Ariana DeBose wins supporting actress, Beyonce opens Oscars show
LOS ANGELES — Ariana DeBose won best supporting actress on Sunday for her role in “West Side Story” at an Academy Awards ceremony that opened with pop superstar Beyonce singing a nominated song from a tennis court.
DeBose played the spirited Anita, who sings “America” in Steven Spielberg’s remake of the classic musical.
As she held her gold statuette, the Afro-Latina actress asked the audience to imagine her as a young girl “in the back seat of a white Ford Focus.”
“You see a queer, openly queer Latina, who found her strength in life through art. And that’s what we’re here to celebrate,” she said.
“So, anybody who’s ever questioned your identity. Or find yourself living in the gray spaces, I promise you this: There is indeed a place for us,” she added, referencing the moving song from “West Side Story.”
DeBose also thanked “divine inspiration” Rita Moreno, who earned the best supporting actress award in 1962 for playing Anita in the original movie version of the musical.
Beyonce opened the show by performing “Be Alive,” an Oscar-nominated song from the movie “King Richard,” about the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. She and her backup dancers, clad in sparkling yellow gowns, performed from a tennis court in the sisters’ hometown of Compton, California.
After going three years without a host, a trio was chosen to guide Sunday’s ceremony: Amy Schumer, Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes.
“This year, the Oscars hired three women to host because it’s cheaper than hiring one man,” Schumer joked.
A dark Western, “The Power of the Dog,” is battling feel-good deaf family drama “CODA” for the prestigious best picture prize. A win by either movie would mark a milestone by handing the statuette to a streaming service.
Netflix Inc NFLX.O released “Power of the Dog” while “CODA” streamed on Apple TV+ AAPL.O.
Producers said they planned an upbeat show but will acknowledge the crisis in Ukraine, which has killed thousands and driven a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million people from their homes. Actor Mila Kunis, who was born in Ukraine, is among the night’s presenters. Jason Momoa wore a handkerchief in the colors of the Ukrainian flag: blue and yellow.
Jessica Chastain, Nicole Kidman and other nominees donned a rainbow of colors for a ceremony with 2,500 gown- and tuxedo-clad attendees and free from last year’s pandemic restrictions. Nominee Kodi Smit-McPhee wore a light blue suit, while Chastain picked a lavender and gold gown with giant ruffles on the skirt. Kirsten Dunst and Marlee Matlin chose bright red.
After past complaints about a lack of diversity, two of this year’s four acting accolades may go to people of color. Will Smith is likely to earn his first Oscar for “King Richard,” awards watchers say, as is Ariana DeBose for “West Side Story.”
In a bid to draw more viewers, especially younger ones, after years of declining ratings, the show will add two awards, the results of fan votes for favorite film and scene. Some winners were announced ahead of the live show with their speeches to be edited into the show.
The best picture race hinges on whether the 9,900 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences back a gothic psychological thriller or an uplifting story.
“Power of the Dog,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as a repressed cowboy who torments his brother’s new wife, outpaced all movies with 12 nominations. It had been considered the leader until “CODA” landed top honors from the Screen Actors Guild and Producers Guild.
“CODA” tells the story of a hearing girl who serves as interpreter for her deaf family but longs to pursue a career in music. CODA is an acronym for “child of deaf adult.”
A traditional Hollywood studio could score an upset. Awards experts give an outside shot to Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast,” a film inspired by his childhood in Northern Ireland at the onset of the sectarian conflict known as the Troubles, or Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake.
“King Richard” star Smith is the best-actor favorite for playing the determined father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams. Competitors include Cumberbatch and Andrew Garfield for musical “Tick, Tick… Boom!”
Best actress is the most unpredictable. Many experts say Chastain’s portrayal of TV evangelist Tammy Faye Bakker will triumph, though some give the edge to former “Twilight” vampire Kristen Stewart for playing Princess Diana in “Spencer.”
“CODA” star Troy Kotsur could make history as the first deaf man to win an Oscar. JB
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