‘CODA’, DeBose, Campion big winners on dramatic Oscars night

“CODA,” a feel-good movie about a deaf family, took best picture at the Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday. Ariana DeBose made history as the first Afro-Latina and openly LBGTQ actor to win supporting actress. Jane Campion became the third woman to win best director.

Chris Pizzello/AP
Youn Yuh-jung (right) presents Troy Kotsur with the award for best performance by a male actor in a supporting role for "CODA" at the Oscars on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

After a movie year often light on crowds, the Academy Awards named an unabashed crowd-pleaser, the deaf family drama “CODA,” best picture Sunday, handing Hollywood’s top award to a streaming service for the first time, while director Jane Campion and actress Ariana DeBose broke barriers.

Sian Heder’s “CODA,” which first premiered at a virtual Sundance Film Festival in winter 2021, started out as an underdog but gradually emerged as the Oscars’ feel-good favorite. It also had one very deep-pocketed backer in Apple TV+, which scored its first best picture Academy Award on Sunday, less than three years after launching the service.

It also handed another near-miss defeat to Netflix, the veteran streamer that for years has tried vainly to score best picture. Its best chance, Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog,” came in with a leading 12 nominations. It won one, for Ms. Campion’s direction.

But “CODA” rode a wave of goodwill driven by its cast including Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, Emilia Jones, and Daniel Durant. It’s the first film with a largely deaf cast to win best picture. “CODA” managed that despite being one of the least-nominated films with only three coming into Sunday. Not since 1932’s “Grand Hotel” has a movie won best picture with fewer than four nods.

Mr. Kotsur also won best supporting actor to become the first male deaf actor to win an Oscar, and only the second deaf actor to do so, joining his castmate and “CODA” co-star Ms. Matlin.

“This is for the Deaf community, the CODA community, and the disabled community,” said Mr. Kotsur, signing from the stage. “This is our moment.”

The first broadcast award went, fittingly, to Ms. DeBose, whose win came 60 years after Rita Moreno won for the same role in the 1961 original “West Side Story.” Ms. DeBose thanked Ms. Moreno for leading the way for “tons of Anitas like me.” Ms. DeBose is the first Afro-Latina and openly LBGTQ actor to win an Academy Award for supporting actress.

“Imagine this little girl in the back seat of a white Ford Focus, look into her eyes: You see a queer, openly queer woman of color, an Afro Latina who found her strength in life through art. And that is, I think, what we’re here to celebrate,” said Ms. 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.”

Ms. Campion won the Oscar best director for “The Power of the Dog,” her open-plains psychodrama that twisted and upended western conventions.

Ms. Campion, who had been the first woman ever twice nominated in the category (previously for 1993’s “The Piano”), is only the third woman to win best director. It’s also the first time the directing award has ever gone to women in back-to-back years, after “Nomadland” filmmaker Chloé Zhao won last year.

Best actress went to Jessica Chastain, who also won her first Oscar. Ms. Chastain won for her empathetic portrayal of the televangelist Tammy Faye in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” a movie she also produced.

Many, though, were talking about another moment. After Chris Rock, as a presenter, joked to Jada Pinkett Smith that he was looking forward to a sequel to “G.I. Jane,” Will Smith stood up from his seat near the stage, strode up to Mr. Rock and smacked him. After sitting back down, Mr. Smith shouted at Mr. Rock to “keep my wife’s name out of your [expletive] mouth.” When Mr. Rock, who joked about Ms. Pinkett Smith while hosting the Oscars in 2016, protested that it was just a “GI Jane” joke, Mr. Smith repeated the same line. Ms. Pinkett has been diagnosed with alopecia, which causes hair loss.

“That was the greatest night in the history of television,” Mr. Rock said, before awkwardly returning to presenting best documentary, which went to Questlove’s “Summer of Soul (...or When the Revolution Was Not Televised).”

Mr. Smith, who plays Venus and Serena Williams’ father in “King Richard,” later in the show won best actor, his first Oscar. So Mr. Smith again took the stage shortly after what seemed likely to be one of the most infamous moments in Academy Awards history. His acceptance speech vacillated between defense and apology.

“Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family,” Mr. Smith said in his first remarks. Smith then shared what Washington told him: “At your highest moment, be careful because that’s when the devil comes for you.”

Ultimately, Mr. Smith apologized to the academy and to his fellow nominees.

“Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father” said Mr. Smith, chuckling. “But love will make you do crazy things.”

After the show, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences issued a statement saying it “does not condone violence of any form.” The Los Angeles Police Department said it was aware of a slapping incident at the Oscars but said the person involved had declined to file a police report.

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.

“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.

Aside from a few blue ribbons spotted on the red carpet in support of Ukraine, politics were seldom center stage. The Oscars instead doubled down on razzle dazzle, and the movies as an escape. Feel-good movies also fared well. “CODA” also won for best adapted screenplay. Kenneth Branagh’s autobiographical “Belfast,” an affectionate family drama bathed in nostalgia and shot in black-and-white, took best original screenplay.

Behind this year’s telecast changes was alarm over the Oscars fast-falling ratings. While drops have been common to all major network award shows, last year’s show attracted only about 10 million viewers, less than half of the 23.6 million the year before. 

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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