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Photo: Don’t Forget Questlove and the Other Oscar Winners
Let the Post-Slap Era Begin
The Academy Awards ceremony has lingered in the news cycle for longer than it has in years, and we all know why. The notorious slap that needs no further elaboration here took up a lot of attention. In all fairness, it couldn’t not be acknowledged, and there has been all manner of insightful perspectives about it. Hollywood Insider’s own Z Murphy, for example, wrote a thoughtful reflection on the significance of so many people speculating about whether the slap was staged.
Now that the flurry of coverage has died down, for the most part, let’s take stock of some wins that didn’t receive as much notice. The next time the Academy Awards come up in conversation, consider redirecting attention to any one of these noteworthy wins, all of which deserve more of our long-term attention than the slap.
Questlove Won Best Documentary
Directly after the slap, Chris Rock announced the winner for Best Documentary Feature. ‘Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised),’ a powerful restoration and contextualization of footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, where it premiered before a successful awards run that culminated with an Oscar.
Director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, the co-founder of The Roots (who you may know as the house band for Jimmy Fallon) and cultural icon, headed this incredible project, and both he and the creative team with whom he achieved it deserve recognition far beyond the awards circuit. Questlove himself, if he is not there already, will likely find a place in music history alongside names like Quincy Jones. His Oscar win is a unique moment for film lovers to glimpse the extent of his influence, extending now to documentary filmmaking.
Troy Kotsur Won Best Supporting Actor
I doubt you missed this one even if you didn’t see the ceremony, but the significance of Troy Kotsur’s win cannot be overstated. The first deaf man to receive an acting nomination, and only the second deaf actor in history to win an Oscar, Kotsur’s performance broke through an often unseen barrier for actors with disabilities.
The first deaf actor to win an Oscar, Marlee Matlin, won for her performance in ‘Children of a Lesser God,’ a story set in a school for the deaf based on a play that is still performed regularly across the nation. Both ‘CODA’ and ‘Children of a Lesser God’ tell stories that center around deafness and the impact it has on deaf people as well as on their loved ones. Matlin in fact co-starred across from Kotsur in ‘CODA.’ Their award-winning performances have brought to national attention an entire community of deaf actors who will hopefully see more cinematic opportunities in the future.
Ariana DeBose Won Best Supporting Actress
While we’re on the subject of acting awards, Ariana DeBose carried Rita Moreno’s torch forward, winning the second Oscar for Puerto-Rican Anitas. Puerto Rican, Black, Italian, queer, and a stellar performer, DeBose fits perfectly into Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story,’ which retells the spectacular tale with a renewed commitment to thoughtful representation.
If you saw DeBose’s performance as Anita, you know that her win was well-deserved to the point of being unsurprising. Beyond her individual victory, however, it must be recognized that she is among a surprising few actors who were openly queer at the time of accepting an Oscar, and the first openly queer woman of color to do so.
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Jane Campion Won Best Director
Jane Campion has graced the movie scene for a few decades now, and won the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award for ‘The Piano’ in 1994. Her win as a director may not seem particularly momentous, given her track record, but she is one of only three women to win the award, and one of only seven women to even be nominated.
Recognition of female directors has all-too-recently been normalized. Lina Wertmüller, a visionary of her time and the first woman nominated for Best Director, passed away just last year. Five of the seven women who have been nominated were first nominated within the past twenty years. For context, Alice Guy-Blaché, the first female film director, created her first short film in 1896. Female directors have been around since the beginning of film history, and hopefully, the Academy will continue its recent habit of giving equal attention to their work.
If you still haven’t seen it, you can see Campion’s deft directorial hand at work in ‘The Power of the Dog.’
Samuel L. Jackson Won His First Oscar
Remember when Leonardo DiCaprio won his first Oscar? So much buzz accompanied the event it seemed like the coronation of a king returned from exile, despite DiCaprio being front and center in Hollywood since his teenage years. I’m not here to disparage DiCaprio’s career, and yes he should have won an Oscar for ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,’ but I’m surprised that more has not been made of Samuel L. Jackson’s Academy Honorary Award.
The highest-grossing actor of all time, Samuel L. Jackson has long been a household name, and a name that brings people to theaters. Despite featuring in over a hundred films, he has not performed in as many award-winning movies as those contemporaries of his who we see repeatedly honored and nominated during awards season. At the Governors Awards in November, he received a well-deserved Academy Honorary Award, presented to him by Denzel Washington. Jackson’s reception of the award served as a highlight during the Academy Awards show and it’s one to remember, as his unrivaled career doesn’t often receive that form of recognition.
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‘The Long Goodbye’ Won Best Live Action Short Film
Riz Ahmed is on the rise as a star, but he has become no less raw in his artistry. As a part of his most recent album (he’s a rapper as well as an actor), he co-created a short film featuring “Where You From,” one of its spoken word tracks. In only eleven minutes, ‘The Long Goodbye’ is more heartbreaking and shocking than many feature-length films.
The short film categories never receive as much attention as the categories for feature-length films. In all honesty, public attention corresponds to the sheer amount of work required to make a film of either kind, so the gap is not unjustified, but it can be hard for powerful short films to break through to the wider public, especially when their Oscar moment is eclipsed by scandal. Don’t let ‘The Long Goodbye’ go unshared.
‘The Queen of Basketball’ Won Best Short Documentary
Short documentaries face the same publicity dilemma as short films, often going unseen by a wider audience than hardcore Cinema junkies. Ben Proudfoot’s op-doc for the New York Times features an extended interview with Lusia Harris, the first woman to score a basket in Olympic Women’s Basketball.
A pioneer in women’s basketball, “Lucy” Harris also happens to be a marvelous interviewee with undeniable charm. Do yourself a favor by watching ‘The Queen of Basketball’ and letting it sweep you far away from the slap. While you’re at it, fall down the rabbit hole of Ben Proudfoot’s work. His ‘Almost Famous’ series of mini-docs is easily accessible on YouTube and features a wide range of fascinating people you wouldn’t otherwise know about.
The Academy Awards rarely get everything right, and it’s hard to recognize every good film. Just this year, movies like ‘The Green Knight’ and ‘Lamb’ saw zero nominations, and they are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Regardless of how successfully the Academy represents the best filmmaking each year, its award show provides a space where even the most casual moviegoers can approach Cinema with a critical and curious mind, and it often serves as an entry point into the wider world of film beyond what shows in mainstream theaters.
When films and performers that a lot of people may not have heard of are given honors at the Oscars, it’s important to acknowledge them and help to cultivate an appreciation of filmmaking as a varied artform open to all kinds of artistic visions. At their best, the Academy Awards can be much more than a tabloid headline.
By Kevin Hauger
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