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Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on stage after the comedian made a joke about his wife.
Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on stage after the comedian made a joke about his wife. Smith later received the best actor award for his role in the film, "King Richard." Courtesy photo
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Oscars: ‘CODA’ takes best picture, Will Smith slaps Chris Rock

HOLLYWOOD — In an Academy Awards ceremony that will be remembered as much for Will Smith storming the stage and slapping presenter Chris Rock as it will be for Smith winning best actor honors later in the broadcast, “CODA” captured the big prize of best picture.

An emotional drama about the talented daughter of deaf parents deciding whether to pursue her singing-career dream or remain with the family fishing business, “CODA” won in all three categories in which it was nominated — also capturing trophies for best supporting actor, Troy Kotsur, and for best adapted screenplay, to Sian Heder.

Other major winners Sunday included Jessica Chastain for best actress in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” Smith for best actor in “King Richard,” Jane Campion for best director for “The Power of the Dog” and Ariana DeBose for best supporting actress for “West Side Story.

The sci-fi epic “Dune” collected the most Oscars on the night — six — in largely technical categories, along with a win for best score for Hans Zimmer.

But the Smith-Rock confrontation overshadowed the evening’s winners.

Rock, while presenting the nominees for best documentary feature, made a joke about Smith’s wife, actress Jada Pinkett Smith — referencing her bald head and suggesting she would be starring in a “G.I. Jane” sequel. Pinkett Smith has talked in the past about having a hair-loss condition, and Will Smith took offense to the remark.

After the joke, Smith walked onto the stage and smacked Rock in the face, in a move that initially drew laughs from the crowd — until it became obvious it was no joke.

Smith walked back to his seat, but screamed at Rock twice, telling him to “keep my wife’s name out of your (expletive) mouth.”

Later, in accepting the best actor award for his role as Venus and Serena Williams’ father in “King Richard,” an emotional Smith apologized — although not to Rock.

“Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family,” Smith said, tears streaming down his face. “… I want to apologize to the Academy. I want to apologize to my fellow nominees.”

He later said, “I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams. … Love will make you do crazy things.”

Smith never mentioned Rock in his acceptance speech, which he ended by saying, “Hopefully the Academy invites me back.”

Smith said fellow best-actor nominee Denzel Washington had given him some appropriate words: “Denzel said to me at your highest moment be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”

Smith did not speak to reporters in the backstage press room after his Oscar win.

After the show ended, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences posted on its Twitter page, “The Academy does not condone violence of any form. Tonight we are delighted to celebrate our 94th Academy Awards winners, who deserve this moment of recognition from their peers and movie lovers around the world.”

The Los Angeles Police Department issued a statement saying that Rock had declined to pursue any charges against Smith.

“LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” according to the department. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”

Awards

A year after COVID-19 forced the Academy Award ceremonies to be scaled back and relocated to downtown’s Union Station, these 94th Oscars returned to their traditional glittery script — once again at the Dolby Theatre, once again in a host format, and featuring a raft of presenters and performers that organizers hoped would boost the broadcast’s down-trending TV ratings.

The Oscars had been without a host for the past three years, but this year’s telecast on ABC featured three — Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes — each hosting an Oscar ceremony for the first time.

“This year the Oscars hired three women to host because it’s cheaper than hiring one man,” Schumer quipped during the show’s opening monologue.

The Academy also scored what it hoped would be a ratings-grabbing star, with Beyoncé among the musicians performing this year’s nominees for best original song.

In fact, Beyoncé opened the broadcast by performing “Be Alive,” which she co-wrote for “King Richard” — and her song was introduced by Venus and Serena Williams, characters in the movie that focused on their father, Richard.

The best song Oscar wound up going to Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas, who performed their song “No Time to Die,” the title track for the James Bond film of the same name.

The first Oscar awarded during the broadcast went to DeBose, for best supporting actress in “West Side Story” — making her the first openly queer woman of color to win an Academy Award.

“Imagine this little girl in the back seat of a white Ford Focus. Look into her eyes, you see an openly queer woman of color, an Afro-Latina who found her strength in life through art,” DeBose said, her voice shaking with emotion.

Kotsur’s best supporting actor award made him the first deaf man, and second deaf performer, to win an Academy Award. Marlee Matlin, his co-star in “CODA” — an acronym for “Child of Deaf Adult(s)” — won for best actress in 1987’s “Children of a Lesser God.”

Kotsur delivered his acceptance speech in sign language, with an offstage announcer narrating his words — and when he finished, many in the Dolby audience signed their applause by “clapping” silently, their hands making a waving motion but not coming together.

“It’s really amazing that our film CODA has reached out worldwide, and even reached all the way to the White House,” Kotsur said. “They invited the cast to CODA to visit and have a tour of the White House. We met a president, Joe, and Dr. Jill. I was planning on teaching them some dirty sign language, but Marlee Matlin told me to behave myself. So don’t worry, Marlee, I won’t drop any F-bombs in my speech today.”

Then Kotsur turned serious, saying, “My dad, he was the best signer in our family. 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.

“…This is dedicated to the deaf community, the CODA community and the disabled community. This is our moment.”

In accepting the best picture award, “CODA” producer Philippe Rousselet, surrounded by cast members and fellow producers, said, “Thank you to the Academy for letting our ‘CODA’ make history tonight.”

Campion, meanwhile, entered the evening having already made Oscar history as the first woman filmmaker to garner two best director nominations, following her 1994 nod for “The Piano.”

The New Zealander made some more history when she captured the best director trophy — becoming only the third woman to win the director’s prize after Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) last year and Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) in 2010.

“The Power of the Dog” entered Sunday’s ceremonies with a leading 12 nominations, but took home just Campion’s best director honor.

Chastain, who won her first Oscar following two earlier nominations, accepted her best actress award by saying, “Right now we are coming out of some difficult times that have filled with a lot of trauma and isolation. So many people out there feel hopelessness, and they feel alone.

“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 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 iz 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. … And I’m inspired by her compassion.”

The ceremony featured two tributes to historic movie milestones — the 60th anniversary of the first James Bond picture, and the 50th anniversary of the first film in “The Godfather” trilogy.

“Godfather” director Francis Ford Coppola was joined on stage by actors Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. In brief remarks, Coppola acknowledged his “most extraordinary collaborators … many of them legends,” but singled out two — Mario Puzo, the late author of “The Godfather” novel, and the late Robert Evans, the former head of Paramount, who shepherded the movie to the screen.

Besides the Smith-Rock dust-up, the ceremonies featured another controversy, as the broadcast’s producers — looking to streamline the show — decided that eight awards would be presented prior to the actual telecast. Those categories were documentary short subject, film editing, makeup/hairstyling, original score, production design, animated short film, live action short film and sound.

The way it played out, those pre-show awards gave “Dune” four early wins — original score for Hans Zimmer; film editing for Joe Walker; production design for Patrice Vermette and Zsuzsanna Sipos; and sound for Mac Ruth, Mark Mangini, Theo Green, Doug Hemphill and Ron Bartlett.

Meanwhile, the award for best makeup and hairstyling went to “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” while “The Queen of Basketball” won for best documentary short subject, “The Windshield Wiper” for best animated short film and “The Long Goodbye” for best live action short film.

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