94th Oscar ceremony marred with controversy

Will Smith (R) hits comedian Chris Rock (L) after the latter told an unrefined joke about the former's wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith. Photo: PAP/EPA

The 94th Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars, have been handed out during a ceremony held at the Los Angeles’ Dolby Theatre on the evening of March 27. The ceremony did not proceed without controversy.

The main hosts of the event were actresses Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes.

“CODA” won the award for Best Picture, while “Dune” went on to win the most awards. Awards in other important categories included an Oscar for Best Director awarded to Jane Campion for “The Power of the Dog” (Campion’s accolades also include the Cannes Palme d’Or for her 1993 “The Piano”), Will Smith, who won the Best Actor award for “King Richard” (a biopic about the life of tennis coach Richard Williams, father to sisters Venus and Serena), and Jessica Chastain for the title role in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (another biopic, about the life of American singer and televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker).

“The Dress” (“Sukienka”), by Tadeusz Łysiak and Maciej Ślesicki, was nominated in the Best Live Action Short category, but this year’s Polish entry lost to "The Long Goodbye".

The ceremony was not without controversy. The ABC network, which broadcast the ceremony, as well as the Academy, faced backlash for their decision to eliminate eight of the 23 categories from the live broadcast. ABC originally demanded that 12 categories be eliminated and the Oscar-handing ceremony for them be pre-taped, but the number was reduced after negotiations.

Perhaps one of the biggest shockers of the ceremony was when comedian Chris Rock, who was presenting the award for the Best Documentary Feature, made a joke in which he said he would like to see Jada Pinkett Smith, wife of rapper-turned-Hollywood-actor Will Smith, act in a sequel to the 1997 “G.I. Jane”, in which actress Demi Moore sported short-cropped hair. Ms Pinkett Smith is currently trimming her hair short due to a medical condition which causes hair loss. Will Smith went up to the stage and forcefully slapped Chris Rock, then returned to his seat and shouted at him not to dare to utter his wife’s name.

When accepting the award for Best Actor, Mr Smith apologised to the Academy for his behaviour, but he did not apologise to Chris Rock. The latter reportedly refused to press assault charges, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

The Oscars’ ceremony has occasionally served as a platform for artists to make political statements and the Academy itself has faced criticism in recent years for politicising the event. Some of the criticism levelled against the institution include subscribing to Social Justice policies, such as the announcement how the nominated films should be selected, e.g. by introducing a formula that requires films also include various minorities or Social Justice topics.

The Academy is indeed dominated by a group of experienced filmmakers who could be described as “old, white men”, but attempts to diversify the group of people entitled to nominate the films by introducing more female members as well as representatives of racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities, has been criticized as based around arbitrary factors, rather than merit and film-making experience.

However in a display of solidarity with Ukraine, which has now been fighting off a Russian invasion for the 33rd day, a moment of silence was observed.