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Breaking down last night's Oscars

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Last night, the Academy Awards made history in all kinds of ways, particularly for Michelle Yeoh, who became the first Asian woman to win a best actress Oscar in the more than 90-year history of the awards.

(SOUNDBITE OF "95TH ACADEMY AWARDS")

MICHELLE YEOH: For all the little boys and girls who look like me watching tonight, this is proof that dreams do come true.

SUMMERS: The film she starred in, "Everything Everywhere All At Once," made its own history as the first science fiction movie to win best picture. It is also the most-awarded best picture winner in more than a decade, winning seven Oscars total.

Here to talk about the Oscars as a TV event is NPR TV critic and media analyst Eric Deggans. Hey there.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.

SUMMERS: So, Eric, at a time when award shows are really struggling to hold on to audiences on TV, how was the Oscars as a TV show? Do you think it was entertaining enough to engage people?

DEGGANS: Well, this year's Oscars had to accomplish something that's pretty difficult. I mean, it had to be distinctive enough to make people watch it, but it had to be conventional enough to feel like a return to normalcy after that disastrous Oscars last year where Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on stage. And I think they managed that. I mean, many of the Oscar wins were emotional. They were poignant. Host Jimmy Kimmel was pretty good at poking fun without crossing the line to being cruel. And, of course, he had to joke about the slap, but he focused a lot of his jokes on the Oscar Academy itself. Let's listen to one of them.

(SOUNDBITE OF "95TH ACADEMY AWARDS")

JIMMY KIMMEL: If anyone in this theater commits an act of violence at any point during the show, you will be awarded the Oscar for best actor...

(LAUGHTER)

KIMMEL: ...And permitted to give a 19-minute long speech.

DEGGANS: Which is kind of what I wrote when it happened, so...

(LAUGHTER)

SUMMERS: You know, a lot of today's coverage of the awards points out the diversity of the winners. But as you wrote on npr.org, that diversity comes with some important caveats, right?

DEGGANS: Yeah. But first, you know, let's give all the flowers to Michelle Yeoh 'cause she finally has an Oscar to top her impressive career in film and TV. She's become the first Asian woman to win that award. And Asian performers and filmmakers made some incredible strides this year, including Ke Huy Quan's win as best supporting actor - alongside castmate Michelle Yeoh - playing the kind of role that he said wasn't available to Asian men when he first started his career as a child actor decades ago. And Ruth Carter became the first Black woman to win two Oscars, winning last night for the costume design in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" after winning in 2019 for the costume design in the original "Black Panther" movie.

But beyond the fact that we really shouldn't be seeing these kind of basic firsts in 2023, there were still problems. I mean, among Oscar nominees, important work by Black women was shut out. We still didn't see many Latino or Hispanic nominees or winners. It seems like Oscar's just starting to reflect the ethnic diversity of the world, and too often, they're depending on one breakthrough film, like "Everything Everywhere All At Once," to provide the bulk of the non-white winners.

SUMMERS: Yeah. So we know that in any awards show, there are a lot more losers than winners. So, Eric, who got left out this year?

DEGGANS: Well, big blockbuster films like "Avatar: The Way Of Water" and "Top Gun: Maverick" didn't do so well. They won one award each for visual effects and sound, respectively. Legendary director Steven Spielberg, he was nominated for his most personal film yet, "The Fabelmans," as best director. He lost out to the Daniels - Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert of "Everything Everywhere All At Once." "Wakanda Forever" star Angela Bassett lost to Jamie Lee Curtis from "Everything Everywhere."

I think in the acting categories, perhaps voters liked the idea of rewarding people who'd been fighting to stay in the business - from Brendan Fraser, who won best actor for "The Whale," to Ke Huy Quan, who left acting for many years and became a stunt performer. And those wins made for poignant stories, which is why we're talking about them today.

SUMMERS: That's Eric Deggans, NPR TV critic. Thank you.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LADY WRAY SONG, "MONEY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.