The worst thing people had to say about 2021’s Oscars ceremony was that it was overproduced and manipulative, positioning Best Actor as the finale in order to milk all the possible viewership out of nominee Chadwick Boseman’s tragic death. The worst thing people were saying about 2022’s Oscars was that the show had stopped pretending that it cared about movies or those that made them in any meaningful way, deciding to chop awards—documentary short, editing, makeup and hairstyling, score, production design, animated short, live-action short and sound—from the live broadcast to make room for bad jokes and DJ Khaled. Frankensteined into the show, these winners were clearly denoted as second-class. Their full speeches, only preserved by the Academy in their edited-for-TV form, would have been erased from history if not for bootleg videos shot from pre-show audience members’ iPhones. But of course, nobody’s thinking about that when there’s a juicy celeb scandal.
Yes, Will Smith stormed the stage and slapped presenter Chris Rock after the comedian once again made a jab about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. “Keep my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” the King Richard star yelled at the stage after returning to his seat. The joke seemed to make light of Jada’s alopecia; Smith felt justified enough to run up and assault a fellow A-lister on live TV.
Thank goodness all those pesky categories were cut so that there was enough airtime for the drama to unfold and the subsequent awkwardness (Smith would win Best Actor shortly after and deliver one of the weirdest acceptance speeches of all time) to play out. After that, nobody needed to think about things like Best Editing—perfectly cutting to the “celebrities coming to the stage” camera as Smith lumbered towards Rock, then switching back to the center-stage cam, then back to the audience view as Smith shouted—or Best Sound—the impact was a resonant thunk, our first sign that this wasn’t another of the Oscars’ misbegotten sketch ideas, followed by a few muted “fucking”s and some spot-censoring during Rock’s “Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me.” They certainly didn’t need to think about things like Best Documentary, which Rock was in the middle of presenting. Sorry, Questlove and the Summer of Soul team.
After that moment, quickly going viral because we love celebrities and violence and especially celebrity-on-celebrity violence, I’m sure plenty of folks flipped on ABC. Or, they at least started following along on Twitter, where clips from Australian and Japanese TV featured the moment sans America’s Standards and Practices.
Unfortunately (for the rubberneckers) they weren’t rewarded with more scandal. Smith’s off-putting and weepy acceptance speech conflated his actions with that of his subject, Serena and Venus Williams’ father, leaning on macho protectiveness while everyone just nervously applauded. Unfortunately (for the movies), the rest of the ratings-hungry night didn’t do much to capitalize on its new, bloodthirsty viewership. CODA coasted on its feel-good wave to the top while Jessica Chastain got the Best Actress award her Eyes of Tammy Faye makeup team earned. (Said makeup team also won their Oscar earlier in the unaired evening for transforming Chastain into the clownish televangelist, but when they were announced as the winners, the crowd “immediately rose to its feet” and “all but ran to the doors.” The Oscars important enough to put on TV were about to begin.)
The worst Oscars in a long, long time sacrificed plenty to be attractive to a general audience that couldn’t care less about movies. They debased themselves with Fan Favorite Twitter votes and “Cheer-Worthy Moments” that got gamed by the overactive Zack Snyder fanbase. They sent the awards given to Dune—one of the most popularly successful films of the nominees, and the one with the best chance at getting people interested in below-the-line aspects of production—to the shadow realm in a painfully ironic display. But they had the Slap Heard ‘Round the World. After all the insults the Academy hurled at its own show this year, it’s only fitting that its only takeaway would be an injury—a TMZ moment with nothing to do with cinema, and the only thing anyone will remember from this dying show’s sad display.
Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacoboller.
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