This year’s Oscars began with plenty of controversy — with eight of the 23 categories being presented off-air for the first time and heated debate about how the war in Ukraine should be featured. And it ended with one of the most shocking moments in Academy Awards history, when Will Smith took the stage and slapped presenter Chris Rock.
While the show included its fair share of unforgettable moments, for better and much worse, few involved wins for the many queer-inclusive films nominated for Oscars this year.
Despite “The Power of the Dog” being the most nominated film of the evening, it took home a single statue, to Jane Campion for best director. The second-most nominated film, “Dune,” swept the craft categories, beating out "The Power of the Dog," a gay-themed Western, multiple times and ending the night with six wins.
“Flee,” which made history with a trifecta of nominations, left the awards empty-handed. The animated documentary about a gay Afghani refugee’s difficult road to starting over in Denmark was beaten out for best animated feature by “Encanto”; for best documentary feature by “Summer of Soul”; and for best international film by “Drive My Car."
Elsewhere, queer actor Kristen Stewart, nominated for “Spencer,” and Penelope Cruz, nominated for her role opposite Milena Smit in Pedro Almodóvar’s sapphic romance “Parallel Mothers,” were passed over for best actress. “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” starring Abbi Jacobson as the openly LGBTQ daughter of a dysfunctional family caught up in a robot apocalypse, joined “Flee” in losing out for best animated feature. And Kirsten Dunst ends another award season without an Oscar, after being nominated for best supporting actress in “The Power of the Dog.”
Despite the disappointing showing at the podium, queer culture still left its mark on the evening, from the red carpet to the awards stage. Here are the most notable queer moments from an Oscars ceremony that won’t soon be forgotten.
A power suit redefines the Oscars red carpet
While Kristen Stewart didn’t take home a best actress Oscar for Pablo Larraín’s Princess Diana biopic “Spencer,” she had arguably the best night of any queer actor at the awards.
Although she was hardly the favorite to win, the first-time nominee whipped up fervent fan support in the run-up to the awards. And, on the red carpet, she gave a masterclass in lesbian-approved formal wear. Accompanied by her fiancée, Dylan Meyer, Stewart arrived at the awards wearing a Chanel custom suit, which included cropped shorts and a diamond and spinel drop necklace in place of a tie.
In one fell swoop, Stewart and Meyer obliterated the Oscars’ sartorial conventions, which are still defined by gowns and old Hollywood glamor.
Co-hosts take on anti-LGBTQ legislation
After three years without a host, the 94th Academy Awards recruited Wanda Sykes, Regina Hall and Amy Schumer to lead the ceremony. The comedic actors stole the show from the opening monologue, delivering the night’s best one-liners and most pointed political commentary.
In the opener, Sykes, an out lesbian who attended the awards with her wife, kicked off the hosts’ recurring commentary about recent anti-LGBTQ legislation in Florida and Texas:
“We’re going to have a great night tonight. And for you people in Florida, we’re going to have a gay night.”
This prompted her fellow hosts to chant “gay,” in defiance of Florida’s controversial Parental Rights in Education bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by its critics, which Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law on Monday.
Despite a notoriously difficult gig, during a particularly unfunny time, every moment that the hosts were on stage was a welcome one. Sykes, Hall and Schumer dazzled together and solo, landing jokes and refusing to pull punches, going after celebrities and politicians in equal turn.
Ariana DeBose makes queer acting history
Ariana DeBose made history by winning best supporting actress for “West Side Story,” becoming the first openly queer woman of color and the first Afro Latina to win an Academy Award for acting. DeBose, who plays Anita in Steven Spielberg’s remake of the original 1961 film, follows in the footsteps of Rita Moreno, who became the first Latina Oscar winner for the same role.
During her moving acceptance speech, in which she thanked Moreno for paving the way, DeBose delivered a message directed at her younger self: “When you look into her eyes, you see an openly queer woman of color, an Afro Latina, who found her strength in life through art. And that’s what I believe we’re here to celebrate.”
