Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Monumental milestones made at this year’s Oscars overshadowed by Will Smith altercation

Ariana DeBose and Troy Kotsur make cinema history
Photo Courtesy of Ariana Debose’s Instagram

The unexpected scuffle between Oscar winning “Best Actor” Will Smith and co-host Chris Rock at the 94th Academy Awards this past Sunday, March 27, has everyone talking. Smith’s outburst occurred immediately after Rock made an insensitive comment about Smith’s wife appearing to mock the fact that she has alopecia, leaving the audience completely shocked. Because this incident has received more media coverage than anything else that happened that evening, some historical wins have been swept under the rug.

Apart from all the commotion, this year’s Oscars had many memorable moments. The sci-fi adaptation of the 1965 novel, “Dune,” took home six trophies, rounding up the most wins of any motion picture this year. Performances by Beyoncé, the sibling duo Billie Eilish and FINNEAS and a remix of the catchy tune “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” from Disney’s “Encanto” delighted fans, reminding them how music continued to shape our lives even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most importantly, wins from Troy Kotsur and Ariana DeBose have proven that we’ve continued to make strides toward a more accepting community in the film industry. Kotsur won his first Academy Award, “Best Supporting Actor,” for his role as the father of a deaf family in Apple TV’s “CODA.” The actor himself was born without hearing, making history as the second deaf person to ever win an Oscar. His acceptance speech highlighted the Academy, his fellow cast members and, more specifically, his director.

“Sian Heder, you are the best communicator,” Kotsur said in his speech. “And the reason why is you brought the deaf world and the hearing world together, and you are our bridge, and your name will forever be on that bridge.”

Not only did “CODA” claim a victory for “Best Supporting Actor,” but it also took home the night’s biggest award: “Best Picture.” While streaming services such as Apple TV are fairly new to the entertainment industry, they’ve recently proven to be significant contenders in terms of winning awards. This represents a breakthrough not only for Apple TV but also for the deaf community.

Fellow Oscar winner Ariana DeBose acknowledged this history-making moment in an Instagram caption: “‘CODA’ is the first film with a predominantly Deaf cast to win Best Picture!” DeBose said. “[Troy Kotsur] is the first Deaf male actor to win an Oscar!”

DeBose’s win for “Best Supporting Actress” in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of “West Side Story” also made history, as she became the first openly queer woman of color ever to win an Academy Award.

Coincidentally, DeBose is the second Latina to win this award, followed by Rita Moreno who won for the same exact role in the 1961 version of “West Side Story.” DeBose mentioned Moreno in her speech, thanking her for shaping the role of her character Anita.

“Imagine this little girl in the backseat of a white Ford Focus. Look into her eyes. You see a queer — openly queer — woman of color and Afro Latina who found her strength in life through art, and that’s what I believe we’re here to celebrate,” DeBose said during her acceptance speech.

Whether you tuned into the Oscars when it aired live or first heard about it online, it is apparent that the awards show drew more viewers in by broadcasting the Smith-Rock incident, rather than focusing on the milestones set by Academy Award winners. Regardless, Ariana DeBose and Troy Kotsur have inspired a future generation of entertainers by showcasing how their hard work and resilience have paid off.

DeBose perfectly summed up what this year’s Academy Awards truly meant. “To anybody who has ever questioned your identity ever, ever, ever, or you find yourself living in the gray spaces, I promise you this: there is, indeed, a place for us.”

Julia King can be reached at [email protected].

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