June 5, 2023
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Column: The 95th Academy Awards make history

The Oscars: the night movie lovers eagerly wait for all year. A celebration of cinema, behind and in front of the camera. One night of red carpet glamour and heightened emotions as viewers eagerly await the reading of the winners from those sacred envelopes. Yet, for such a bold display of love for films and the artists who make them, the Academy Awards are perhaps not all they are cracked up to be. Or perhaps, in some ways, they still are.

This year, the 95th Annual Academy Awards aired March 12. In 2022, the Academy decided they would not be showing every award category live on air in order to “increase viewer engagement and keep the show vital, kinetic and relevant,” cutting Best Original Score, Best Sound, Best Film Editing and more from the broadcast. Because of backlash, this year’s three-and-a-half-hour-long ceremony once again included all 23 categories as it had in the past, which host Jimmy Kimmel proudly stated in his opening monologue — to much applause from the audience.

Taking home the gold statue in seven of 23 categories was the Daniels’ “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” “All Quiet On The Western Front,” the German war film based on the novel of the same name, followed with four awards by the end of the night. The most notable wins were certainly the acting wins. While Brendan Fraser won Best Actor for his performance in “The Whale,” the other three awards went to performances in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” It has become the third film ever to win three acting awards, joining “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951) and “Network” (1976).

Jamie Lee Curtis was the first actor to claim their prize and, one could say, the most questionable of all of the four winners. While there is no doubt that Curtis has been a working actor for a long time, to give her what is essentially a career award under the guise of awarding her for her performance feels rather disrespectful to the other nominees. This is especially true in regard to Angela Bassett, who has been acting for just as long but did not have the famous parents Curtis had to help boost her into stardom. It is also frustrating to many to see a white woman so front-and-center during the awards circuit and then at the Oscars themselves when the film is about a Chinese-American family and the rest of the leading and supporting cast are Asian. Despite the many other awards “Everything Everywhere All at Once” received on Oscars night, Curtis is still being centered in a lot of conversations, and that is rather unfortunate.

Despite all of this, the greatest triumphs of the night were Ke Huy Quan’s and Michelle Yeoh’s wins. Despite his stint as a child actor in “Indiana Jones” and “The Goonies,” Quan found it difficult to find work as he got older and eventually left acting. He worked behind the scenes in films for 20 years before returning to acting with “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Quan, who won Best Supporting Actor, gave an incredibly emotional speech in which he encouraged those watching to keep fighting for their dreams. Yeoh stated that her win is “a beacon of hope and possibilities” to all the young children who look like her. She emphasized the importance of her historic win while also thanking her mother and dedicating the award to mothers across the world. Halle Berry, the first woman of color to be awarded Best Actress in 2002, presented the Oscar to Yeoh. Yeoh is only the second woman of color and the first Asian woman to win the award. She is an inspiration in an ever-changing industry, but one that is still not quite where it needs to be in terms of the respect it gives to people of color. She is so utterly deserving of the level of praise she has received and the award.

In terms of the event itself, three-time Academy Awards host Jimmy Kimmel put on a decent show. While his five separate Will Smith-Chris Rock slap jokes were rather unnecessary and did not land, a nod to audio engineers with Kimmel donning a mixer and holding a shotgun microphone was a fun touch. Actor-director Elizabeth Banks announced the winner of Best Visual Effects, bringing out someone in a bear suit who she proclaimed was the star of her recent film “Cocaine Bear.” The bit was amusing but went on for several minutes longer than most announcers’ did. After Banks finally announced the winner, “Avatar: The Way of Water,” the VFX team’s speech was cut off prematurely. While this is not uncommon, it is certainly still disrespectful and it feels worth stating that if Banks’s bit had been a bit shorter, they would have been able to speak. Timing seems to be a continual issue for the Oscars, to the detriment of some of the winners.

The Best Song nominee performances were mostly enjoyable and a surprise performance from Lady Gaga was a treat. Gaga was not expected to attend, as she was to be in the middle of filming for “Joker: Folie á Deux.” “Naatu Naatu” from “RRR” brought the house down and ended up winning the award later that night, being the first song from an Indian film to receive it. Although, it is worth mentioning the disappointing lack of South Asian dancers in the performance. While the win is important and deserves honoring, this lack of Indian representation on stage for a performance from a film about fighting white British Imperialism is jarring and, ultimately, quite upsetting.

Closing out the night was “Everything Everywhere All at Once”’s Best Picture win. With lots of applause from the audience filled with celebrities, nominees and their loved ones, it was certainly a moment to remember: a very fitting Best Picture for a chaotic year.

The 2023 Oscars were filled with ups and downs, disappointment and excitement. The Academy as an institution is still clearly a bit stuck, but it is still worth celebrating the wins of brilliant artists like Michelle Yeoh, Sarah Polley, The Daniels and more. This was a historic night for film and will certainly be talked about for years to come.

Lily Lipka can be reached at llipka1@ithaca.edu