Cast of the film CODA. Photo from Twitter.
By Terrance Turner
March 27, 2022
On Hollywood’s biggest night, stars gathered in L.A.’s Dolby Theater to honor the achievements of this past year in flim. Billed as a “celebration of the movies”, the ceremony honored the anniversaries of some pivotal films, including the “The Godfather” and “Juno”. But the motion pictures of 2021 remained front and center. Here are some highlights:
The Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress went to Ariana DeBose for playing Anita in West Side Story. (Rita Moreno won Best Supporting Actress 60 years ago for the exact same role; she was the first Latina to win an Oscar, according to NBC News. Moreno was in attendance at tonight’s ceremony.) This is a historic moment: DeBose is the first Afro-Latina and first openly queer woman of color to win an Academy Award for acting.
DeBose acknowledged the moment (and quoted the late Stephen Sondheim, who wrote many of the film’s songs) in her acceptance speech. “Imagine this little girl in the back seat of a white Ford Focus. When you look into her eyes, you see an openly queer woman of color, an Afro Latina, who found her strength in life through art. And that’s what I believe we’re here to celebrate,” DeBose said in her acceptance speech.
“So to anybody who’s ever questioned your identity ever, ever, ever — or you find yourself living in the gray spaces — I promise you this: There is indeed a place for us,” she added.
Troy Kotsur won Best Supporting Actor for his work in CODA, in which he played the deaf father of an aspiring singer. He is the first deaf man ever to win an Oscar for acting. “I cannot believe I’m here. Thank you so much to the members of the Academy for recognizing my work,” he said. “It’s really amazing that our film “Coda” has reached out worldwide,” Kotsur said, marveling that the buzz around the film “made it all the way to the White House.” But he also paid tribute to his father.
“My dad, he was the best signer in our family,” Kotsur said. “But he was in a car accident, and he became paralyzed from the neck down and he no longer was able to sign. Dad, I learned so much from you. I’ll always love you. You are my hero. Thank you.” He continued: “This is dedicated to the deaf community Dakota community and the disabled community. This is our moment! To my mom and dad, and our brother Mark: they’re not here today, but look at me now. I did it! I love you. Thank you.”
After Reba McEntire’s performance of the Oscar-nominated song “Somehow You Do” (co-written by Diane Warren), there was a moment of silence for the people of Ukraine.
In one of the categories that was edited into the ceremony, the award for Live Action Short Film went to The Long Goodbye by Aneil Karia and Riz Ahmed. Mr. Ahmed accepted the award. “In such divided times, we believe that the role of story is to remind people that there is no us and them; there’s just us,” he said. “This is for everyone who feels like they don’t belong, anyone who feels like they’re stuck in no man’s land. You’re not alone; we will meet you there. That’s where the future is. Peace.”
The Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay went to Kenneth Branagh for Belfast. The semi-autobiographical film tells the story of a working-class family in Ireland — and a young boy’s childhood, which is shattered by a conflict between the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland. “This is an enormous honor for my family; it’s a great tribute to an amazing city and fantastic people,” he said. “This story is the story of a search for joy and hope in the face of violence and loss we lost some people along the way,” he continued. “We miss them; we love them. We will never forget them, and we will never forget all of those lost in the heartbreaking, heartwarming, human story of that amazing city of Belfast,” he said.
The Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay went to Sian Heder, for CODA. “This was an independent film, and it was incredibly hard to get made,” she said, thanking her team “for believing in me and how I wanted to make this movie. I want to thank Sundance for starting this journey. I want to thank Apple for being amazing partners on this ride. Writing and making this movie was truly life-changing as an artist and as a human being. I want to thank all of my collaborators in the deaf community and the community for being my teachers,” she said. She thanked the cast and crew, whom she described as her family. “I want to thank my real life family: my Mom and Dad are here, somewhere up there; my sister, Jill — you guys are artists. You made me an artist. You made me make things. My husband David: I couldn’t do this without you. It’s so hard to be a director and a mom, and you make it possible. And my kids Nico and Milo; I love you guys so much. I love you forever.”
After a stunning performance of the title track from No Time to Die, Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas O’Connell won the Oscar for Best Original Song, for “No Time to Die”. Eilish, clearly thrilled, bounded up to the stage from her seat. Upon taking the stage, an incredulous Eilish showed off the Oscar, exclaiming, “This is so unbelievable, I could scream!” She thanked “the 007 family,” including lead actor Daniel Craig, who has said tht this film will be his last as James Bond.
Her brother Finneas added, “Last thing, we want to thank our parents — who have always been our biggest inspirations and our heroes. We love you as parents and we love you as real people too. Thank you to the Academy. We promise not to lose these.”
Eilish, at age 20, is the second-youngest recipient of this honor — and the first-ever Oscar winner born in the 21st century. She and her brother are also the first American songwriters to win Best Original Song for composing a James Bond film song. Check out their haunting rendition of “No Time to Die” below:
Jane Campion won the Academy Award for Best Director for The Power of the Dog. She is the third woman to win the prize (after Katheryn Bigelow and Chloe Zhao) — and the only woman ever to be nomianted twice for Best Director. “Big love to all my fellow nominees,” she said. “I love you all; you’re all extraordinarily talented.”
