The 6 Best Speeches From The 2022 Oscars

To their credit, the Academy sort of understands why people tune into the Oscars: this isn't the kind of show you watch in full the next day, it's something you wanna live through in the moment. And so every year, they try to draw people in by manufacturing a few viral, can't-miss-moments through performances and — shudder — comedy bits. Sometimes that moment comes when everyone least expects it, but more often than not, the best of the night happens when Hollywood's best and brightest take to the stage to remind us what we knew all along: it's the speeches. It's always the speeches,

Nothing brings meaning back to this silly awards show like seeing someone celebrate a pivotal moment in their career. We can say what we must about the Academy Awards — i.e. make fun of this show until the end of time — but if the past few hours on the internet have taught us anything, it's that this show has a place at the center of cultural conversation. Winning one of those little gold men isn't nothing and for many, being accepted and lifted up by their peers for the fruits of their labors is galvanizing. From those wins, we get the moments most worth revisiting. However much the numbers dwindle, the speeches go on to be immortalized, whether by the internet, the celebs in the room, or a single viewer, who sees someone like them take home a trophy and comes to understand the glittering appeal of Hollywood. 

Last night's show included a fair number of historic wins, and even though the Academy opted to cut some short, this meant many speeches that hit close to heart. In case you missed them or find yourself with few takeaways from the otherwise, ahem, smooth-sailing ceremony, here are a few key speeches worth revisiting.

Ariana DeBose took home Best Supporting Actress

Ariana DeBose took home the first award of the night and helped us all forget the horrors of the opening monologue by speaking from the heart. In true theater kid fashion, DeBose made herself a very difficult act to follow by opening the night with the very best of what an acceptance speech can be — a love letter to the power of art:

"Imagine this little girl in the back seat of a white Ford Focus, 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 is, I think, what we're here to celebrate."

Wearing her heart on her sleeve the whole time, she thanked everyone from Steven Spielberg to her mother, even carving out a moment to speak directly to Rita Moreno, who originated the very role she just won for. This has been a long and arduous awards season during which many of us have endured the lead-up to this show with immense pessimism, so it was heartening to begin with DeBose brining us back to a place of joy. At the end, she dedicated her win "to anybody who has ever questioned your identity" or "living in the gray spaces," and added "I promise you this — there is indeed a place for us."

Riz Ahmed wins his first Oscar

Among the many awards that the Academy deemed less important than Amy Schumer's Spider-Man bit was Best Live Action short, which marked the first win for Riz Ahmed. This win was among the eight Academy awards that were unceremoniously announced via Twitter, then sprinkled into the broadcast throughout —saving time at the expense of cutting short their much deserved victories. Ahmed's speech was injected into the show in one of those blink-and-you-miss-it moments, but even so, it was one of the more memorable wins of the night. The beloved "Sound of Metal" actor became the first Muslim to win an Oscar in Live Action Short category and made the most of his stage time with a heartfelt speech, saying: 

"This is for everyone who feels like they don't belong. Everyone who feels like they're stuck in No Man's Land. You're not alone. We'll meet you there."

Best Supporting Actor Troy Kotsur made us cry

Good luck watching this speech through your tears! Troy Kotsur mixes the best of both worlds as he accepts Best Supporting Actor, jumping between hilarious and emotional (which is pretty fitting, given his role in "CODA" was the foul-mouthed bu loving father, Frank Rossi). Kotsur's win was among the many that this awards season was leading up to the whole time, but it marked a very welcome non-surprise and made history as he became the second deaf actor win an Oscar. The first was his co-star and onscreen wife Marlee Matlin. 

A few difference aspects came together to make this moment an absolute delight: one special touch came from "Minari" actress Youn Yuh-jung, who made a point to sign Kotsur's name before announcing the win aloud. In the background, the audience signed their applause and Youn held the trophy at his side, to leave his hands free for signing. But naturally, the best part of all is the speech itself. Kotsur began with a heartfelt dedication to his co-star Matlin, telling a story about their visit to the White House where he hoped to teach the President dirty sign language. He also shines a light on "CODA" director Sian Heder, paraphrasing Steven Spielberg when he says "the definition of the best director is a skilled communicator." Kotsur dubs Heder that skilled communicator because she "brought the deaf world and hearing world together." Then emotions swelled as Kotsur paid loving tribute to his father, saying:

"My dad, he was the best signer in our family, but he was in a car accident and he became paralyzed from the neck down and he no longer was able to sign. Dad, I learned so much from you. I'll always love you. You are my hero."

