Oscars 2023 Presenter Choice Could Spectacularly Backfire. Here's Why

The recent announcement that Halle Berry will be a presenter at Sunday's Academy Awards has brought speculation that she could be set to hand over the best actress trophy in what could be a moment in Oscars history.

Oscars tradition usually dictates that the best actor winner from the previous year hands the best actress statue to the new honoree. The same vice versa rule applies to the best actress and best supporting actor/actress categories.

However, last year's best actor winner was King Richard star Will Smith, whose actions minutes before he scooped up his trophy left him banned from all of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' events for the next decade.

In a moment that overshadowed Hollywood's biggest night, Smith bounded onto the stage and slapped presenter Chris Rock after the comedian made a joke at his wife Jada Pinkett Smith's expense. Smith also shouted expletives at Rock after he returned to his seat in the audience.

Halle Berry, Michelle Yeoh, Cate Blanchett
Halle Berry presents the best director trophy at the Oscars on February 26, 2017. The insets show Michelle Yeoh and Cate Blanchett, who are both nominated this year in the best actress category. Christopher Polk/Getty Images;/Araya Doheny/Getty Images;/Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

With Smith barred from setting foot in Hollywood's Dolby Theatre on Sunday, organizers have been forced to buck tradition. The presenter in the best actress category, no longer dictated, will now have to be selected.

Among the lineup of hopefuls for the award are Cate Blanchett for Tár, Ana de Armas (Blonde), Michelle Williams (The Fabelmans), Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All at Once) and Andrea Riseborough (To Leslie).

With Yeoh widely considered the favorite, she could become the first Asian actress and only the second woman of color to receive the honor in the category. The only other actress of color to receive the trophy was Berry in 2002 for Monster's Ball.

As such, the potential sight of Berry, the sole Black actress to win the award, handing the 24-karat, gold-plated statuette to Yeoh, the first Asian winner in the category, would be momentous, to say the least.

It could also prove to be an utter disaster. While Yeoh has many backing her, she's seen as one of two favorites. The other actress seen as firmly in the running is Blanchett, who has a formidable Oscars track record, with two Academy Awards.

As such, juggling the proceedings around in anticipation of a history-making moment involving Berry could be a little short of embarrassing if Blanchett wins and viewers question why a woman was drafted to hand over the award.

Will Smith slaps Chris Rock
Will Smith slaps Chris Rock onstage during 2022's Oscars ceremony. Smith has been banned from the awards show for the next decade. ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

One has to look back just two years to see why tinkering with the format could make the telecast a dud. In 2021, amid anticipation that the late Chadwick Boseman be named best actor for his lauded efforts in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, big changes were made to that year's Oscars.

The best actor category was the ceremony's final award to be handed out, instead of the usual best picture award. The decision to close the show with the best actor award led to much speculation that the academy planned to announce that Boseman—who died of colon cancer in August 2020 at age 43—was the posthumous winner.

However, Anthony Hopkins took the prize for his role as a man struggling with dementia in The Father—which meant the show ended on a decidedly anticlimactic note. Worse was the fact that Hopkins was not even present at the show, leaving Joaquin Phoenix to accept the honor on his behalf with a brief, forgettable speech.

And that was the end. A ceremony already muted by restrictions put in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic was made all the more unremarkable by the choice to emphasize a category that, in the end, failed to tug at viewers' heartstrings.

It was Hopkins' second win and fourth nomination for best actor. But there was something of a first: At 83, he was the oldest winner in the category.

Of course, while fans have anticipated that Berry could fill in for an exiled Smith, there are several other categories that she may be presenting in.

There's also a choice of other celebrity presenters. They include Harrison Ford, Andie MacDowell, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Dano, Pedro Pascal, John Travolta, Cara Delevingne, Kate Hudson, Mindy Kaling, Eva Longoria and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

With the Oscars organizers having little choice but to go against the grain, they could well opt for a surprise presenter to hand out the award. Or maybe a pair of presenters.

A deeply satisfying choice to stand in for Smith would be Rock. While the comedian is not expected to attend the ceremony, seeing him present an award without the headline-making interruption he faced 12 months ago would likely be a winner—no matter who is named best actress.

The 95th Academy Awards ceremony airs Sunday starting at 8 p.m. ET on ABC. Jimmy Kimmel, who hosted the Oscars in 2017 and 2019, returns in that role.