- Inner Voice Artists
Where the Oscars Got It Right
By Sarah Druhan
Photo: Vanity Fair – Source
There’s never an awards show that goes completely smoothly, and out of the four main televised ones (the Emmys, Grammys, Oscars, and the Tonys) the Oscars have frequently achieved notoriety for being one of the messiest. As for why that was the case this year, it’s almost certain no one needs it explained. The Academy Awards have a history of controversy, whether it comes from victories, nominations, or unforeseen events at the ceremony itself. But at the end of the day, the Oscars are still something that film lovers and pop culture enthusiasts reluctantly turn on year after year; as much as we love to hate them, there are ultimately still parts of the notorious television
program that deserve their moment in history.
One of the high points of the 2022 Academy Awards belonged to Ariana DeBose, winner of Best Supporting Actress for her role in West Side Story. DeBose’s victory in this category wasn’t really a surprise—the fluid charm and tangible stage presence of her performance as Anita quickly made her a favorite. But it’s notable that DeBose’s acceptance of this award makes her the first openly queer woman of color to win an acting Oscar. Indeed, she was the first openly queer woman of color to be nominated for an acting award at all, and her acknowledgement of her identity and heritage during her acceptance speech was a watershed moment in visibility for the film industry.
In a sphere that seems so often to be set in its ways, that views diversity as a simple check in a box existing separately from the creation of art and cinema, DeBose chose to describe herself to the Academy first as an “openly queer woman of color, an Afro Latina who found strength in life through art.” She also attributed her award to Rita Moreno (the Anita from the original West Side Story, winner of Best Supporting Actress for the very same role) for “[paving] the way for tons of Anitas like me.” Just to see a queer Afrolatina actress win one of the most prestigious accolades on live television already meant so much to so many watching, but it was even bigger than that. DeBose made it clear that she won the Oscar not just as a queer Afrolatina woman, but that her identity was a prominent part of why she won the award at all. It’s a statement the Academy has never quite managed to grasp: that diversity is one of art’s greatest driving life forces. Without the will to seek out new perspectives, cinema loses its exciting edge. DeBose emphasized this idea in the final few moments of her speech, saying that “to anybody who has ever questioned your identity ever, ever, ever, or [who] [finds] [themselves] living in the gray spaces, I promise you this: There is indeed a place for us.”
In the mirror category to DeBose’s, another historic trail was blazed during the 2022 Oscars. Troy Kotsur, who played the father of the main character in Best Picture winner CODA, became the first deaf actor to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. The scope of this moment could be seen from the moment Troy Kotsur’s win was announced—Minari actress Youn Yuh-jung signed his name before saying it aloud, and much of the Oscars audience engaged in the American Sign Language equivalent of applause (holding hands in the air and twisting wrists back and forth) instead of audibly clapping.
Kotsur’s speech made for one of the most moving moments of the night. With tears in his eyes, he signed of his thanks to the multiple deaf theater stages that helped prepare him for a professional career in acting, and of his father, who was also deaf but lost his ability to sign after an accident that paralyzed him from the neck down. Before stepping down from the Dolby Theater stage, Kotsur dedicated his Academy award to all in the deaf community.
Kotsur’s victory and subsequent speech were historic strides forward for deaf performers and creators in the film industry. But they were also sobering markers of how basic accessibility still remains out of reach for many: the presence of an ASL interpreter onstage is a rarity in the history of the Academy Awards, and Kotsur is only the second deaf performer ever to win an acting Oscar. Troy Kotsur and the other moments in the night in which CODA took the stage—later to accept the award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and then finally for the coveted Best Picture win—highlighted how much we stand to gain from making the arts more accessible, and makes us wonder how many beautiful stories have been missed because they just weren’t able to reach a visible platform.
Additionally, though, this year the Academy hired certified deaf interpreters to sign to those in the front row and to be streamed in a live feed to tablets for those who could not see up close. This feed could also be seen by viewers on both the Oscars’ official website and its YouTube channel. The nominations of both CODA and Troy Kotsur this year ushered in a new attitude toward accessibility and a determination to ensure that for the first time, as many people as possible could watch the ceremony regardless of their hearing abilities.
The Oscars undoubtedly had a lot of misses this year—cutting crucial moments for categories like Score, Sound, and Production Design in favor of Twitter-voted ‘Fan Favorites’ and widely unseen shots of Ezra Miller’s The Flash entering ‘speed force’—but victories like Ariana DeBose’s and Troy Kotsur’s demonstrate historic strides and an increasing attention to detail on the part of the Academy. The night’s famous controversies are likely to be what most are talking about, but it’s important to acknowledge this: while they’re known mostly for their slipups, sometimes, the Oscars do get it right.