Top 7 most controversial Oscars moments [watch videos]

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Following the Will Smith-Chris Rock slap incident, I did some digging and uncovered other controversies at the award show, here I write about 7 of the most controversial Oscars moments ever.

The Oscars, also known as The Academy Awards, are awards handed out for artistic and technical merit in the film industry. The award is the oldest worldwide entertainment awards ceremony; the award ceremony goes back as far as the 1930s and has remained the most prestigious and renowned competitive award in entertainment. While the 2022 ceremony brought a controversial moment that saw American actor Will Smith slapping actor and comedian Chris Rock as a defense to a joke the latter made concerning his wife, the mild act of violence is only one out of many controversial and shocking moments that the award ceremony has witnessed since its first inception in 1930.   

While the Oscars is arguably one of the most prestigious award ceremonies in history, its authenticity for inclusion has often been criticized and questioned. Some of the controversial moments from the award ceremonies come from a place of racial inclusion in the award ceremony. This article looks at some of the 7 top controversial moments in the ceremony’s history.

7- Actor Marlon Brando rejects Oscars award (1973)

In 1973, at the 45th Award ceremony, American actor Marlon Brando refused his award for Best Actor in the 1972 movie The Godfather. Instead of showing up at the ceremony to accept his award, he sent Native American civil rights activist Sacheen Littlefeather- who was adorned in a full Apache attire- in the actor’s place. On stage, Littlefeather read out a what was supposed to be15-page speech from Marlon Brando. However, the speech was trimmed down to just 60 seconds after the audience shared their reactions with a series of boos and applause. The letter supported a protest against Hollywood’s depiction of Native Americans. After leaving the stage, Sacheen Littlefeather proceeded backstage to read out the entire 15-page speech Brando issued. The event made Marlon Brando become the second actor to decline his Oscars. Another actor, George C Scott, was the first actor to refuse the award in this category in 1971.

6- Chris Rock and the #OscarSoWhite (2016)

Many of us didn’t know that before the 2022 controversy with Will Smith at the Oscars, Chris Rock was an entire topic at the 2016 award ceremony. In 2016, shortly after the nominations for that year were announced, it was discovered that for the second consecutive year, all twenty acting nominees and four out of the five directors nominated were Caucasian- there wasn’t enough inclusion of black creatives. This led to the hashtag OscarsSoWhite. Several African-Americans, including the then President of the United States- Barrack Obama, showed their dissatisfaction with the lack of diversity. That year, Jada Pinkett Smith and film director, producer, screenwriter, actor, and professor Spike Lee announced their plan to boycott the ceremony. They encouraged other people not to watch the ceremony telecast to protest the lack of diversity and inclusion. Chris Rock, who was already announced to host the ceremony, was pressured by actor and model Tyrese Gibson and rapper 50 Cent to drop the hosting duties for that year. However, Chris Rock proceeded with hosting the ceremony on the morning of the Oscars; civil rights activist Al Sharpton held a protest a few distances from where the ceremony was scheduled to take place in the form of solitary concerning the lack of diversity. During the live telecast of the award, Chris Rock made headlines with his insensitive Asian racial joke; however, critics positively reviewed the award show that year. In some way, despite the controversy with the award that year, Chris Rock was able to keep the Oscars in everybody’s mouth that year, just as he did again at the 2022 ceremony. 

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 5- Screenwriter Dudley Nichols rejects his Oscar (1936)

The first ever-controversial moment at the Oscars goes back to 1936, during the early years of the award show. Dudley Nichols became the first screenwriter and the first-ever person to refuse to accept their Oscars. The American screenwriter and film director boycotted the ceremony in solidarity with the Writer’s Guild, which conflicted with the Academy at that time. The Academy posted him the award on two different occasions, but he sent it back both times.

4- Sacha Baron Cohen spills Kim Jong-ils ashes (2012)

In 2012, Hollywood actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen got escorted off Oscar’s red carpet following a controversial publicity stunt to promote his 2012 movie, The Dictator. The actor arrived at the 2012 ceremony dressed as the lead character from the movie; he carried an urn containing the ashes of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. The Oscars allowed him to walk the ceremony in character. However, when he tipped the ashes in the urn over Tv host Ryan Seacrest, things took a turn. The interaction that led to Sacha spilling the ashes on Ryan Seacrest began when Seacrest asked Sacha which designer he was wearing, to which he responded; he further added that year’s ceremony allowed him to bring his friend and tennis partner [referring to Kim Jong-il]. After this interaction with Ryan Seacrest, he tipped and poured Kim Jong-il’s alleged ashes on Ryan’s Burberry suit. As Sacha is being escorted away from that year’s award, he shouts back to Ryan Seacrest, saying, “Now when people ask what you’re wearing, you will say Kim Jong-il.” Such an amusing yet controversial moment.

3- Angelina Jolie kisses her Brother (2000)

At the 2000 Academy award, American actresses Angelina Jolie left everyone baffled and dazed when she shared a passionate kiss with her brother James Haven. At that time, Jolie was 24 years old and had just won the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the 1999 movie Girl Interrupted. During her acceptance speech at the ceremony, Angela Jolie said she’s  “just so in love with my brother right now.” Later that night, at Vanity Fair’s annual Oscar after-party, She and her brother were both photographed sharing a kiss on the lips, which attracted worldwide publicity and subsequent incest jokes. The actresses tagged the jokes as ‘pathetic’. She later told People magazine that she and her brother were best of friends and that the kiss wasn’t an open-mouthed kiss, she later adds that she’s disappointed that something so beautiful and pure was turned into a ‘circus.’ James Haven, her brother, also weighs in on the issue, saying, “it was a fantastic moment and misconstrued by the public.”

2- Robert Opel storms stage stark n_ked (1973)

At the 46th Academy Award in 1974, which was held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, California, American, photographer and gay rights activist Robert Opel shocked the audience and the world in general by storming the Oscars stage completely n_ked while flashing a peace sign with his hand. The artist was reported to have snuck backstage by pretending to be a journalist before stripping down and running nude past British actor David Niven, one of that year’s ceremony hosts. After the incident, Robert Opel later told the press that “People shouldn’t be ashamed of being nude in public. Besides- it’s a hell of a way to launch a career” —his words, not mine.

1- Will Smith-Chris Rock slapping incident (2022)

The Will Smith-Chris Rock slapping incident is one of the most controversial moments in the Oscar award history. On March 27, 2022 at the live broadcast of the 94th Academy award, actor Will Smith, who was nominated for Best Actor, walked on stage and slapped comedian Chris Rock as he was about to present the award for Best Documentary Feature. Before the face-slapping incident, Rock had made a joke about Will Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, who was also present at the ceremony. Chris Rock referenced Jada to the 1997 film G.I Jane because of her shaved hair. Previously, Jada has revealed that she shaved off her hair due to her being diagnosed with alopecia areata. Following the slap, Will shouted interjections at Chris Rock that included profanities. That same night, Will Smith won the award for Best Actor, and in his acceptance speech, he made an apology to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. The event shocked the audience and television members; the uncensored video footage from international broadcasters posted online gained instant virality and accumulated more than ten million views. Following the aftermath of the incident, several general commentaries, discussions, and debates have been tabled. On April 8, 2022, it was reported that Will Smith had been banned from attending the Academy award for the next ten years following the slapping incident with Chris Rock. I can’t be the only one who thinks that verdict is way too much.

You may also like to like read, Who is Nicole Covone, Lil Durk’s Ex-wife? Achievements and Personal Life.

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Bolaji Akinwande

Bolaji Akinwande is a Music and Culture writer based in Lagos. Nigeria.

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