Stage frights: five of the most shocking moments in Oscars history

Will Smith isn’t the only actor to cause consternation at the world’s most coveted film awards

The Oscars’ audience, both in person and on TV, may have thought they were hallucinating when they watched the on-stage scuffle between Will Smith and Chris Rock last night. Smith may have once been exiled from West Philadelphia as the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, but the best actor nominee – and, later, winner – seemed the man least likely to be at the centre of an awards ceremony punch-up. However it was far from the first time that something unexpected has happened at the Academy Awards – and it’s unlikely to be the last. Here are five more shocking moments from Oscars history.

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1. The Oscar goes to … ?

Jordan Horowitz, left, holds up Moonlight’s winning card alongside Warren Beatty.
Jordan Horowitz, left, holds up Moonlight’s winning card alongside Warren Beatty. Photograph: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

The mother of all Oscars mix-ups occurred in 2017 when the best picture prize was mistakenly handed to Damien Chazelle’s musical hit La La Land, instead of its intended recipient, Barry Jenkins’s queer coming-of-age tale Moonlight. What followed were among the most excruciating scenes ever broadcast on live TV, as florid speeches gave way to the realisation that there had been a colossal mistake. La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz held the card declaring that Moonlight had won aloft, while host Warren Beatty sheepishly explained that he had been given the wrong envelope, and the world winced.

2. Whose speech is it anyway?

Roger Ross Williams and Elinor Burkett on stage in 2010.
Roger Ross Williams and Elinor Burkett on stage in 2010. Photograph: Michael Caulfield/WireImage

At the 2010 awards, director Roger Ross Williams had just launched into his acceptance speech for best documentary short, Music By Prudence, when estranged collaborator Elinor Burkett began one of her own, declaring that “the man never lets the woman speak … isn’t that the classic thing?” Burkett had not been affiliated with the film for a year prior to the ceremony but was still eligible for an Oscar. Only one person was allowed on stage, however – and the pair weren’t on speaking terms.

3. Adrien Brody pounces on Halle Berry

Adrien Brody kisses Halle Berry.
Adrien Brody kisses Halle Berry. Photograph: Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty Images

While accepting a best actor award for The Pianist in 2003, Adrien Brody swept Halle Berry into a dramatic on-stage embrace, much to the amusement of the audience and viewers at home. It was a strange episode which – pre #MeToo – was largely laughed off as actorly excess. However, in 2017 Berry – who had won an award the year prior for Monster’s Ball – said that she had been shocked by Brody’s behaviour, using various expletives as she explained that the kiss had been entirely unexpected.

4. A streaker hits the stage

Opel gives the V-sign behind David Niven.
Opel gives the V-sign behind David Niven. Photograph: AP

In 1974 controversy hit in the form of a stage invasion from photographer and gay rights activist Robert Opel, who had posed as a journalist to sneak backstage. Host David Niven saw the funny side, but took the opportunity to make a quick on-stage dig at Opel, declaring that it was “almost bound to happen … but isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will get in his life is stripping off and showing his shortcomings”. Elizabeth Taylor was next on, describing the incident as “a pretty hard act to follow”.

5. Marlon Brando refuses his Oscar

Sacheen Littlefeather, right, with Roger Moore and Liv Ullmann.
Sacheen Littlefeather, right, with Roger Moore and Liv Ullmann. Photograph: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

Having been named best actor at the 1973 awards for The Godfather, Brando memorably sent indigenous actor and activist Sacheen Littlefeather on stage in his place, to denounce the treatment of Native Americans both in Hollywood and in wider society. Avowed racist John Wayne was unsurprisingly vexed, reportedly saying that Brando should have spoken himself rather than sending “a little unknown girl and dressing her up in an Indian outfit”.


Hannah J Davies

The GuardianTramp

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