If you’ve been following the Oscars this year, you’re aware of the #OscarsSoWhite protests, but this not the first time the Oscars have been mired in controversy. To protest the Oscars is to become one part of a lasting history that stretches back to the 1930s.
The first major protest at the Oscars happened at the 1936 Academy Awards. Dudley Nichols had won an Oscar for the Best Original Screenplay. Nicholas was an ardent Union supporter and didn’t want to accept an award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). The Writers Guild was on strike at the time, so Nichols wanted to express solidarity by defying the Academy.
Here are five other moments of controversy from the Oscars ceremony.
George C. Scott Won’t Accept His Award (1971)
George C. Scott was the odds-on favorite to win Best Actor for his work in Patton. Shortly after the release of the film, Scott did press where he actively said he would reject any nomination or potential win. A few months later, Scott was nominated and won. Being a man of his word, Scott never showed up. Dudley Nichols had set a proper example.
Sacheen Littlefeather Accepts Marlon Brando’s Oscar (1973)
While most will say this is the most memorable moment in Oscar history, it has become a bizarre piece of Americana: an affluent Caucasian actor using his position to draw attention to the Wounded Knee Incident. What happened was the actor had started to pull back into the shadow of his fame. While wanting to be different, Brando didn’t feel it was place to hog the spotlight and not focus on serious societal ills.
The Viet Cong Thanks Academy Voters (1975)
Hearts and Minds was a documentary that raised a ton of controversy back in 1974. Original set up at Columbia Pictures, the studio backed out after legal battles and seeing the final cut of the film. The views of generals, National Security Advisors, and government officials were presented unfiltered for the first time, and their views on Vietnam could be quite cruel. Several interview subjects sued the filmmakers, causing back-up studio Warner Bros. to bow out of releasing the film. The film’s producers ended up raising enough money for a brief major market release at the end of 1974 to qualify for the Academy Awards. The strategy paid off, as the film won Best Documentary Feature.
Co-producer Bert Schneider was thrilled by the win and took the time to read a telegram sent by Ambassador Dinh Ba Thi of the Viet Cong. The audience was stunned, leading to the Old Hollywood cohosts of Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra to actively shut down what just happened.
Vanessa Redgrave Supports Palestine (1978)
When Vanessa Redgrave was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Julia, the Jewish Defense League got fidgety. Redgrave had worked on a documentary called The Palestinian shortly after wrapping Julia and before the Academy Awards. Beyond narrating the documentary, Redgrave provided the funds for The Palestinian to be completed. Mind you, this was at the height of a major Middle East conflict, and the JDL saw Redgrave’s actions as actively supporting terrorism.
The JDL held protests where they burned Redgrave in effigy and petitioned the Academy to not let her attend the ceremony. When Redgrave won the Oscar, this is what she had to say:
My dear colleagues, I thank you very, very much for this tribute to my work. I think that Jane Fonda and I have done the best work of our lives and I think this was in part due to our director, Fred Zinnemann. And I also think it’s in part because we believed and we believe in what we were expressing. Two, out of millions, who gave their lives and were prepared to sacrifice everything in the fight against fascist and racist Nazi Germany. And I salute you and I pay tribute to you and I think you should be very proud that in the last few weeks you’ve stood firm and you have refused to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world and to their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression. And I salute that record, and I salute all of you for having stood firm and dealt a final blow against that period when Nixon and McCarthy launched a worldwide witch hunt against those who tried to express in their lives and their work the truth that they believed in. I salute you, and I thank you, and I pledge to you that I will continue to fight against anti-Semitism and fascism. Thank you.
I feel that Redgrave’s words need to be heard.
Michael Moore Speaks Up About the Iraq Invasion (2003)
Michael Moore loved the fact that he had two solid years in the 2000s where his documentaries revitalized the economics of selling non-fiction flim to the public. Everything changed when Bowling for Columbine caught mainstream approval by challenging America’s gun culture. Moore was a noted fan of Hearts and Minds and wanting to make a similar impact, Moore invited his fellow nominees onstage to shame George W. Bush for the Iraq invasion. Mickey Rooney and many other Old Hollywood vanguards were quick to boo him off the stage.
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