After the smaller, more intimate pandemic-friendly Oscars we got last year, things appeared to be back to some semblance of normal for the 94th Academy Awards. Hosted by Regina Hall, Amy Schumer, and Wanda Sykes, this year’s ceremony certainly provided its share of memorable moments, including one fairly jaw-dropping encounter in particular that might have been the most shocking we’ve ever seen — but we’ll get to that.
The night kicked off in style with an incredible musical set piece from the heart of Compton, where Beyoncé performed a live rendition of her Oscar-nominated song “Be Alive” from King Richard, setting the tone for an unpredictable night filled with emotional thank yous, surprisingly sweet moments, and, yes, the slap heard ’round the world. Read on for the biggest moments of the 2021 Oscars.
What did you think of the 94th Academy Awards?
— Rotten Tomatoes (@RottenTomatoes) March 28, 2022
Billie Eilish may have taken home the Oscar for Best Song tonight, but it was Queen Bey who stole the show before it even began, kicking off the festivities with a show-stopper from the heart of Compton. Beyoncé performed a live rendition of her song “Be Alive” from King Richard, commanding a regiment of backup singers, dancers, and musicians all decked out in tennis-ball neon yellow. The whole production also took place at the Tragniew Park Tennis Courts in Compton, where Venus and Serena Williams grew up, and it was so visually striking and impeccably performed that it almost didn’t matter how the rest of the show turned out.
While a lot of the categories remained fairly up in the air leading up to tonight, West Side Story’s Ariana DeBose was arguably one of the most rock-solid picks you could have made on your Oscar ballot, and sure enough, she took home the trophy for Best Supporting Actress and became the first openly queer woman of color to win an acting Oscar. When she was called to the stage, she not only acknowledged what it meant to win in front of Rita Moreno, who won the award for the same role 60 years ago, but also offered a hopeful message for other young women like herself: “To anybody who has ever questioned your identity, ever, ever ever, or you find yourself living in the grey spaces, I promise you this: ‘There is indeed a place for us.'”
Possibly one of the most unexpectedly sweet moments of the evening came when previous Best Supporting Actress winner Yuh-jung Youn presented Troy Kotsur with his trophy for Best Supporting Actor. As Kotsur made his way to the stage, the audience gestured the sign for Deaf applause, and when he got up to the mic, he shared a brief moment with Youn before she realized it would be difficult for him to sign his acceptance speech with the trophy in his hands and reached for it. As Kotsur delivered a humble, heartwarming speech, Youn stood by to offer support and beamed like a proud mother, after which Kotsur departed the stage to another round of Deaf applause.
Each of the evening’s three hosts got their moments to liven up the proceedings with scripted bits, whether it was Wanda Sykes taking a tour of the newly opened Academy Museum or Amy Schumer hanging from the rafters in a Spider-Man leotard, but Regina Hall took a slightly more personal approach. After previously declaring to the audience that she was single, Hall emerged from backstage partway through the show to announce that some guests’ COVID tests had been lost and needed to undergo “emergency testing.” Hall proceeded to call Bradley Cooper, Timothée Chalamet, Tyler Perry, and Simu Liu up to the stage, stopping short of including Javier Bardem (“your test… says that you’re married — uh, negative”) and failing to convince Will Smith to join in the “freaky stuff” she claimed she would need to “record for Academy protocol.” All of the stars were game for the bit, and Hall wrapped it all up by frisking the next two presenters, Dune stars Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa, as they walked up to the mic.
(Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)
Yeah, that really happened. In quite possibly the most unexpectedly shocking moment we’ve ever witnessed at the Oscars, Will Smith delivered a swift slap to the face of Chris Rock, who was on stage to present the award for Best Documentary Feature. Rock, who first cracked a couple of jokes about Denzel Washington, Javier Bardem, and Penélope Cruz, eventually pointed to Jada Pinkett Smith and riffed that he was looking forward to seeing her in “G.I. Jane 2.” The quip was a reference to Pinkett Smith’s close-cropped haircut, the result of an alopecia diagnosis in 2018. When the camera panned to the couple, Pinkett Smith was visibly irritated, and when the shot cut back to Rock, he briefly attempted to move on before Will Smith nonchalantly walked up to the stage, slapped Rock in the face, and sauntered back to his seat.
It was unclear to many at first whether this was a scripted bit, but the audio feed cut out immediately following the encounter and Will Smith could be seen angrily mouthing words at Rock from his seat. Soon enough, unedited versions of the event began popping up on social media from places like Australia and Japan, revealing that Rock exclaimed, “Wow! Will Smith just smacked the sh– out of me!” while Smith twice yelled from his seat, “Keep my wife’s name out your f—in’ mouth!”
Clearly shell-shocked from the event, Rock eventually stumbled over his lines and presented the Best Documentary Feature award to Questlove for Summer of Soul, and though the mood had shifted, Questlove’s speech helped to calm things down a bit. Other videos taken by people in attendance would later show Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry comforting Smith during a commercial break, capping off a bizarre, rather shocking interlude that will surely be the most-remembered development of the night.
“I’m so happy right now, I could cry.” Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson had the misfortune of coming on stage and accepting his award for Best Documentary Feature directly after the aforementioned brouhaha, but ever the classy gentleman, he made no mention of it and, thanks to an impassioned, emotional speech, he managed to bring the proceedings back down to Earth. He choked up as he mentioned his late father and began to describe how the themes of his film is still relevant to marginalized people today, but he was so overwhelmed that he could not find the words. It was exactly what the ceremony needed to move on with the evening.
Will Smith came into the night as the favorite to win Best Actor, and as the shock of “The Slap” began to fade away, folks began to wonder what his acceptance speech would look like if he actually won. We got our answer towards the end of the night when Smith indeed took the category and offered a tearful speech that began with, “Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family,” which elicited a few awkward chuckles from those in attendance. Smith gave the longest speech of the evening, describing where he felt he was at in his career and his life and explaining how, in his position, he needs to “be able to take abuse,” “to have people talk crazy about you,” and “to have people disrespecting you, and you gotta smile and pretend like that’s OK.” After thanking the Williams family for allowing him to help tell their story, Smith eventually apologized to the Academy and his fellow nominees — but not, notably, Chris Rock — and acknowledged “I look like the crazy father” before concluding with, “I hope the Academy invites me back.” We’re guessing they probably will, Will, but keep your hands to yourself next time.
(Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)
In a fittingly sentimental end to a night that was filled with emotional speeches, Liza Minnelli made a surprise appearance alongside Lady Gaga to present the final award of the night for Best Picture. Minnelli, now 76 years old, has struggled with illness over the past several years but emerged on stage to a standing ovation, after which Gaga leaned in and said to her, “You see that? The public, they love you.” The two held hands as Gaga helped guide Minnelli through her lines, telling her, “I got you.” It was a sweet, precious moment that instantly washed away any lingering awkwardness and sent everyone away on a lovely note.
What were your biggest highlights of the night? Tell us in the comments.