“So to anybody who’s ever questioned your identity ever, ever, ever or you find yourself living in the gray spaces, I promise you this: There is indeed a place for us,” she added.
DeBose, who was the clear favorite going into the evening, took home the only award for “West Side Story.”
Elliot Page reunites with 'Juno' cast
Fifteen years after “Juno” was released in theaters, Elliot Page reunited with co-stars J. K. Simmons and Jennifer Garner on the Oscars stage. The trio presented the award for best original screenplay, which went to Kenneth Branagh for “Belfast,” the director’s semi-autobiographical film about his childhood in Northern Ireland.
The reunion marked the 15th anniversary of “Juno,” which earned Page an acting nomination in 2007. Page, who came out as transgender in 2020, remains one of the few openly queer actors to ever be nominated for an Oscar.
'The Power of the Dog' makes it to the podium
Going into the evening, the film about a sexually repressed Montana rancher, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, was likened to “Moonlight,” which took home best picture in 2017.
But after a stunning 12 nominations, “The Power of the Dog” went home with only one Oscar. It was ultimately beat out by “CODA” for best picture and by “Dune” in many of the other categories, including best cinematography, sound, editing and score.
Campion, the only woman to be nominated twice for best director, became the third woman to win. (Chloe Zhao won last year for “Nomadland,” and Kathryn Bigelow won in 2010 for “Hurt Locker.")
In her acceptance speech, Campion thanked Thomas Savage, who wrote the 1967 novel that the film is based on: “It would be impossible without the man I never met, Thomas Savage. He wrote about cruelty, wanting the opposite, kindness.”
Jessica Chastain addresses LGBTQ issues
The producer and star of “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” was the clear front-runner for best actress going into the evening, following her success at the Critics' Choice and Screen Actor Guild awards. But, despite having given plenty of acceptance speeches this year, Chastain took her first Oscar win as an opportunity to deliver arguably the evening’s most powerful remarks.
Holding her award, Chastain talked about suicide prevention and queer rights, referring to recent anti-LGBTQ state bills.
“Right now, we are coming out of some difficult times that have been filled with a lot of trauma and isolation, and so many people out there feel hopelessness and they feel alone,” Chastain said. “And suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States. It’s touched many families; it’s touched mine, and especially members of the LGBTQ community, who oftentimes feel out of place with their peers.”
“We’re faced with discriminatory and bigoted legislation that is sweeping our country with the only goal of further dividing us, “ she continued. “There’s violence and hate crimes being perpetuated on innocent civilians all over the world.”
She then touched on how she was inspired by Tammy Faye’s “radical acts of love,” referring to the evangelist’s allyship in the wake of her 1985 interview with a gay Christian pastor living with AIDS. (The interview features heavily in the film, which Chastain spent 10 years developing.)
“For any of you out there who do in fact feel hopeless or alone, I just want you to know that you are unconditionally loved for the uniqueness that is you,” she said.
A queer icon presents the evening’s highest honor
Escorted by Lady Gaga, entertainment legend Liza Minnelli presented the award for best picture, which went to “CODA,” a drama centering on a largely deaf family and their hearing daughter. Minnelli’s appearance marked the 50th anniversary of the film that won her a best actress Oscar, the musical “Cabaret.”
For Minnelli, the daughter of the legendary Judy Garland, Bob Fosse’s 1972 film about a Weimar Republic-era love triangle, involving Minelli and two men, represented a milestone that famously alluded Garland: an Oscar win.
“Cabaret” solidified Minnelli's status as a bonafide queer icon, akin to Garland’s own popularity among gay audiences. And later, after losing friends early on in the AIDS epidemic, Minnelli became a vocal activist for LGBTQ rights and visibility.
The tender exchange between Minnelli and Gaga was a welcome salve as the sometimes painful evening came to a close. After a 76-year-old Minnelli, sitting in a wheelchair, received a standing ovation, Gaga leaned down to her and said, “You see that? The public, they love you.”
“You know how I love working with legends,” Gaga continued, turning her attention to the crowd, while holding on to Minnelli’s hand. “And I’m honored to present the final award of the evening with a true show business legend.”