If you were expecting to escape the Oscars with dry eyes, we’re sorry to say that you definitely didn’t make it out unscathed. Within the first few moments of the 95th Academy Awards, winners like Everything Everywhere All At Once stars Ke Huy Quan and Jamie Lee Curtis (picking up their awards for Best Supporting Actor and Actress, respectively) had celebs at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood tearing up, and viewers at home absolutely bawling their eyes out with their wins and emotional speeches. In their acceptance speeches, both Curtis and Quan thanked their respective support systems and castmates. "I know it looks like I am standing up here by myself, but I am not. I am hundreds of people ... we just won an Oscar," Curtis said. “Mom, I just won an Oscar!” Quan exclaimed. Presenting the award for Best Documentary shortly after, Riz Ahmed even said, “It’s an emotional year.” And that was only four awards into the night.
But we shouldn’t be all that surprised that the throughline of this year’s ceremony was just how emotional — and arguably more impactful — it was. Because for the first time in many years, these wins *feel* impactful because they’re not just going to the same faces we see year after year, meaning there are individuals and communities who don’t typically see themselves represented in these spaces seeing that very thing.
Unlike in previous years, there were new faces in the nominee pool with 16 first-time acting nominees up for awards. This included Austin Butler, Paul Mescal, and Stephanie Hsu, as well as industry vets like Jamie Lee Curtis, Angela Bassett, Hong Chau, Ke Huy Quan, and of course, Michelle Yeoh. Speaking to Vanessa Hudgens on the champagne carpet ahead of the show, last year’s Best Supporting Actress winner Ariana DeBose talked about the importance and indication of having “new blood” in the nominee pool, saying. “There’s a new way of doing things and the Academy seems to be incredibly receptive of that,” DeBose said, “and that gives me hope.”
And, despite how some people may feel about award shows overall (that they’re overrated and out of touch), this hope and recognition on the international stage is pretty big, as an acknowledgement of these actors, and the diverse — often overlooked— experiences of the communities they’re representing. It’s a reality that isn’t lost on the nominees and some of the eventual winners themselves. Speaking to Refinery29 ahead of the April 2022 release of Everything Everywhere, Yeoh acknowledged just how important it was to see Evelyn Wang, a middle class Chinese American woman centered in a blockbuster film: “Evelyn has a voice that needs to be heard,” Yeoh said. “She's a very ordinary housewife, immigrant, mother who's trying her very best to survive, trying to ensure this American dream that she had so many years ago was not going to just shatter into pieces, and trying to do her taxes on top of all that.”
It’s a familiar story to many immigrants, something Refinery29 contributor Olivia Truffaut-Wong spoke to in a tweet after EEAAO’s win for Best Picture. “A movie about an Asian American immigrant family won Best Picture. A movie that is about mothers and daughters. A movie that is about people we know, people we are. I feel so full.” And the impact of seeing these wins on screen, like Tollywood film RRR taking home Best Song for “Naatu Naatu,” is immense. It’s the same feeling you get watching a thoughtful and nuanced depiction of substance abuse when you love someone going through addiction, or when you hear a Bollywood song you loved growing up featured on one of Netflix’s biggest (and steamiest) shows. The feeling that your personal experience is worthy, valid, and more than that, seen.
And for the actors themselves, these moments are equally as big. Among the new batch of nominees were stories of both long deserved — and long underrated — talent who never thought they’d see themselves in Hollywood, let alone winning its highest awards — meaning these are literally dreams come true. And long overdue. Everything Everywhere’s Ke Huy Quan, who swept awards season after a storymaking comeback, first got his start almost 40 years ago as a child actor alongside Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, before moving behind the camera due to a lack of roles. In his acceptance speech, he thanked his mom for her sacrifice and support and talked about what a dream this moment was. “My journey started on a boat. I spent a year in a refugee camp. And somehow, I ended up here on Hollywood’s biggest stage. They say stories like this only happen in the movies. I cannot believe it’s happening. This — this is the American dream.” Who wouldn’t get emotional over that?
Which isn’t to say that there weren’t some (or many) misses. First in the nominations, that found standouts like Viola Davis and Till’s Danielle Deadwyler snubbed, or the Best Director category that overlooked women as a whole, then during the actual show itself. While we know not everyone can take home the awards, that doesn’t mean you couldn’t be anything less than heartbroken watching Best Supporting Actress nominee Angela Bassett’s face fall when she lost out to Curtis, or feel some type of way when Stephanie Hsu was once again overlooked for her star-making turn as Joy Wang in Everything Everywhere (that final scene in the parking lot should have sealed every single award for her this season). For some in the industry, the awards and their seemingly manufactured bid for emotional moments diminished the actual historical impact of the show. And, of course, there were one too many (ie: anything more than zero) jokes about last year’s slap incident.
There is still work to be done, especially when it comes to representation and parity in the industry. While a 2022 Hollywood Diversity Report from UCLA found that women and people of color had proportional representation among film leads, recent research from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that the number was down from 2021, and below the U.S. Census, meaning what and who are on screen don’t necessarily match the makeup of the country. (It should be noted that across the top 100 movies in 2022 16 featured a woman of color as a lead or co-lead, above 2021). But despite these missteps, there’s a renewed sense of hope and an excitement and electricity not felt during recent award seasons. These wins and the latest class of nominees show just how impactful art can truly be when Hollywood gives those from outside the status quo the opportunity to share their stories. Not only is it emotionally rewarding, but it also just makes for a great awards show. And, a real tearjerker of a Sunday night.