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Oscar Controversies


“And the winner is…”

The Academy Awards, more commonly known as The Oscars, is a historical annual tradition in the film community. The first Oscars was held May 16, 1929, with Wings taking home the award for best picture.

Since its inception over 10,000 days ago The Oscars has gone through its fair share of twists, turns, and controversies. Ahead of the 94th Academy Awards on March 27th, we look back at some of the most famous, or infamous, moments.

Hattie McDaniel at the 1940 Oscars

McDaniel etched her name into the history books when she won the award for Best Supporting Actress with her immortal portrayal of “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind. However, even getting into the ceremony proved a problem.

Vivien Leigh & Hattie McDaniel in Gone With The Wind (1939) / Credit: Rossano

As the first ever African-American to win an Oscar, McDaniel was originally not going to be allowed into the ceremony. Director David O. Selznick insisted that she be permitted entry. Even then, she was positioned on a segregated table.

McDaniel’s speech, however, would leave its mark and silence the room. Following a fitting round of applause, she stood adorned with a crown of flowers, giving thanks to both her race and the Academy Awards. Stating her “heart was too full” to tell you how she truly felt.

Oscar Boycott: Marlon Brando

In 1973 rough-and-ready heartthrob Marlon Brando delivered perhaps the defining moment of Oscar history. And he wasn’t even there. 

Following a decade of underwhelming success Brando would make his return. Winning the Best Actor Award for his role as Don Corleone in the mob-epic The Godfather. Brando reaffirmed his position as one of Hollywood’s greats.

Marlon Brando in the 1972 classic The Godfather

Yet the actor boycotted his triumphant return as a political statement. Brando was protesting the treatment and portrayal of Native Americans.

In his place, he sent activist Sacheen Littlefeather, who left the award in the hands of presenter Roger Moore as she delivered a powerful speech written by the Godfather himself.

The Marisa Tomei Mistake

In 1993, Marisa Tomei was awarded the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her breakout role in My Cousin Vinny. Only a year later, however, controversy would rise to the surface when The Hollywood Reporter claimed that she was awarded it accidentally.

Source: The Wrap

It was reported that the visibly flustered presenter, Jack Palance, failed to read the real name on the winner’s card. Instead, out of panic, he read the last name he saw on the teleprompter, Marisa Tomei. 

To this day the mistake has not been confirmed, leaving Oscar fans wondering if Tomei was wrongfully awarded and, if so, who was cheated out of their own Oscar?

Equal Representation

As the years of ceremonies rolled on so to did the controversies. Including Michael Moore chastising President Bush (2003), and Crash beating Brokeback Mountain to the surprise and disagreement of even the winning director Paul Haggis (2006).

But no recent controversy has been more crucial to the industry than the “OscarsSoWhite” controversy of 2016. With all 20 acting nominees being Caucasian, the awards show was criticised for its lack of diversity and representation.

Chris Rock at the 88th Academy Awards / Credit: Walt Disney Television

Many African-Americans boycotted the ceremony, like Spike Lee and Will Smith. However, Chris Rock was chosen to present the awards, poking fun at the awards right from his opening monologue. Stating: 

“I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards”

The La La Land Blunder

The most recent Oscar controversy came by way of 2017. As the crowd and those at home awaited the announcement of the winner of the Best Picture Award there seemed an almost certainty that the popular musical La La Land would take home the prize.

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty didn’t seem surprised either when they announced that everyone’s prediction was right. Beatty read out the words “La La Land” with confidence, to a round of applause, only he did have reason to be surprised.

Source: Forbes

The winner was in fact Moonlight and following an onstage debacle of confusion and concern this was finally announced.

One cannot, however, wonder if this win wasn’t tainted quite significantly by the fact that even when confronted with a piece of paper stating otherwise, people still thought La La Land was the real winner.

Oscars 2022

Ahead of this year’s Oscars it is entirely likely that we will see another one of these famous moments or infamous missteps. Maybe that is one of the reasons people are drawn to watch it.

One thing is for sure,  if you want to etch your name into the history of the Oscars you’ve got a lot of competition to outshine.

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