As stage-managed as the Academy Awards are, even they haven’t managed to escape without generating a few controversies over the years. Here are some of the most shameful episodes of Oscar’s past...
Marlon Brando and the rejected Oscar
Marlon Brando had been a willing and grateful recipient of the Best Actor Academy Award in 1955 when he won for On The Waterfront. But by 1973, his attitude towards Hollywood and the fame game had soured it seems, as he not only boycotted that year’s ceremony, but sent a representative, Sacheen Littlefeather, up on stage to officially reject the Best Actor award and give a party-pooping speech about the treatment of Native Americans in Hollywood films.
Vanessa Redgrave and the Jewish protesters
In 1977, British acting legend Vanessa Redgrave won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the drama Julia. However, also that year, Redgrave had funded and narrated a documentary backing a Palestinian homeland. Outraged, various nationalist Jewish groups protested outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.
When she won, she gave the most overtly political speech in Oscar’s history, paying tribute to the many Jewish people who had “refused to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums whose behaviour is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world and their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression."
Later in the ceremony, an angry Paddy Chayefsky (writer of Network and Marty, among others), responded to Redgrave, saying: “I would like to say, personal opinion, of course, that I’m sick and tired of people exploiting the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own personal propaganda. I would like to suggest to Miss Redgrave that her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation and a simple ‘thank you’ would have sufficed.” Blimey.
Hattie McDaniel and the segregated table
1940. It was a landmark moment in Oscar history – the first black person to win a coveted Academy Award for her role as head slave Mammy in Gone With The Wind. You’d think the Academy would have some reason to give themselves a hearty pat on the back for being so progressive in an era when millions of black people were still ineligible to vote.
Except McDaniel wasn’t allowed to sit at the official Gone With The Wind table, being relegated to small table at the back of the room. Her win did her career little good, and she was typecast in a succession of stereotype-y maid roles, and she died, bankrupt, in 1952. The whereabouts of her Oscar remains unknown.
Elia Kazan wins a controversial honorary Oscar
He was undoubtedly one of the great directors, being responsible for a string of bullet-proof classics including On The Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire and East of Eden. However, in 1952, at the height of the Communist witch hunts, Kazan, who’d been an member of the Communist Party in the 1930s, testified to the House Committee on Un-American Activities and named names under oath.
His testimony helped end the careers of former acting and screenwriting colleagues, and so when in 1999 the Academy decided to award the by-now 90-year-old Kazan with an honorary Oscar, many people, including Nick Nolte, Ed Harris and Ian McKellen refused to applaud. Kazan died four years later.
“We saw your boobs!”
Oscar’s producers should have known what they were getting when they approached Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane to host the 2013 show. And they presumably signed off that year’s most controversial and talked about moment, when MacFarlane launched into a song entitled “I Saw Your Boobs” (sample lyrics: "Meryl Streep, we saw your boobs in Silkwood/ Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive/Angelina Jolie we saw your boobs in Gia/ They made us feel excited and alive”), causing a good proportion of the audience to shuffle uncomfortably in their seats.
The 88th Academy Awards takes place on 28th February. Got some favourite, squirm-inducing Oscar moments of your own? Tweet them @Cineworld – no matter how painful!