“I love directing because it’s a deep dive into story. Yet the task of manifesting can be overwhelming,” she said. “The sweet thing is: I’m not alone. On The Power Of The Dog, I worked with actors I’m moved to call my friends. They met the challenge of this story with the depths of their gifts: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirsten Dunst, Jessie Plemons, and my whole crew.”
“But it would be impossible without the man I never met, Thomas Savage. He wrote about cruelty, wanting the opposite, kindness,” Campion continued before adding, “Thank you, Academy, it’s a lifetime honor.”
Backstage in the press room, she expanded on the moment: “I’m very proud to have won tonight for my film and my crew and my cast, but also just to be another woman who’s going to be followed by a 6th, 7th, 8th. Very excited that this is moving fast now. We need it. Equality matters.”
The Academy Award for Best Actor goes to Will Smith for King Richard. In an emotional speech, Smith paid homage to Richard Williams, the Williams sisters, and his own family:
Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family. In this time in my life, in this moment, I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do and be in this world. Making this film, I got to protect Aunjanue Ellis, who is one of the most strongest, most delicate people I’ve ever met. I got to protect Saniyya [Sidney] and Demi [Singleton], the two actresses who play Venus and Serena. I’m being called on in my life to love people. And to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know, to do what we do, we got to be able to take abuse. You gotta be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, you gotta be able to have people disrespecting you and you gotta smile and pretend like that’s OK.
Smith continued: “This is a beautiful moment, and I’m not crying for winning an award. It’s not about winning an award for me, it’s about being able to shine a lot on all the people … and the entire cast and crew of King Richard and Venus and Serena and the entire Williams family. Art imitates life. I look like the crazy father, just like they said about Richard Williams! But, love will make you do crazy things.”
The Academy Award for Best Actress went to Jessica Chastain, for her portrayal of televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye. In her speech, Chastain emphasized the need for tolerance (which Bakker was known for) and for suicide prevention: “Right now, we are coming out of some difficult times, [where we were faced with] love, trauma and isolation, and so many people out there feel hopelessness and they feel alone,” Chastain said. “And suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States. It’s touched many families, it’s touched mine, and especially members of the LGBTQ community, who oftentimes feel out of place with their peers. We’re faced with discriminatory and bigoted legislation that is sweeping our country with the only goal of further dividing us. There’s violence and hate crimes being perpetuated on innocent civilians all over the world.”
And in times like this, I think of Tammy and I’m inspired by her radical acts of love,” Chastain said. “We’ve talked about love a lot. And I’m inspired by her compassion, and I see it as a guiding principle that leads us forward. And it connects us all in the desire that we want to be accepted for who we are, accepted for who we love, and to live a life without the fear of violence or terror. And for any of you out there who do in fact feel hopeless or alone, I just want you to know you are unconditionally loved for the uniqueness that is you.”
Chastain also thanked “Tammy Faye” director Michael Showalter, co-star Andrew Garfield and her hair and makeup team (who won “Best Makeup and Hairstyling” earlier in the night). “To be included in the conversation with you is such an honor. I have to thank Michael Showalter, my director, who created a space that inspired creativity and love and courage,” Chastain said. “And the incredible hair and makeup team — Linda, Stephanie, Justin — who really helped me find her. Producers Kelly Carmichael, Rachel Shane, G.G. Pritzker, David Greenbaum, Matthew Greenbaum, all of Searchlight for shepherding the film. The brilliant Andrew Garfield. Thank you so much for bringing out the best in me by showing up with the best of you.”
In a heartbreaking moment, two Oscar winners presented the final award of the night. Actresses Lady Gaga and Liza Minnelli came onstage to present Best Picture. Minnelli was in a wheelchair, shaking badly. But she nonetheless received a standing ovation from the crowd. Gaga reminded her that “the public loves you” and noted that this is the 50th anniversary of the film Cabaret, for which Minnelli won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Though she was trembling and seemed to have trouble handling the cards, Gaga warmly supported her, whispering: “I got you.”
“I know,” Minnelli responded.
CODA won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Written and directed by Sian Heder, CODA is based on the 2014 French film La Famille Bélier. The English-language remake centers on Ruby Rossi, the only hearing member of a deaf family, who struggles to balance family obligations and her love of music. Her father (Troy Kotsur) and the rest of her family struggle to understand her ambitions of becoming a singer.
“CODA does have a double meaning in the title because it’s Children of Deaf Adults, but it’s also the end of a piece of music,” director Sian Heder told NPR’s Here and Now. “It’s a story about the end of childhood.”
Distributed by Apple TV+, it is also the first best picture win for a streaming service. “Thank you to the Academy, for letting our “CODA” make history tonight,” said film producer Phillippe Rousselet. And congratulations to all of our fellow nominees. Your movies were all so incredible.”
“To our cast: you guys have made such an incredible and loving family onscreen, but also offscreen,” he continued, and everybody want to be a part of it.” Rousselet thanked his “better half” and his children, who were present, and he also thanked his father. “And lastly, I want to thank my dad. I hope you’re watching from up there; I love you very much, and this one’s for you,” he said.