It was the slap heard around the world. Following the March 27 show, Will Smith's slap has completely taken over the popular news cycle. Celebrities from Jim Carrey to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar came out to condemn the slap and the producer of the whole ceremony, Will Packer, went on a mini media tour to express his disagreement with the action. But deep down, a cynic could argue this event is exactly what the Academy wanted. Maybe not a slap per se, but something that would get people talking — not about how out of touch the awards have become, but just some good old-fashioned drama. Because ultimately, one of the dire consequences of this slap was that its media frenzy let the rest of this year's Academy Awards — an Academy Awards that spat in the face of everything that is great about film — completely off the hook. Much like the overblown discourse that came from the slap, the show did not adequately respect the movies or the talented people that had a part in making them; it cared only about the number of eyes that would view them.
After a performance by Beyoncé to open the show, the three hosts, Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall, came out on stage following an introduction by DJ Khaled. The fact that the Academy deemed DJ Khaled as the appropriate opening note to this ceremony should tell you just about everything you need to know about the trajectory of the show — it’s all about out-of-touch pop-culture over the art of film. The opening monologue was your standard cringe-inducing non-humor that seems to have become the Oscars brand over the past decade or so. The poorly written traditional jokes about how every movie nominated this year was boring and how no one watched them were back in full force. As per usual, they did not land.
The Academy made two attempts to attract more viewers by including the fan-voted categories, “Most Cheer-Worthy Moment” and “Favorite Movie of 2021.” The most cheer-worthy moment went to a scene from Zack Snyder’s “Justice League,” rehashing the toxicity of the online “release the Snyder Cut” movement that lasted for far too long in 2020 and 2021. The top three films to come in the favorite movie category were once again reflections of this toxicity. Number three was “Minamata,” a movie starring Johnny Depp that only received this notoriety because it became a symbol for the undying supporters of Depp during his ongoing domestic violence lawsuit with ex-wife Amber Heard. The movie to come in second was “Cinderella,” a film that made the list out of sheer irony and a general cultural disdain for James Corden. Finally, number one went to “Army of the Dead,” another Zack Snyder movie that made this list as part of the same aforementioned Snyder Cut movement.
These two fan awards demonstrate the complete desperation and lack of self-respect The Academy had when putting together this show. They gave Twitter trolls more live screen-time than the winners of the eight creative awards. This move, which rightfully became one of the most criticized aspects of the ceremony, was supposedly included with the intention of lowering the runtime, but this didn’t even occur: they simply replaced the many parts of the show that actually honor the people who make movies with vapid pleas for attention. While only barely including a passing mention of this year's four lifetime achievement award winners, Samuel L. Jackson, Liv Ullman, Elaine May and Danny Glover — some of the most influential and groundbreaking icons of film history –– there was plenty of time for Amy Schumer to make a joke mistaking nominated actress Kirsten Dunst for a seat-filler.
In the same vein, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, whose “Drive My Car” won the award for Best International Film, was played off three times during his acceptance speech. But The Academy allotted Regina Hall enough time to list off all the single actors in the audience she wants to have sex with backstage, a long bit ending off with her very uncomfortably “patting down” Josh Brolin. But this shouldn’t be a surprise. “Drive My Car” was subtle, expertly thought out and artistically important, traits the Academy Awards hasn’t valued for years now.
Much of the In Memoriam section was overshadowed by a strangely exuberant dance performance in the foreground. It’s perfectly fine to honor those who have passed in a celebratory manner, but the staging of this section made it so that the people who were supposed to be remembered were placed in the background with the dancing doing nothing to direct the viewer to them.
There were also a couple of film anniversaries spread throughout the show, in another desperate attempt by the Academy to say “see, we really do care about movies!” Some of these were completely justified, like the celebration of the 50th anniversary of “The Godfather” where Francis Ford Coppola came out and said some remarks on creating one of the most important films in cinema history. But on top of that, they celebrated the 28th anniversary of “Pulp Fiction.” While not an unimportant film by any stretch, choosing to celebrate an anniversary as insignificant as its 28th suggests they don’t really care about the movie’s significance, but more that they just know that it’s a crowd pleaser and maybe they can get some more views as a result.
The entire reaction of the show has been focused on Will Smith and Chris Rock, a story that while maybe entertaining, is ultimately not worth the copious amount of time it has been given. What should be talked about is how in a ceremony that is supposed to be the ultimate celebration of the art of cinema as a whole turned into a series of uninspired jokes and desperate pleas for views. What the Academy was able to pull off this year was not just boring or hard to watch, it was disrespectful. The talented artists who won and were nominated in the categories of Documentary Short, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Score, Production Design, Animated Short, Live-Action Short and Sound were all told their work doesn’t matter by being sidelined, with only brief clips being inserted during transitions of the show. The Academy Awards are obviously no longer a celebration of film or a gathering of people sharing a love of movies. They are a self-indulgent commendation of the superficial world of Hollywood celebrities.
Film as a whole isn’t dead — movies will continue to be made and people will continue to see them. But film as art is slowly losing the battle to an industry that every year cares more about marketing and image than it does about content. The Academy is firmly standing behind, loading the cannons that will be fired against an army that stands no chance.
Finn Kirkpatrick is an arts & culture editor. He is a junior from Los Angeles, California studying Comparative Literature who likes to review movies and other things of that sort.