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Post-Oscar thoughts from Tonya Mantooth

While the slap seen around the world is at the top of everyone’s post Oscar conversations, what we should be talking about is how monumental the wins were this year at the 94th Academy Awards.  There were so many firsts, and it is heartbreaking that they are being buried in the understandable media frenzy of what transpired on stage that night.

Here are my thoughts on why this year was a powerful year for women, the deaf community, POC, LGBTQ+ and the underdog.

BEST FILM:  CODA

CODA was an underdog story that garnered early accolades when it premiered at Sundance in January.  CODA is a tender and heartfelt film that focuses on a daughter of deaf parents who works an extra job to support her family.  What better way to tell the story of inclusion then to make it a mainstream topic.  While its popularity ebbed and flowed, which is typical during the awards season, after its Best Ensemble Award at the SAG Awards it was clear that it had momentum.  The questions that came to my mind was would the Academy fully embrace a film without the star power of the other contenders – Director Stephen Spielberg, West Side Story;  Director Kenneth Branagh, Belfast; Benedict Cumberbach, Kristen Stewart, Power of the Dog; Will Smith, King Richard; Bradley Cooper, Nightmare Alley; Timothée Chalamet, Javier Bardem, Dune.  More importantly would they vote for Best Picture for a film that went straight to streaming (Apple+).  Many felt that that was the reason ROMA didn’t win several years ago.  Clearly the academy voters voted with their heart and elevated a small indie film about a deaf family into the Hollywood spotlight and it is well deserved.

BEST DIRECTOR:  Jane Campion:  Power of the Dog

Jane Campion has been leading the pack for Best Director this year.  She took the Best Director and Best Picture award at the DGA (Director’s Guild Awards) which is a strong indicator.  This win is monumental since she is only the 3rd female to win best director. For a point of reference this is the 94th Academy Awards.  Also the director of photography for Power of the Dog, Ari Wegner was the second woman ever nominated for Best Cinematography.  This is a huge celebration for women in the industry.

It should be noted that the DGA (Director’s Guild Awards) gave Best 1st time Director to Maggie Gyllenhaal for her directorial debut of “Lost Daughter”.  The combination of Jane Campion and Maggie Gyllenhaal, at different chapters in their respective careers, doesn’t just break the glass ceiling but rather rolls out a new landscape for female filmmakers in the industry.

 BEST ACTOR:  Will Smith:  King Richard

It’s unfortunate that the circumstances of the evening rolled out as they did.  Will Smith has been one of the hardest working individuals in the industry – both as an actor and a producer.  He has built a stellar acting career over 3 decades and his win would have put him as the 5th African American actor to win best actor.  The award was well deserved but unfortunately no one is talking about that.

BEST ACTRESS:  Jessica Chastain:  Eyes of Tammy Faye

All of the actresses in this category deserved to win:  Penelope Cruz, Parallel Mothers; Olivia Colman, The Lost Daughter; Nicole Kidman, Being the Ricardos; Kristen Stewart, Spencer.  Jessica Chastain’s career has been and continues to be remarkable, A Most Violent Year, Zero Dark Thirty, Molly’s Game to name a few.  I felt that with this stellar performance it was time for the academy to recognize her decades of achievement.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:  Troy Kotsur: Coda

Troy Kotsur is the second deaf actor to receive an Academy Award for his role of Frank Rossi in CODA.  What is even more amazing is that the first deaf actor to receive an Oscar was Marlee Matlin who also starred in CODA.  That makes the full circle that much more meaningful.  Not only was his performance nuanced and touching, it is a major step towards Hollywood embracing stories about adults who may not fit the traditional mainstream characters.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:  Ariana Debose:  West Side Story

Ariana Debose’s win is significant on several levels.  Ariana is the second Latina to win an Oscar, the first being Rita Moreno who also won for playing the same role, Maria from West Side Story.  Ariana is also the first openly queer woman of color to win an Academy Award.

Congratulations to all of the stellar accomplishments that continue to move us forward.