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Commentary: Forget the slap at the Oscars. Apple's Best Picture win deserves our attention

Not content with dominating the tech industry, Apple has edged out streaming service competitors in conquering Hollywood after CODA won Best Picture, says the Financial Times' Christopher Grimes.

Commentary: Forget the slap at the Oscars. Apple's Best Picture win deserves our attention
CEO of Apple Tim Cook arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on Sunday, March 27, 2022 (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

LOS ANGELES: It was just after midnight at the lavish Vanity Fair Oscar party when Will Smith, clutching the Best Actor award that he had won a few hours earlier, made his way onto the dance floor.

Until this moment, the guests (me included) had been pretty chill about giving the party’s many A-list celebrities some space. But decorum faded when Smith arrived and a heaving circle of dancers in designer gowns and tuxedos formed around him and his entourage. 

Smartphones were thrust into the air to capture the moment. The room pulsed with energy. Smith danced his way through the crowd to DJ D-Nice, who was spinning Smith’s 1997 hit Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It at the front. They took selfies together.

This perfect Hollywood moment was marred by a raging case of cognitive dissonance. Less than four hours earlier, Smith had climbed up on stage and slapped comedian Chris Rock in front of a live audience over a lame joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s close-cropped hair, the result of an autoimmune disorder. 


As with the ovation that Smith was given when his win was announced, it was impossible to forget about the startling violence of the slap and the failure of the organisers to do anything about it.

The incident at least injected some electricity into the Oscars an element lacking in the COVID-pocked ceremony in 2021 and others before it. Unfortunately, it was the bad kind of buzz, which the Academy has been all too adept at producing in recent years.

The slap may have helped the show’s ratings bounce back from last year’s record low of 10 million, according to early results, but it was still the second-smallest audience in the history of the televised show. 

The Academy’s goal of making the Oscars more relevant hasn’t become any easier after Sunday’s performance.

Will Smith, right, hits presenter Chris Rock on stage while presenting the award for Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars on Sunday, March 27, 2022, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Yet while Smith was working the dance floor, probably the biggest winner of the night was standing out on a lawn, enjoying some quiet conversation and attracting only a modest amount of attention.


Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, had managed to win the coveted Best Picture award just three years after the company launched its streaming service, with its first-ever Oscar nominee a feat that has stunned the industry. 

Perhaps once you’ve built the world’s most sophisticated tech supply chain in China, cracking Hollywood isn’t such a big deal.

Apple’s Best Picture award for CODA, a film about the ambitions of the hearing child of deaf parents, marked the first time that a streaming service has won the top Oscar. 

Many in Hollywood had been dreading this moment, which not only signals the end of the silver screen as the essential element of cinematic art, but also the lucrative bonuses that come with big box office hauls.

CODA’s win surely stung Netflix, which has been assiduously trying to weave itself into the fabric of Hollywood under the leadership of co-chief executive Ted Sarandos. 

Sarandos heads the Academy Museum, a US$480 million collection of moviedom’s most treasured relics that opened last autumn. Many saw his appointment as the museum’s chairman as a sign that streaming’s Hollywood takeover was complete.


But Sarandos covets that Best Picture Oscar. In 2019, he waged Netflix’s first Best Picture campaign, spending an estimated US$25 million to US$30 million in what was ultimately an unsuccessful bid for Alfonso Cuaron’s, Roma

Things looked more promising this year, as Netflix had two Best Picture nominees: The Power of the Dog, which entered the competition with 12 nominations, and the political satire Don’t Look Up, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence. 

It ended the night with just one Oscar, for Jane Campion, director of The Power of the Dog.

Apple’s triumph will send a signal to the industry’s best actors, directors and other talents that the company has the nous to win them an Oscar. 

Everyone already knew it had the money – it has roughly US$200 billion on its balance sheet – but many wondered whether it had the commitment or even a strategy. That is now clear.

So while the focus of this year’s Oscars may have been on “the slap heard around the world”, a far more significant event for the future of cinema may have been overlooked. 

Cook, the man who runs the world’s most valuable company, was learning what it feels like to be a movie mogul.

Source: Financial Times/geh