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Close-Up with Camenker Special Edition, Thoughts on the 94th Oscars

This Week for “Close-Up with Camenker,” Thoughts on the 94th Oscars

(March 29, 2022)

I always enjoy sharing my thoughts after the Oscars are over and dissecting the ceremony with fellow film lovers, whether friends or strangers. There sure is a lot to unpack after Sunday’s 94th Oscar ceremony, but let me start by getting the elephant out of the room.

The elephant in this case is widely being referred to as “the slap heard ‘round the world,” or more specifically, Will Smith assaulting Chris Rock for his off-color remark about Jada Pinkett Smith starring in “GI Jane 2” in the near future. Pinkett Smith, who has the hair loss disorder known as alopecia and has shaved her head as a result, was made fun of in a distasteful and lame manner by Rock, who could have used a reminder that he was not hosting but simply just presenting.

However, I truly believe that making jokes that sometimes take a jab at someone comes with being a comedian. It’s the territory. Chris Rock was doing what he has been trained to do, which is make people laugh, sometimes at the expense of others. What he was not trained to do that he actually did very well in the end was move ahead.
Despite being assaulted on live television by a grown man, Rock did not fight back. He did not utter expletives toward Smith. He did not walk away. He kept the show rolling, just as he should have, ultimately at his own expense. Despite an insensitive remark made moments before, whether he was aware of Pinkett Smith’s condition or not, he deserves a round of applause for staying on stage.

The man who ultimately got the round of applause just a short while later who no longer deserved to be in the room was the man who assaulted Rock: Will Smith.

You may wonder why I use the term “assault” here when it’s being referred to as the “slap” in a wide manner. Personally, it sounded more like a punch to me, but it may have been a slap. I am using the term “assault” because that is precisely what Will Smith did to Chris Rock. He assaulted him. He used violence instead of words. He used expletives instead of trying to work it out. He did exactly the opposite of what we teach our youth to do.
He did the most egregious thing that any Oscar attendee has ever done, at least as far as I am aware, last night; something that my own seventh grade students know not to do. And we wonder why our youth feel more autonomy to be disrespectful than ever before. When a young person sees something like that assault on live television, or hears the words that Smith and so many others have uttered in the last several years, we wonder why our children are “lost” as so many say. I must confess I largely do not feel that our youth are “lost” as I think many of them will one day change the world that so many other generations have failed to change. But when they see role models behave poorly, of course it makes them think that they can, too.

Will Smith should have rolled his eyes alongside his wife or made a grand exit from the room in protest of Rock’s distasteful joke. Instead, he made a fool of himself and ruined what was shaping up to be a celebratory, groundbreaking night that truly was honoring the best in film. I would not have been sorry at all if he were removed from the room. In fact, he should’ve been.

But instead, he won, as expected, the trophy for Best Actor in a Leading Role about 20 minutes later. And rather than apologize to Chris Rock or pull a Jane Fonda and simply say something like, “There’s a lot to say, but tonight’s just not the night,” he went on a five-and-a-half minute diatribe about how he was a fierce protector of his family, that he simply channeled the “crazy dad” persona of Richard Williams, and that he was “sorry” to the Academy but hoped they’d invite him back. He gave the single worst Oscar acceptance speech I have ever heard, becoming the longest speech on record from what I can surmise, and offering an inauthentic, self-serving portrayal of himself to make amends for the public when he really needed to make amends with Chris Rock.
It was a disgrace. It would have been far better if he were removed from the room, unable to offer an acceptance speech for an award that could have further contributed to the groundbreaking evening and shown his fans that hard work and perseverance pays off. Now only the fifth black man to win a lead acting trophy, Smith will forever be remembered for the “slap” instead of a great speech that he had the potential to give for one of his career best performances.

But I guess we saw his true colors last night and I sure hope it’s a long time before the Academy invites him back. I’d hate to be his manager this week…

Smith aside, there were so many amazing moments in the far too long evening. For those interested, I guessed 17 out of 23 categories right and could have gone almost 100% if I hadn’t bet on THE POWER OF THE DOG triumphing. I had almost lost faith in the Academy until last night when they truly awarded the most deserving movies, even if it made for a predictable night.

First and foremost, it was great to see hosts again. While the 10:15-11:15 timeframe really afforded them little chance to exert their chops, the three ladies at hand were stellar. I have always been a Wanda Sykes fan and delight in Amy Schumer’s witticisms, but was not that familiar with Regina Hall, who I thought was a hoot. To see three powerhouse women up there, calling out the establishment and the world all the while showing why we adore movies was brilliant. And to be back at the Dolby to enjoy it all? Nothing better. Special props to Schumer for saving the last 20 minutes with her “Did I miss anything?” shtick after Smith’s speech.

While many found the eight pre-show awards to be an insult, I was pleased at the fact that the Academy made a shift there and tried something different. It wasn’t perfect, but nothing is on the first try. My hope is that they figure out an even better way to incorporate this in the future despite the fact it will always anger people. It sure didn’t cut down on the running time, but having hosts again definitely added some minutes!
In a world where we need peace and kindness more than ever, to see three incredibly heartwarming speeches from the other acting winners was absolutely beautiful.

Ariana DeBose broke the glass ceiling as the first openly queer artist to win an acting trophy and only the second Latina in history to do so. Her touching speech about there being a place for everyone was exactly what kids around the world who are questioning their identity or thinking there’s no place at the table for them needed to hear. What a way to start the night!

When Yuh-jung Youn, who won Supporting Actress last year for her endearing work in MINARI, presented Supporting Actor winner Troy Kotsur with his Oscar, my heart nearly burst. It was the most adorable presenter/winner combo that I’ve ever seen and Kotsur’s win, accompanied by a superb and deeply personal speech, was so well deserved. It was another moment that broke the glass ceiling for deaf performers, as did the eventual win for CODA in the Best Picture category, which delighted me and so many others.

Perhaps the biggest triumph of the night, however, was Jessica Chastain’s amazing speech upon winning Best Actress for THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE. Not only did she help end the show on a high note after Smith’s train wreck of a speech just moments before, but she took the time to honor her team, her family, and shine another light on the LGBTQ+ community, particularly youth at a time when they are being threatened. It was a cheer worthy moment from start to finish and proved that we need more people like Chastain, Kotsur, and DeBose to send authentic, meaningful messages to those who feel less seen instead of those who only want their ego to be seen.

Plus I was not at all sorry to see that Anthony Hopkins, despite staying home last year and not being in person to pick up his surprise trophy for Best Actor, was there to present Chastain with her trophy. I must say, he looks mighty fine at 84 and watching him take some jabs at Smith while promoting peace and happiness was the icing on the cake. And in case you didn’t know, Hopkins lives openly with autism, something he disclosed publicly for the first time five years ago. Hopkins being there, and being a two-time Oscar winner himself, helps send positive messages to our youth with disabilities who may feel less seen that they too can do it (a common theme of the evening, I must say).

At a time when divisiveness continues to dominate and our world is in disarray, stories of underrepresented populations are being told at a higher rate, which was a large majority of what Sunday’s biggest Hollywood awards show was a celebration of. It honored diversity in new ways that we cannot help but embrace deeply.
Unfortunately, it is now being remembered as the night that the “slap heard ‘round the world” was the sole focus of the evening. Instead, we must do our best now and in the years to come to remember it as the night that the love felt, not just heard, in the room was palpable and joyous. Groundbreaking and inspirational.
Let us not forget that love, and as Sir Anthony Hopkins added–peace, are how we solve our greatest problems. Using our words is, and always will be, the best way to approach anything.

Peace and love to my readers.

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