Sunday evening’s 94th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles produced no shortage of highlights, smacking viewers across their faces with a flurry of headline-worthy moments ranging from heartwarming to eyebrow-raising to full, slack-jawed shock and awe.
Even setting aside the many extracurricular “WTF” moments (we’ll get there), the awards themselves gave viewers plenty to tweet about, from notable musicians like Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and the brother-sister duo of Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell taking home their first-ever Oscars to historic wins for CODA‘s Troy Kotsur (the first deaf man to win an acting statue) and The Power of the Dog director Jane Campion (the first woman to be nominated twice for Best Director honors).
Music and musicians took their fair share of the spotlight during Hollywood’s biggest night. Questlove, drummer for The Roots and noted music collector and historian, capped an awards season tear with a Best Documentary Feature win for Summer of Soul, his film about the long-forgotten 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, affectionately known as “Black Woodstock”, featuring never-before-seen footage of legendary acts like Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson, The Staple Singers, Stevie Wonder, and more.
“This is such a stunning moment for me right now, but it’s not about me,” Questlove said during his acceptance speech. “It’s about marginalized people in Harlem that needed to heal from pain.”
Questlove Accepts Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature (Summer of Soul)
View this post on Instagram
Billie Eilish and her brother/songwriter, Finneas O’Connell, are no strangers to high-profile awards shows, having raked in a pile of Grammy Awards (among others) over the past few years. They seemed right at home as they strode onstage to accept their first Oscar for Best Original Song for “No Time To Die”, the titular song they co-wrote for the 25th James Bond film in 2021.
Billie Eilish, Finneas O’Connell Accept Academy Award for Best Original Song (“No Time To Die” from No Time to Die)
Eilish also offered up a dramatic performance of the track, immaculately channeling the famed spy franchise’s grandiose aesthetic. Hers was a high point in an otherwise uneven slate of musical performances. In addition to assorted spots by the show’s Adam Blackstone-directed house supergroup featuring Travis Barker (blink-182), Sheila E. (Prince), and Robert Glasper, Beyoncé shined as always on her Best Song-nominated “Be Alive” from King Richard with help from Venus and Serena Williams.
“I want you to tell these people where we are!” The singer called to her crew of backup dancers. “City of Compton!” They responded, echoing Tupac Shakur‘s “California Love”. (Wait, you mean the Tupac Shakur that famously spawned “raging jealousy” in Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith‘s relationship? Yes, that one).
The other Best Original Song nominees got their licks in as Reba McEntire showed off her ageless pipes on Dianne Warren‘s “Somehow You Do” from Four Good Days and Sebastián Yatra crooned the Lin Manuel-Miranda-penned “Dos Oruguitas” from Encanto.
With Van Morrison—nominated for “Down to Joy” from Belfast—unable to make the ceremony, the final Oscars performance went to Encanto‘s “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”, the song that has maintained a historic run on the Billboard charts after enchanting young viewers worldwide. While it surely pulled in a legion of young viewers, the performance not only altered the Disney favorite’s lyrics with Academy Awards references but brought on rapper Megan Thee Stallion for an improvised verse. Fun for fans of both Disney songs and modern hip-hop? Absolutely. Still, we can’t help but feel a little bad about the wave of uncomfortable conversations coming for the parents of Bruno-obsessed kids who are now one simple Google search away from finding out what “WAP” means.
The questionable creative choices on “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” were just the tip of the strange, tense iceberg that was the 94th Academy Awards. Where to begin? Kevin Costner‘s would-be heartfelt sermon on the magic of movies rendered uncomfortable when he described his first time seeing an “adult film” (We’re guessing—hoping, really—that he didn’t mean that kind of “adult film”)? Regina Hall‘s twice-problematic COVID-19/male objectification combo segment? That inexplicably wonky James Bond anniversary tribute? Lady Gaga holding it together for an overwhelmed Liza Minnelli to announce the Best Picture winner?
Eh, we should probably just drop all of that, because this night will forever be remembered for “the slap heard around the world.” Will Smith was having none of Chris Rock and his G.I. Jane joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett- Smith, an apparent barb about her shaved head. Pinkett-Smith has been open about her battle with alopecia, a condition that causes hair loss.
After initially smiling it off, Smith got out of his seat, walked onstage, and slapped Rock across the face. Smith slowly sauntered back to his seat, dissuading any notions that this may have been a planned stunt as he twice commanded Rock to “keep my wife’s name out your [expletive] mouth.”
Chris Rock, to his credit, brushed it off and continued to present the Best Documentary Feature Oscar to Questlove and the Summer of Soul team, but the reactions on the faces of the stars in the room mirrored the gobsmacked looks on the mugs of viewers everywhere.
The Slap vs The Reactions pic.twitter.com/AxXOBlswLM
— Naija (@Naija_PR) March 28, 2022
Of course, that wasn’t the last we’d see of Will Smith on the night. He later took the stage, eyes full of tears, to accept his first-ever Academy Award for his leading role in King Richard. A strange, bittersweet moment for the star, his acceptance/(sort of) apology speech was an appropriately outrageous coda for the slap incident. Ample tears, some visual censoring as Smith spat on the floor, a camera pan to Venus and Serena in the audience, another visual “hold please” for a Venus wardrobe malfunction, some telling side-eye from Serena as Will almost-presciently pointed out some connection between his Oscars outburst and his role as famously rigorous tennis dad Richard Williams… The whole uncomfortable scene made the La La Land/Moonlight mixup from 2017 seem like business as usual by comparison.
So, uh, yeah… That happened. As a punch-drunk Chris Rock muttered post-slap, his face surely still stinging from Will Smith’s handprint, “That was, uh… greatest night in the history of television.” Something like that, Chris. Something like that.
Will Smith Accepts Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role (King Richard)
[UPDATE 3/28/22, 4:30 p.m. PT]: Will Smith has issued a public apology for hitting Chris Rock during the Academy Awards. Read the full text of Will Smith’s apoligy via his Instagram post below.
Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive. My behavior at last night’s Academy Awards was unacceptable and inexcusable. Jokes at my expense are a part of the job, but a joke about Jada’s medical condition was too much for me to bear and I reacted emotionally.
I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line and I was wrong. I am embarrassed and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be. There is no place for violence in a world of love and kindness.
I would also like to apologize to the Academy, the producers of the show, all the attendees and everyone watching around the world. I would like to apologize to the Williams Family and my King Richard Family. I deeply regret that my behavior has stained what has been an otherwise gorgeous journey for all of us.
I am a work in progress.