By Julia Clausen
Ever since the days of Old Hollywood, the Oscars have been followed by the constant shadow of scandal, and this year was no exception. Even after recovering from last year’s “Oscars So White” campaign with a record number of people of color nominated this year, the 89th Academy Awards was not able to outmaneuver all the debacles that came its way.
It wouldn’t be the Oscars without a few snubs, and this year it was Amy Adams’s turn. Thought to be a contender for her performance in “Arrival,” it was no surprise when her name appeared on the online announcement for Best Actress in January. However, this was actually a careless mistake, and Adams was not nominated. The Oscars website tried to hide the mishap quietly, but it was too late. Not until after word got out and people grew frustrated did the website issue an official apology.
A much more public and impactful Oscars snub happened in 2006 when Paul Haggis’s “Crash” beat out Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain” for Best Picture. Lee’s powerful film about a tragic romance between two men was the favorite to win, and the choice to honor “Crash” instead smelled strongly of homophobia. “Brokeback” still broke boundaries in spite of the snub and its lasting presence has ensured that the Academy can never quite live down its decision.
The Oscars were also used as a political platform this year when, in protest of the travel ban, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi of Best Foreign Language Film winner “The Salesman” refused to attend the Oscars out of respect for his banned countrymen. Instead, he sent Iranian-American engineer Anousheh Ansari to accept the award and deliver his acceptance speech. Farhadi’s words expressed the importance of politically-minded filmmakers and also issued a warning: “Dividing the world in the ‘us’ and ‘our enemies’ categories creates fear.” Ansari received generous applause.
Previous Oscars boycotts were not received nearly so well. When Marlon Brando won Best Actor for “The Godfather” in 1973, he sent Native American woman Sacheen Littlefeather in his place to protest the treatment of Native Americans by the U.S. Government. When Littlefeather brushed away the trophy and proceeded with Brando’s speech, some in the audience booed her, yet others still applauded her.
A less visible, but no less troubling tradition within the Academy is awarding Oscars to men accused of sexual assault. This year, activists protested Casey Affleck’s nomination for Best Actor even though he was sued for sexual harassment in 2010 by two of his co-workers. The case was resolved outside court and kept quiet until he won both a Golden Globe and an Oscar this year, but the only official mention it received was in Affleck’s speech at the Globes about the “noise” that comes with fame.
The most disturbing case in recent years was the rape of a 13-year-old girl by director Roman Polanski in 1978, for which he pled guilty. When he realized conviction might mean jail time or deportation, he fled the U.S. for France, where he continues to make films. In fact, his film “The Pianist” won Best Picture in 2003 to a standing ovation even though he was not present. A few in the audience quietly resisted by staying seated, but it made little difference. The Academy never made any official statement about whether they condoned his actions, but they certainly did not punish him.
However, the biggest scandal from this year’s Oscars is so ridiculous that it has no precedent: the envelope mix-up for Best Picture.
The official story is that presenter Warren Beatty was given a duplicate copy of the Best Actress card by someone backstage, and Beatty’s co-presenter Faye Dunaway declared “La La Land” the winner with confidence, though the card said “Emma Stone (La La Land).” It was only after “La La Land” producers had given their speeches that the mistake was fixed and “Moonlight” was declared the winner.
The fact that such a small film about a gay African-American boy growing up in a poor neighborhood in Miami won Best Picture should have been huge news on its own. But, the creators of “Moonlight” were robbed of both their celebration and their time to speak. Perhaps this could have been a moment for the Academy to rectify their mistake with “Brokeback Mountain” had they not still managed to mess it up.
Days later, the Academy released a statement placing all of the blame on two employees of PwC, the Academy’s official accountant, but, as with every single scandal since the origin of the Oscars, they never apologized.