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15 Biggest Oscars Controversies Over the Years


Each year the Academy Awards brings its own set of drama — from nominations to what happens out there on the stage. There’s no telling what this year’s show will bring, but you can bet that the 2020 Oscars will have their own, unique brand of crazy, whether the hosts mix up envelopes again or the winners decide to go rogue in their speeches.

This year, the Oscars nominations gave us major flashbacks to last year’s controversial Green Book win: a film created by and heavily focused on white men, at a time when the Academy has already become notorious for lacking diversity (and seeming reluctant to do anything about it). With 1917, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Joker dominating this year’s hopefuls, viewers are dreading seeing a repeat of last year’s disappointment when Green Book took the big win.

In particular, many are hoping that fan-favorite Parasite will win out for Best Picture — though early feedback from the Academy suggests that, by virtue of being foreign, the film is already at a disadvantage. While accepting his Golden Globe award earlier this year, director Bong Joon Ho made a joke about the Academy’s aversion to his work: “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

So, there’s plenty of potential for drama there — let’s take a look back at other show-stopping moments from Oscars past.

2019: Green Book‘s Best Picture win

As we mentioned, America collectively groaned when Green Book was selected as 2019’s Best Picture winner. Rolling Stone — among other outlets — compared the win to the Academy awarding Driving Miss Daisy the same prize in 1990, snubbing Spike Lee’s beloved Do the Right Thing. 

2018: Frances McDormand teaches us the words “inclusion rider”

Frances McDormand won a Best Actress Oscar for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and she kicked off her acceptance speech by having all the female nominees in the room stand up: “We all have stories to tell. Invite us into your offices and we’ll tell you all about them,” she told the crowd. She finished her speech with this: “I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.” An inclusion rider is a clause in an actor’s contract that requires a diverse cast and crew — and we seriously hope they’ve gotten more common since McDormand’s speech.

2017: The infamous Best Picture envelope snafu

The Oscars were just about to wrap up with La La Land for Best Picture when everyone watching the show found out the wrong envelope had been delivered to presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. The real winner was Moonlight.

There was a mess of people on the stage; Jimmy Kimmel tried to save the day; and a PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant had to explain why he was tweeting instead of handing out the correct envelope. It’s no surprise that accountants for the 2018 Academy Awards will have to check their cell phones at the door.

2017: Casey Affleck’s sexual harassment allegations

Brie Larson wanted to present the Best Actor Oscar to anyone but Casey Affleck, but of course, he won. Larson has long been an advocate of sexual assault survivors, and the actor’s sexual harassment allegations did not sit well with her.

After a brief hug, Larson didn’t applaud and she made it clear post-Oscars that her lack of enthusiasm was intentional.

“I think that whatever it was that I did onstage kind of spoke for itself. I’ve said all that I need to say about that topic,” Larson told Vanity Fair.

2016: Chris Rock shades #OscarsSoWhite with Stacey Dash

With a mostly-white nominated talent pool, #OscarsSoWhite took hold of the internet. Host Chris Rock thought it would be a great idea to mock Hollywood’s great failure by bringing Fox News commentator Stacey Dash to the stage.

Dash was publicly ridiculed for saying the BET channel and Black History Month were completely unnecessary, so her presence at the Oscars was even more perplexing. Rock introduced her as the Oscars’ “new director of our minority outreach program.” The audience fell completely silent from total confusion as the joke fell flat.

2014: John Travolta’s infamous “Adele Dazeem” moment

John Travolta was supposed to introduce Idina Menzel before she sang “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen. Instead, he said, “Please welcome the wickedly talented, one and only Adele Dazeem.”

From that moment on, only one meme mattered on social media.

2006: Crash is a controversial winner

Crash is considered the worst Best Picture winner of the last few decades. Brokeback Mountain was predicted to win, but it was the ensemble film that took home the big prize. Watch presenter Jack Nicholson mouth, “Whoa,” after he announced the winner.

2000: Angelina Jolie loves her brother a little too much

Controversy always seems to follow Angelina Jolie, and the 2000 Oscars were no different. She won for Best Supporting Actress for Girl, Interrupted, but it was her comments about her brother, James Haven, that got everyone all creeped out.

