Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, Joseph Patel, Robert Fyvolent and David Dinerstein accept the Oscar® for Documentary Feature during the live ABC telecast of the 94th Oscars® at the Dolby Theatre at Ovation Hollywood in Los Angeles, CA, on Sunday, March 27, 2022.| Photo by Kyusung Gong / A.M.P.A.S.

Summer of Soul, Queen of Basketball Win Doc Oscars

Events overshadowed by the slap heard around the world

9 mins read

Not since Michael Moore called shame on President George W. Bush has the Academy Awards announcement for Best Documentary Feature inspired such a viral moment. In the slap heard around the world, audiences witnessed a full-on assault when Chris Rock took the stage to present the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. After making the expected jokes about the educational value of documentaries—“It’s like reading a book!”—Rock took the night in an unexpected direction. He roasted attendee Jada Pinkett Smith, noting his excitement for G.I. Jane 2 in reference to the actress’s shaved head. Pinkett Smith, who revealed in 2018 that she has alopecia, shaved her head to take control over her hair loss.


The comment prompted her husband, Will Smith, to strut up on stage and slap Rock. In unedited versions of the altercation, Smith then yelled at Rock twice after returning to his seat. A stunned Rock then composed himself and presented the award. However, the one-two punch of the tasteless joke and the altercation transformed a relatively smooth and mostly enjoyable ceremony into the most bizarre Oscars broadcast since Envelopegate in 2017.


The Doc Oscars

The award, when finally presented, went to Summer of Soul as expected. Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson accepted the Academy Award for his feature debut along with producers Joseph Patel, Robert Fyvolent, and David Dinerstein. The director gave an emotional speech about the relevance of seeing the summer of 1969 through the lens of the tumultuous events of 2020 during which the film was made. Summer of Soul resurrected footage of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival and invited people who attended the concert to revisit a touchstone event that was ignored in the shadow of Woodstock. The Smith/Rock outburst, however, similarly overshadowed the moment. While Summer of Soul took the stage, the mention of the other nominees probably didn’t even register for many folks at home wondering in disbelief about what transpired.


Oscar’s other documentary prize also went to the tipped frontrunner as Ben Proudfoot won for The Queen of Basketball. The Nova Scotia native was among the first winners to receive his Oscar during the one-hour ceremony in which eight categories were presented prior to showtime. While accepting the Oscar for Best Documentary, Short Subject, Proudfoot paid tribute to his late subject, Luisa ‘Lucy’ Harris, who broke barriers as a Black woman in basketball. Harris’s children were in attendance at the ceremony. Proudfoot also finished his speech by calling upon U.S. President Joe Biden to “bring Brittney Griner home.” The American basketball star was detained in Russia last month on drug charges and has been incarcerated amid strained diplomatic relations between the USA and Russia as the war in Ukraine escalates.


Proudfoot’s speech was one of the more candid and positive moments that the Oscars should favour. Instead, the Academy’s controversial decision to award eight categories early left fans glued to the Twitter feed in the hour preceding the broadcast. Fans had to rely on Variety to report the winners, as even the Academy’s social feed was dormant during the pre-show. By the time an edited clip of Proudfoot’s win finally aired during the broadcast, bits and pieces had been noted by viewers online. The edited presentation of the shorts categories and technical honours proved one hiccup in the show, second only to Smith’s outburst. These edited segments were presented awkwardly and did little to shave time off the broadcast by robbing the winners, and the people who helped them on their respective films, of the candid moments walking up to the stage and reacting to their success. Watch The Queen of Basketball below:

Chastain Triumphs, Dune Dominates

On the documentary front, triple nominee Flee went home empty handed. As expected, it lost Best International Feature to Japan’s Drive My Car, who barely got to speak before getting the music cue to wrap up. The prize for Best Animated Feature went to Encanto, which received numerous shout-outs from the hosts during the show in an effort to appease broadcaster ABC and its parent company Disney. A live performance of the Encanto number “We Need to Talk About Bruno,” which wasn’t even submitted for Best Original Song, was among the unnecessary elements for which winners like Proudfoot were treated as second class by the Academy.

Jessica Chastain won Best Actress for her performance in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, based on the documentary of the same name. Chastain helped the Oscars recover from the tension in the room after a tearful Will Smith won Best Actor for King Richard and apologized to the Academy and his co-stars. As Chastain thanked her cast and crew, she channelled the spirit of Tammy Faye by putting her platform to good use and speaking against the rise of anti-LGBTQ legislation in the USA. “For any of you out there who do in fact feel hopeless or alone, you are unconditionally loved for the uniqueness that is you,” she said.

Canadian talents, meanwhile, had a good night thanks to the strong showing for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. The sci-fi blockbuster was the most awarded film of the night with six Oscar wins, including one for Montreal’s Patrice Vermette for Best Production Design.

Streamers Make History

The big winner of the night was Sîan Heder’s family drama CODA, which scored three Oscars including Best Picture. The win proved historic for the prominence of deaf actors in the film, including Best Supporting Actor winner Troy Kotsur. CODA’s win also marked the first Best Picture winner for a streamer as Apple mounted a stealthy campaign that peaked at just the right moment after most pundits had written it off as a longshot. The win for CODA, moreover, proved that films could launch successfully in a virtual festival environment if they allow both public audiences and press and industry to respond to them. CODA premiered at the all-virtual 2021 edition of Sundance against Summer of Soul on the festival’s opening night. Both films won the Grand Jury Prizes and Audience Awards in the American competitions to kickstart their campaigns.

It was a bittersweet night for the industry’s other streaming giant, Netflix, whose drama The Power of the Dog netted just one award. It won Best Director for Jane Campion, making her the third woman to take the prize. Her auteurist western was the most nominated film of the evening and a heavy favourite leading into the home stretch.

The 94th Oscars were a historic night and one that will go down in infamy, but nevertheless slapped pretty hard.


Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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