LOS ANGELES (AP) — A 94th Academy Awards that steadily maintained a buoyant spirit was rocked by an unbelievable exchange after Will Smith took offense to a joke made by Chris Rock about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith.
After Rock joked to Smith that he was looking forward to a sequel to “G.I. Jane,” Smith stood up from his seat near the stage, strode up to Rock and slapped him. After sitting back down, Smith shouted at Rock to “keep my wife’s name out of your (expletive) mouth.”
The moment shocked the Dolby Theatre audience and viewers at home. At the commercial break, presenter Daniel Kaluuya came up to to hug Smith, and Denzel Washington escorted him to the side of the stage. The two talked and hugged and Tyler Perry came over to talk as well.
Smith is widely expected to win his first Oscar later in the ceremony.
Up until that moment, the show had been running fairly smoothly. Ariana DeBose became the first Afro-Latina to win an Academy Award for supporting actress, while Troy Kotsur became the first deaf actor to win an acting award.
After record-low ratings and a pandemic-marred 2021 show, producers this year turned to one of the biggest stars around — Beyoncé — to kick off an Oscars intended to revive the awards’ place in pop culture. After an introduction from Venus and Serena Williams, Beyoncé performed her “King Richard” nominated song, “Be Alive,” in an elaborately choreographed performance from a lime-colored, open-air stage in Compton, where the Williams sisters grew up.
Hosts Wanda Sykes, Amy Schumer and Regina Hall then began the telecast from the Dolby Theatre.
“All right, we are here at the Oscars,” began Hall. Sykes finished: “Where movie lovers unite and watch TV.”
Sykes, Schumer and Hall breezily joked through prominent Hollywood issues like pay equity — they said three female hosts were “cheaper than one man” — the Lady Gaga drama that Sykes called “House of Random Accents,” the state of the Golden Globes (now relegated to the memoriam package, said Sykes) and Leonardo DiCaprio’s girlfriends. Their most pointed political point came at the end of their routine, in which they promised a great night and then alluded to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
“And for you people in Florida, we’re going to have a gay night,” said Sykes.
The first broadcast award went, fittingly, to Ariana DeBose, who became the first openly LGBTQ actor and first Latina to win best supporting actress. Her win came 60 years after Rita Moreno won for the same role in the 1961 original “West Side Story.” DeBose thanked Moreno for leading the way for “tons of Anitas like me.”
“You see an openly queer woman of color, an Afro-Latina, who found her strength and life through art. And that is, I think, what we’re here to celebrate,” said DeBose. “So if anyone has ever questioned your identity or you find yourself living in the gray spaces, I promise you this — there is indeed a place for us.”
Later, Kotsur became the first male deaf actor to ever win an acting Oscar, and joined his “CODA” costar Marlee Matlin at the only deaf actors to win an Academy Award. He received a standing ovation while many in the Dolby gave the Deaf clap, waving both hands in the air.
“This is for the Deaf community, the CODA community and the disabled community,” said Kotsur, signing from the stage. “This is our moment.”
“Encanto,” the Disney hit propelled by its chart-topping soundtrack, won best animated film. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who penned the film’s hit songs, missed the ceremony after his wife tested positive for COVID-19. Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s three-hour Japanese drama “Drive My Car,” one of the year’s most acclaimed films, won for best international film.
After two years of pandemic, and beneath a warm California sun Sunday, the Hollywood rite of glamour again got into swing, with a jammed red carpet and a COVID-tested audience.