“I’m in shock and I’m so in love with my brother right now,” she said in her acceptance speech. “He just held me and said he loved me and I know he’s so happy for me.”

On their own, Jolie’s words may seem pretty innocuous. However, the controversy stems from the fact that Jolie’s thanks for her brother’s support came after the siblings had very publicly kissed on the lips on the Oscars red carpet, a thing which still had an air of taboo around it (as compared to our more open-minded approach these days) and what kissing a family member might seem to imply. While there’s never, ever been a reason to suspect anything about Jolie and her brother, the timing of this very public show of affection (which came after a string of public, wild-child behavior) wasn’t too redemptive for Jolie’s public image.

1999: McCarthy-era director Elia Kazan receives an honorary Oscar

Moviegoers have loved Elia Kazan’s films like A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront for decades, but the director had a lot of enemies in Hollywood. He gave the names of suspected Communists in the entertainment industry to the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Even though his work stands the test of time, his honorary Oscar was met with mixed reactions at the 1999 Academy Awards. Warren Beatty and Meryl Streep stood up to applaud him while Nick Nolte and Ed Harris gave him the silent treatment. It’s a pretty interesting reaction from Hollywood’s elite.

1993: Politics at the Oscars

It seems funny now since politics and award shows go hand-in-hand, but in 1993, it was a big Oscars no-no. Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins used their presenter platform to speak out about the poor treatment of HIV-positive Haitians. Richard Gere criticized China’s invasion of Tibet.

All three were banned for life from future ceremonies. That ban clearly wasn’t enforced, because Sarandon won an Oscar in 1996 for Dead Man Walking and Robbins won for Mystic River in 2004.

1989: Rob Lowe sings with Snow White

Rob Lowe Snow White
Image: Getty Images

This opening number at the Oscars is a year the Academy would rather forget. Not only did the producers fail to realize Rob Lowe couldn’t sing, but the 15-minute extravaganza was also an embarrassment to the entire entertainment industry.

The video is forever locked in a vault, never to see the light of day. Disney is making sure of that because the company sued the Academy for the unauthorized use of one of its beloved characters.

Eileen Bowman, who played Snow White during the doomed opener, described the experience to The Hollywood Reporter in 2013, “The show itself looked like a gay bar mitzvah.”

1986: Cher protests through fashion

Cher wasn’t very happy that her strong performance in the film Mask was not recognized by the Academy. She decided to protest in a very Cher way — through fashion.

Bob Mackie created an incredible headdress and skimpy black-beaded two-piece outfit for her Best Supporting Actor presenting duties. Onstage, she said, “As you can see, I did receive my Academy booklet on how to dress like a serious actress.”

1974: Nudity at the Oscars

The 1970s were filled with interesting moments, but this one is probably best remembered for presenter David Niven’s witty quip after a streaker hit the stage.

Photographer Robert Opel cut through a backstage curtain to make his nude entry while flashing a peace sign.

Niven then joked, ”Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”

There are still conspiracy theories to this day that it was a planned stunt by Oscars producer Jack Haley Jr., but no one has ever confirmed this story.

1973: Sacheen Littlefeather turns down Marlon Brando’s Oscar for him

Marlon Brando won for The Godfather in 1973, but he didn’t show up to the ceremony. He sent actor and Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather in his place.

“He very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award,” said Littlefeather in her speech. “And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry.”

Native Americans are still fighting for representation in the entertainment industry and the Academy no longer allows a proxy to accept the Oscar; presenters now accept the award on a winner’s behalf.

1970: George C. Scott says no to his Oscar

George C. Scott was nominated for the film Patton, but the actor had no time for award shows.

“The ceremonies are a two-hour meat parade, a public display with contrived suspense for economic reasons,” Scott said to the media in 1970.

Scott didn’t attend the ceremony and instead chose to stay in New York and watch a hockey game at home. He did change his mind about award shows after he campaigned for a director nomination in 1972 for Rage, and he was seen at the show in 1982.

What will be this year’s big controversy? Find out on Sunday, February 9 when the Academy Awards air on ABC beginning at 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT.

A version of this article was originally published March 2018.

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