By this point, even Kotsur's interpreter was tearful, so the actor capped it all off by dedicating his award to "the deaf community, the disabled community, the 'CODA' community." Finally taking the statue to hold it up himself, he closes out by offering a simple and sweet, "look at me now. I did it"

Questlove tears up while accepting Best Documentary Feature

After a very, uh, memorable moment injected some chaos into the night, Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson took to the stage to accept his win for "Summer of Soul (...Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)." And quite fittingly, the first-time-director took special care to center his speech around healing. "Summer of Soul" was a source of healing for many, providing some much-needed Black joy in a worldwide period of pain. The film preserves and gives new life to the long-forgotten 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, a celebration of Black history, culture, music and fashion. As touching as it may be to win the award for his directorial debut, Questlove directed attention back to the film's large meaning:

"It's not lost on me that the story of the Harlem Cultural festival should've been something that my beautiful mother and my dad should've taken me to when I was 5 years old... This is such a stunning moment for me. But this is not about me. This is about marginalized people in Harlem that needed to heal from pain."

Noticeably flustered and tearful about the win, Questlove promised to pull himself together afterwards and properly thanks everyone who made the film possible. But his words had already made their mark: this moment is another prime example of how emotion transcends all.

Will Smith was crowned Best Actor

An emotionally-charged speech from Will Smith opened with a loaded acknowledgement: "Richard Williams was a fierce defender of his family."

This is not an uncomplicated acceptance speech, but certainly one that can't be left off the list. Many of the awards given out last night felt locked for months leading up to the show — Will Smith's most of all, and yet the energy surrounding this moment was utterly unpredictable. The drama that preceded will likely overshadow this momentous win, but it's worth noting that Smith has been chasing this Oscar for years and winning last night made him the fifth Black man to win a lead actor Oscar in the ceremony's 94 year long history. In more than one way, this win has been a long time coming. Given we all knew it was coming, there's no telling what kind of eloquent speech Smith has planned, but instead he took care to address the wildest moment of the night by apologizing and honoring all those who helped bring "King Richard" to screen:

"In this time in my life, in this moment, I am overwhelmed by what God is calling on me to do and be in this world. Making this film, I got to protect Aunjanue Ellis, who is one of the most strongest, most delicate people I've ever met. I got to protect Saniyya [Sidney] and Demi [Singleton], the two actresses that play Venus and Serena. I'm being called on in my life to love people. And to protect people and to be a river to my people."

He also took a moment to thank Denzel Washington, who huddled with him minutes before the win and offered a piece of advice that the actor clearly took to heart:

"Denzel [Washington] said to me a few minutes ago, 'At your highest moment, be careful, that's when the devil comes for you.' I want to be a vessel for love... That's what I want to do. I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy, I want to apologize to all my fellow nominees."

There are plenty of reasons that this speech will be forever remembered, though I'd like to think it won't just be the allure of discourse and commentary. What the very best Oscars speeches share is their penchant for directing attention back to the greater meaning of art and the great work it can do. Even bogged down by the weight of a controversial moment, Smith takes a moment to acknowledge this about his win: "It's not about winning an award for me; it's about being able to shine a light on all the people"

CODA won Best Picture!

The Best Picture speech went a bit long, but in defense of this squad, they just won Best Picture. The night's biggest award went to the cast and crew of "CODA," the little movie that paved a path straight from Sundance to the Oscars by being kind, optimistic, and full of love. Watching the team take to the stage was a genuinely heartwarming moment, with everyone in the room looking equally thrilled by the announcement. No one could've guessed this win was coming when the movie first arrived to Apple TV+ so many months ago, but in the past few weeks, the energy behind this movie has shifted considerably and this is the ultimate proof. This marked the film's third award of the night, accepted by producers Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi, and Patrick Wachsberger, who shouted out director Sian Heder for making the film possible and the loving family created by the cast members:

"You guys have made such a wonderful and loving family on screen, but also offscreen. And everybody wants to be a part of it."