LOS ANGELES — We’ll all be watching repeats of Will Smith smacking Chris Rock for as long as there are memes. It happened, we saw it, it was wild.
But as a blanquita, it’s not my lane to weigh in. I am angry about how racists are trying to say this slap proves something nefarious about Black masculinity while white men can do all sorts of terrible things and not have it reflect on the entirety of their racial group. I mean, I have yet to see the think piece on how Putin’s invasion of Ukraine means white men shouldn’t be invited into the halls of power—but that would be a fun take for these folks to make!
So let’s leave the slap alone and take a moment for the rest of the Oscars, which, like Best Picture nominee West Side Story, was well-intentioned but couldn’t deliver.
For me, the perfect encapsulation of its failing short was the rendition of “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” We’re talking about a number one song, one that we’ve been singing for months, picking favorite characters, savoring individual lines. The best part of the song for me is Mauro Castillo as Felix singing “What a joyous day but anyway” to end his bit as his wife’s sometimes-distracting color man. It’s the perfect encapsulation of a particularly Latinx storytelling tradition from the family table.
But the Oscars mangled it. They started out with the cast singing their lines in what appeared to be a faithful rendition of the fan favorite, but before hitting the chorus for the second time, we were somewhere else entirely. I love Megan Thee Stallion, but I’m not sure what she was doing there. Same for Becky G and Luis Fonsi. Why didn’t we get the actual song?
And if they were going to do a riff on it, why present it as some sort of homage to Latinx representation and our singular, break-out success this year, when it just wasn’t that? Don’t have the real cast up there for a few lines and then disrespect them but not doing their actual song—especially when it’s one so many of us in the audience know word for word. It just feels so disingenuous, a bait-and-switch. Like playing pan-Latin music in the background when Latinx winners take the stage instead of something specific to their films or their cultures (see: Puerto Rican Marc Anthony’s music playing when Colombian Encanto wins).
For the last few years, the Oscars show has been a distraction. Last year, they played with the order, putting the Best Actor award after Best Picture, apparently thinking Chadwick Boseman would win and his widow would deliver a stirring, event-ending speech. That didn’t happen and the whole thing felt like a bid to use Boseman’s tragedy for ratings. It also gave short shrift to the actual winners, failing the whole point of the Oscars to promote films.
The same goes for this year and the flawed decision to pull eight of the awards but still have the show go way over the three-hour mark. Or do you remember the year when they literally messed up the final cards, announcing La La Land as the Best Picture winner when it was really Moonlight?
The Oscars are a mess, and they’ve been that way.
But I love movies, so I want to like the Oscars. I want to write a column about how Ariana DeBose opened the night with a barrier-breaking win for queer Afro-Latinas and how Troy Kotsur did the same for the deaf community. They both gave amazing, heart-wrenching speeches that’d be great to write about.
Hell, I’d love to write about the significance of Anita, a character trapped in white ideas of Latinidad who also has to be a hyper-talented triple threat and is punished by an attempted sexual assault. Or how CODA’s win showed how far the Academy has to go to be inclusive of people who are deaf, as each CODA winner claimed the podium with a way for hearing and deaf folks to follow along, though the rest of the show didn’t follow suit.
But that’s not the conversation we’re having. Instead, we’re stuck with the slap and another failed Oscar broadcast. Maybe, it’s time to move on.
A writer and activist, Cristina Escobar is the co-founder of latinamedia.co, uplifting Latina and gender non-conforming Latinx perspectives in media. She’s a member of the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association and writes at the intersection of race, gender, and pop culture. Twitter: @cescobarandrade