Moments after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on live television at the Academy Awards, comedian Rock remembered why he was on the Oscars stage and presented the documentary feature award to “Summer of Soul.”
But how he did it — by announcing director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson “and four white guys” as winners — added insult to what should have been a celebratory moment, said one of the film’s three producers, Joseph Patel, who is of South Asian descent.
“What both Will AND Chris did really stained what should have been a beautiful moment for us,” said Patel in a now-deleted Twitter thread.
Every Oscar moment that preceded or followed The Slap was, inevitably, overshadowed by The Slap — including the night’s many historic wins and the In Memoriam segment — but none was as lost in the immediate aftermath as Searchlight Pictures and Hulu’s “Summer of Soul (. .. Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised),” a feat of archival preservation documenting the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival.
“I think what Will did was selfish,” wrote Patel, an Indian American music journalist turned filmmaker. “It robbed the category of its moment. It robbed the other excellent and amazing films of their moment to be acknowledged in what was a strong year for docs. And it robbed ‘Summer of Soul’ and our team of our moment. Of a loud, enthusiastic cheer for a celebrated film.”
It was the first Oscar win for Patel, fellow producers Robert Fyvolent and David Dinerstein and director and executive producer Thompson. The Roots frontman/filmmaker nevertheless gave a moving and heartfelt speech as audiences inside the Dolby Theater and those watching at home were still abuzz and in shock about Smith’s onstage assault of Rock.
Just six years ago it was Rock, as Oscars host, who trotted three children of Asian descent onstage dressed as PriceWaterhouseCoopers accountants in a gag that drew seething criticism from the Asian American community. “They sent us their most dedicated, accurate and hard-working representatives,” Rock said in the 2016 telecast. “Please welcome Ming Zhu, Bao Ling and David Moskowitz.”
As the third South Asian winner of the night on Sunday following Riz Ahmed and Aneil Karia, who won for their live-action short “The Long Goodbye” earlier in the untelevised preshow hour, Patel said the award was particularly meaningful.
Only eight previous competitive Oscars have gone to winners of South Asian descent, he said. Two of those winners, “Slumdog Millionaire” composer AR Rahman and “Saving Face” and “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness” director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, have two Oscars each. In 1991, celebrated Indian author Satyajit Ray was awarded an honorary Oscar. Patel is the 10th individual winner of South Asian descent in Academy history.
The Times reached out to representatives for Patel and Rock but did not get a response.
Patel said on Twitter that he did not realize until after the show how Rock had announced the win with “disrespectful” comments, lumping him in as one of “four white guys” while getting the number of producers wrong and not mentioning them by name.
Rock made the same joke the night before at a pre-Oscars Roots jam at the El Rey Theatre, he said.
“The reason that makes me so so very angry is because I was so proud to be one of a handful of South Asians to have ever won an Oscar in the history of the award,” said Patel.
He added: “3 South Asians winning on the same night — that’s never happened before! And it’s meaningful! It’s history!”
The historic night capped an awards season journey that began last year at Sundance, where “Summer of Soul” won the US Documentary Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award.
The New York-based producer returned home to find the Oscars telecast recorded on his DVR “and didn’t have the stomach to watch it,” Patel tweeted. “I probably never will.”