The 2022 Oscars might be remembered for hostility. My experience was completely different

A view from the balcony of an elaborate stage with a screen that says "Oscars."
A view inside Dolby Theatre before the 94th Academy Awards began.
(Justin Ray)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, March 28. I’m Justin Ray.

The Oscars have seen many unexpected moments, but the 94th Academy Awards show was shocking.

As you already know, a physical confrontation took place between Chris Rock and Will Smith, who was nominated — and later won — for his portrayal of Richard Williams, the father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena, in the movie “King Richard.”

Moments after the incident, Sean “Diddy” Combs said on stage that Smith and Rock would settle things “like family.” In his acceptance speech for the lead actor Oscar, Smith said Denzel Washington — who previously won the top award — told him after the altercation: “At your highest moment, be careful — that’s when the devil comes for you.”


At the lower-level bar in Dolby Theatre, a crowd formed in front of a television as the incident played out. When Smith yelled at Rock for talking about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, I yelped, “Wow.” In response to my reaction, a woman next to me began laughing. She happened to be “The Power of the Dog” director Jane Campion.

My honest first reaction to the moment was disappointment because people might get the wrong impression of how our community treats our own. Rock’s tasteless joke about Pinkett Smith was uncalled for, and yes, there are times when we don’t do the best job of supporting one another. However, I can personally attest to the opposite. Just look at what happened to me that same night.

Black celebrities embraced me — a complete stranger — and my $80 jacket from Amazon. I had great conversations with Black stars about the struggles of being a person of color in entertainment.

After complimenting my apparel, “Insecure” actor Jay Ellis told me: “There’s always a barrier; there are guardians at the gate that often don’t let people through, and I think there’s a discoverability thing too... I think that leaves people who are insanely talented at times left out.”

Jill Scott was with another attendee when she saw me standing like a lost puppy. The singer and actress asked me if I was waiting for someone. I told her I wanted to speak to her, and she smiled and responded: “Well, speak to me.”

There are many talented Black makeup artists, hairstylists and actors, Scott said, who don’t get credit because not all of the projects they work on are Oscar or Emmy contenders. “But the work is still the work,” said the actor, who starred in the 2008 HBO series “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.” “I was the first Black woman to be a lead on HBO and I don’t get credit for that.”


When I saw Tiffany Haddish sitting at a table, I asked if I could interview her. She told me to sit down next to her. I asked if she would talk about the difficult aspects of being a Black celebrity.

A man and a woman in formal wear pose for a photo.
Comedian Tiffany Haddish and Justin Ray.
(Justin Ray)

“People think you might be violent, ignorant or dumb,” Haddish told me. She also said, “You are under attack by your own people.”

Then, something unexpected happened. Haddish asked me about my career aspirations and gave me some advice about how I could go about achieving them. She seemed genuinely interested in talking me through my goals and even thanked me for the conversation.

“I fight to make sure Black people are working,” Haddish said. “I’m willing to get fired to make sure that 10 people get hired.”

Talking to strangers is difficult. But during the Oscars, that wasn’t the case: I was talking to my family. Although the friction between Smith and Rock will no doubt be the moment most people remember, what I will recall is how my community supported me.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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Los Angeles and San Francisco saw sizable declines in population during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, new census data show, underscoring how California’s housing crisis and other demographic forces are reshaping two of its largest cities. Los Angeles Times

Two people move boxes into a truck.
Sixteen-year-old Ethan Roman, right, dad Eliazar Cabrera and other family members load a U-Haul for their move from L.A. to Huron, Calif., on Oct. 2.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Black Tesla employees describe a culture of racism. A single mother was excited to land a job at Tesla. About three years in, she was fired, she said, after complaining that Black workers were frequently called the N-word on the assembly line. In interviews with The Times, three Black former employees described how jobs at the pioneering automaker devolved into personal nightmares due to a pattern of rampant racism and harassment at Tesla’s Fremont, Calif., factory. Los Angeles Times

A woman stands in an open doorway with a serious expression on her face.
Monica Chatman, in her Antioch, Calif., apartment, is a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against Tesla.
(Paul Kuroda / For The Times)

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California utilities aren’t doing enough to reduce wildfire threats, according to an audit. California is seeing yet another drought that may lead to a dangerous fire season. Meanwhile, the state auditor has reported that state officials are failing to hold California’s electric utilities accountable for preventing fires caused by their equipment. “While power companies are working to make their equipment more fire-resistant, neither the energy office nor the Public Utilities Commission has done enough to ensure that the companies prioritized upgrades where they are most needed — in high-fire-risk areas,” Julie Cart writes. CalMatters



