A Historic ‘CODA’ Win for Apple and Will Smith Confrontation Cap a Strange Oscars

A noteworthy step forward for both inclusion and the streaming industry, the 'CODA' win was overshadowed by a shocking moment between best actor winner Smith and comic Chris Rock.

CODA, Apple’s indie movie with a mostly deaf cast, won best picture, capping a historic — and bizarre — Oscars.

The first streaming movie to claim the film industry’s top honor, CODA also won the adapted screenplay prize for its writer-director, Sian Heder, and the supporting actor award for Troy Kotsur. 

While marking a noteworthy step forward for both inclusion and the streaming industry, the CODA win was overshadowed by a shocking moment when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock after the comic made a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, and then later went on to accept the award for best actor in a dramatic speech. Later in the show, after the confrontation, Smith apologized to the Academy.

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“Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family,” Smith said in a tearful speech following his win for portraying the Williams sisters’ father in King Richard. “In this time of my life, in this moment, I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do and be in this world.”

“I know to do what we do, you’ve got to be able to take abuse,” he said. “You gotta be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, you gotta be able to have people disrespecting you, and you gotta smile, and you gotta pretend like that’s OK. … I want to apologize to the Academy; I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees.”

In a statement posted to Twitter after the show, the Academy said it “does not condone violence of any form” and stressed that the night is to celebrate the winners who “deserve this moment of recognition from their peers and movie lovers around the world.”

The LAPD confirmed that Rock declined to file a police report about the slapping, saying in a statement, “If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”

After the show, producer Will Packer noted on Twitter, “Welp…I said it wouldn’t be boring #Oscars” and co-host Regina Hall, who said she missed the moment while changing backstage, told The Hollywood Reporter, “I guess it’s a memorable Oscars, let’s just say that.”

Throughout the show, the Academy spread the love, with several movies picking up prizes and no single film appearing to lead the night.

Jane Campion became just the third woman to win best director, in the only prize of the night to be won by The Power of the Dog; Kenneth Branagh won original screenplay for Belfast; and Jessica Chastain won best actress for The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

Chastain’s speech was one of the moments in the evening where current events burst through. “We’re faced with discriminatory and bigoted legislation,” Chastain said, referring to laws targeting the LGBTQ community. “We all want to be accepted for who we are, for who we love, and to live a life without fear of violence or terror.”

Kotsur accepted the prize for best supporting actor for his performance in CODA, delivering an emotional speech in American Sign Language in which he thanked the deaf theater stages where he had worked and told the deaf community, “This is our moment.” Kotsur’s ASL interpreter was audibly moved, as was the audience in the Dolby, which rose and waved their hands in the air, the ASL form of applause.

Ariana DeBose became the first televised Oscar winner of the night, for supporting actress for her role as Anita in West Side Story. “Even in this weary world that we live in, dreams do come true,” DeBose said in her acceptance speech, describing herself as, “An openly queer woman of color, an Afro-Latina who found her strength in art… There is indeed a place for us.”

Billie Eilish and Finneas won best original song for “No Time to Die,” with Finneas thanking their parents and telling the Academy, “we promise not to lose these.”

As expected, Japan’s Drive My Car won the award for international feature, but the Oscars band hurried the film’s Japanese director, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, through comments in which he thanked his cast.

At the start of the show, an Oscars ceremony on life support turned to the Williams sisters and Beyoncé — performing her Oscar-nominated song from King Richard, “Be Alive,” from tennis courts in Compton, Calif. — to give it a boost. The display seemed to signal there is still star-power at the Oscars, even if it’s borrowed from the worlds of music and sports.

Co-hosts Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes delivered a joint opening monologue that took aim at hot topics, including sexism, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation and the migration of audiences from movie theaters to sofas. “We’re here at the Oscars, where movie lovers unite — and watch TV,” Sykes said, getting to the heart of an issue roiling the industry.

The Oscars acknowledged the war in Ukraine with a moment of silence, calling on the audience to #StandWithUkraine. “While film is an important avenue for us to express our humanity in times of conflict, the reality is millions of families in Ukraine need food, medical care, clean water and emergency services,” read text displayed on screen. “Resources are scarce, and we — collectively as a global community — can do more.” Later, during a moment to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola said, “Viva Ukraine!”

Before the live telecast began, eight categories were awarded in front an about 80-percent filled Dolby Theatre. Dune won most of the non-live categories, including editing, score and production design. The telecast aired an edited down version of those eight categories, with snippets from the winners’ speeches, such as Queen of Basketball director Ben Proudfoot, who used his moment as best documentary short winner to call for the return of WNBA player Brittney Griner, currently jailed in Russia.

This year’s Oscars — the 94th — arrived as the Academy was attempting to reverse a years-long decline in ratings with some controversial changes, including omitting the eight categories and introducing a “fan favorite” Oscar and “Cheer Moment” prize voted on by Twitter users. Zack Snyder’s Justice League, a movie which didn’t screen in theaters but instead played on HBO Max, won the “Cheer Moment” award for the scene, “The Flash enters the Speed Force,” and Snyder’s “Army of the Dead” won the “Fan Favorite” prize.

Heading into the show, Netflix’s New Zealand-filmed Western The Power of the Dog led the pack with 12 nominations in total, including best picture, best director for Jane Campion, and acting noms for star Benedict Cumberbatch and supporting players Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee.

Apple’s winning of a best picture prize before Netflix, which had paved the way for streamers at the Oscars and made a heavy investment in its awards campaigns, is a turn of events that would have seemed shocking just two years ago.

Dune followed with a total of 10 noms, including best picture, but the film was left out of the directing and acting categories. West Side Story and Belfast earned seven noms, while King Richard was nominated in six categories.

The full list of 2022 Academy Award winners can be found here.