comes for you.”
Smith used the moment to compare himself to the character he played in the move King Richard, Richard Williams, father to tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams. He noted how important he felt it was to protect one’s family and to spread love and positivity. “In this time in my life … I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do and be in this world. I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people.”
The trio of hosts, which marked the first time in years the Academy Awards have had a host, did a wonderful job of tying moments together, introducing presenters, and providing much-needed comic relief. They came out of the gate swinging when Amy Schumer noted that they hired three women to host because it was “still cheaper than one man.” Regina Hall joked about being single, calling up all the attractive, single actors like Simu Liu and Bradley Cooper, suggesting they had to go backstage for some secret extra COVID testing (wink, wink).
In one bit, each host came out dressed like their favorite movie character from the nominated films, with Wanda Sykes dressed as Richard Williams in short shorts and a beard rolling a shopping cart full of tennis balls, Hall dressed as Tammy Faye Bakker, and Schumer hanging from ropes shooting silly string while dressed as Spider-Man.
While the hosts were overshadowed by the altercation, they still managed to tie things nicely together, and think quickly on their feet. “The vibe seems different in here?” Schumer noted when she returned after the slapping incident to introduce another presenter. “Did I miss something?”
Beyoncé had the opening performance of the night, singing and performing Oscar-nominated song “Be Alive” from King Richard. Rather than be on location at the Dolby Theater where the event took place, she performed from the Williams’ sisters hometown of Compton in Los Angeles. With Beyoncé and her dancers all dressed in lime green with white stripes, she was accompanied by a full band on a variety of instruments, all in the same matching hue.
There were a lot of hidden pieces in the performance that viewers might not have picked up on, such as the braided hairstyles, a nod to ones the Williams’ sisters wore early in their careers, for which they were often criticized. She also sampled some classic songs from the ’90s, including Tupac Shakur’s California Love and Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s Nuthin’ but a “G” Thang.
One of the most touching parts of every Academy Awards broadcast is the In Memoriam dedication, which highlights some of the greats we have lost each year. Three glaring omissions in this 2022 edition, however, were Bob Saget, Norm Macdonald, and Ed Asner. While predominantly television actors, all three had appeared in movies throughout their careers. Some of Saget’s notable movie credits included Benjamin and A Stand Up Guy, while he also worked behind the scenes directing, writing, and producing. Asner, meanwhile, who passed away in August 2021, had a memorable role as Santa Claus in the movie Elf and appeared in a series of television movies and shorts. MacDonald has mostly television credits but had roles in movies like Dr. Doolittle, Grown Ups, Billy Madison, and Back to Norm.
Others who were left out include Sex And the City‘s Willie Garson, and Robert Downey Sr., the actor-director father of Robert Downey Jr. The In Memoriam, however, did include special tributes to some of the highest-profile losses this year, including Ivan Reitman, Jean-Marc Vallee, Sidney Poitier, and Betty White.
Pulp Fiction is one of the most iconic movies of its generation, and fans loved seeing Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, and John Travolta come together once again on stage to commemorate the 28th anniversary of the movie. Of course, Thurman and Travolta did their iconic dance while Jackson discussed what was in that mysterious briefcase that sat at the center of the movie’s plot. “All the murder and mayhem that occurred in two hours and 45 minutes was about what was in here,” he said. “And at the end of the film, they stopped the reveal, and the audience was left to draw their own conclusions about the meaning.”
The trio promised this would finally be the day to reveal the contents. Upon opening the briefcase, out shone a beacon of light and Jackson pulled out the envelope with the name of the Best Actor winner. It was a short moment but one that brought fans tons of nostalgia. Jackson, it should also be noted, accepted an Honorary Award earlier in the night, which wasn’t part of the broadcast.
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