A woman was arrested in Oklahoma over the killing of a San Carlos shop owner who was shot during a “robbery gone wrong” that happened decades ago. Rayna Elizabeth Hoffman-Ramos was arrested and faces charges in the April 26, 1993, fatal shooting of Shu Ming Tang, said San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Jacob Trickett. Tang was shot once in the chest and later died at a hospital. Trickett declined to specify how detectives connected Hoffman-Ramos to the homicide. Associated Press

The return of the machine gun. The Trace reports that a small device popular on the black market is capable of transforming a semiautomatic gun into a weapon capable of emptying an entire magazine with a single pull of the trigger. The device, the size of a thimble, was used in a November 2019 shooting in Fresno that left four dead and six injured. The Trace

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Commentary: L.A.’s asphalt-covered schoolyards are an environmental injustice. Castellanos Elementary sits just two blocks from the vehicle-clogged 10 Freeway in a part of the Pico-Union neighborhood. It’s one of L.A. Unified School District’s newer campuses, built 12 years ago. But the dual-language charter school’s more than 450 students, almost all Latino, have hardly any green space — just a 100-foot-wide play area of scraggly grass and dirt without a working sprinkler system. These conditions are detrimental to learning, health and well-being, and especially harmful because they are so common in the same low-income communities of color that already suffer from a lack of tree canopy, park space and higher exposure to heat and pollution. Los Angeles Times

A woman in a mask points a handheld instrument toward asphalt.
Robin Mark, of the Trust for Public Land, measures the surface temperature of the asphalt at Castellanos Elementary in Los Angeles.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)


Life in the Golden State is expensive. Although many economists and politicians focus on job growth, the reality is that many people who are employed still cannot afford to live here. “The stakes are enormous. By every statistical measure, income inequality — both in California and the rest of the U.S. — has been growing steadily for 30 years, and its effects are corrosive across all sectors of society,” Mark Kreidler reports. Capital and Main


A gay activist in San Francisco is being uprooted from his Castro one-bedroom after the owner of the building raised his rent from $2,393 to $5,200. Cleve Jones has lived in the neighborhood for five decades. It’s where he founded the Names Project, the organization behind the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The owner of the duplex, Lily Pao Kue, 30, says that the unit is not his primary residence. Jones denies that is the case but has decided he does not have the stamina to fight what would likely be a protracted legal battle to remain there. San Francisco Chronicle

Two former students explain how their lawsuit is a last-ditch attempt to force the Saddleback Valley Unified School District to take their concerns seriously and bar Jim Harris from contact with teenagers. Harris, husband of drama teacher Kathy Cannarozzi-Harris, lost his job as a substitute teacher in 2005, but he’s been allowed to work closely with students on the school’s vaunted theater productions, even after parents complained in 2016 that he was photographing girls in a dressing room. Saddleback Valley Unified School District has been investigating “current allegations” involving the couple’s behavior, said spokeswoman Wendie Hauschild. In an interview with The Times, Harris denied ever sexually assaulting or inappropriately touching students. Los Angeles Times

A woman sits cross-legged on a couch.
Yara Wilde, a former student at Mission Viejo High School, said she spent years trying to warn officials about the drama teacher’s husband and his inappropriate behavior with female students.
(Kristina Barker / For The Times)

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Los Angeles: It’s gonna rain y’all. 61 San Diego: SD will also be soggy. 61. San Francisco: SF also bringing the gloom. Rainy, 61 San Jose: Y’all gonna have showers too. 63 Fresno: Sorry Fresno, rain too! 66 Sacramento: You’ll join everyone else, sadly! 61


Today’s California memory is from Stephen Kulieke:

I moved to California in 1982, traveling across the continent like an exhilarated 19th-century pioneer. A Chicagoan, I found everything exotic: the vertiginous landscape, the vegetation of fragrant eucalyptus and tall palms growing outdoors not in a conservatory. That winter was wildly wet, scarcely seen anymore. I huddled with my fellow immigrant cat in a small San Francisco apartment. The unrelenting moisture grew mold on one wall. Like many Californians, I have migrated inland, to a 1930s bungalow in the capital city of Sacramento. The street is lined with towering trees, whose bark curls off in summer‘s heat.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)


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