Oscars 2022: The most memorable Jewish moments

The cast of CODA
The cast of CODA hold their award for Best Picture in the press room during the 94th Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, March 27, 2022. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images via JTA)

By Andrew Lapin

The Oscars went on as usual Sunday night — although you wouldn’t know it from the morning-after conversation. A violent altercation between celebrities became the most-discussed moment of the evening, and general reviews for the show itself were dismal, full of criticism for its slapdash presentation and pre-taping of several awards categories.

But there were a few Jewish moments to be had in the three-and-a-half-hour evening.

‘CODA’ nets a historic Best Picture win, and Marlee Matlin kvells

“CODA,” an emotional drama about a deaf family and their hearing child who dreams of becoming a singer, picked up three Oscars, including Best Picture. Among the representatives of the film who came onstage to accept the award was Marlee Matlin, the Jewish actress who co-stars as the family matriarch. In 1987, Matlin became the first-ever deaf performer to win an Oscar, for “Children of a Lesser God.”

Hans Zimmer tucks his Oscar into his bathrobe

Megastar film composer Hans Zimmer, a German Jew whose mother had fled the country in 1939, won his second Oscar for his original score for the sci-fi epic “Dune.” (The award, like several other craft and technical awards that night, was presented during a pre-taped show and then edited into the live broadcast, in a move derided by many in the film industry as disrespectful.) Zimmer was in Amsterdam at the time; “Dune” co-star Jason Momoa accepted on his behalf. Via Twitter, Zimmer showed off a photo of himself clad in a hotel bathrobe in Amsterdam, rocking what was either his new statuette sent on an incredibly fast express flight, an Oscar stand-in, or his 1994 trophy for scoring “The Lion King.” “Wow!!” he posted.

The kid stays in the picture

Robert Evans, the legendary Jewish producer and studio executive who was responsible for getting many classic movies off the ground (and whose volatile personal life included seven marriages, a conviction for cocaine trafficking and briefly becoming a party of interest in the “Cotton Club” murder), got a shout-out during a segment paying tribute to the 50th anniversary of “The Godfather.” Flanked by his stars Al Pacino (who starred in the film) and Robert De Niro (who did not, but did star in its sequel), writer-director Frances Ford Coppola had words of appreciation for Evans and his vision, without which, he said, “The Godfather” would never have been made.

The comic relief

After going three years without a proper host, the Oscars went overboard and brought on three, including Jewish comedian and Towson University alum Amy Schumer, who delivered jokes about motherhood and Leonardo DiCaprio’s young girlfriends. Schumer was the show’s first Jewish host since Billy Crystal’s last stint in the gig a decade ago. She was joined onstage by Regina Hall and Wanda Sykes.

A Jewish win, during a tense moment

Overall it was not a good night for Jewish nominees, as high-profile figures like Steven Spielberg, Andrew Garfield and Maggie Gyllenhaal came away empty-handed — as did “Licorice Pizza,” the Best Picture nominee centering on a Jewish Angelino in the 1970s played by Jewish rock star Alana Haim.

However, Jewish producers David Dinerstein and Robert Fyvolent did score their first Oscar, for producing Best Documentary Feature winner “Summer of Soul (… Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised).” Dinerstein and Fyvolent had obtained long-forgotten footage of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival originally shot by Jewish cameraman Hal Tulchin and recruited musician Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson to direct a documentary built around the footage.

Unfortunately the “Summer of Soul” team’s win was overshadowed by what happened immediately before, when Will Smith slapped presenter Chris Rock onstage after Rock told a joke about Smith’s wife, actress Jada Pinkett Smith.

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