We all love to hate the Oscars, and who can blame us? It’s an evening that combines the insider back-slapping of an awards ceremony with the suffocating cultural dominance of the Super Bowl, all glossed in a smarmy veneer of tradition and prestige. At least the Golden Globes offer the possibility of drunken celebrity antics as a distraction, but the Academy Awards are as self-serious as they are inescapable.
Despite all this hate, very few people receive that golden opportunity to share it with the world during the Academy’s special night. It’s not enough to simply be nominated or appear on stage; you have to actually win an award (or host the show) to have enough of a chance to tell everyone where they can stick their golden statuettes. Those who make it that far tend to have an affinity for the Oscars, either on merit (taste is a fickle mistress), or because they can’t ignore the career-bolstering prospects of winning one.
Unless your name is Marlon Brando, whose career needed absolutely no help when he won Best Actor for his portrayal of Vito Corleone in The Godfather. Instead of accepting the award (or even attending the ceremony), Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather to lecture the film industry and America in general about the mistreatment of indigenous cultures. While Leonardo DiCaprio attached a similar message to the end of his Golden Globes acceptance speech for The Revenant, Brando’s grand gesture remains the gold standard of Oscar trolling.
None of these other examples reach Brando’s level, but they are all admirable efforts, each of which I will rate on a scale of 1-10 Brandos.
The Refusal Club
Brando wasn’t the only person to refuse an Oscar. He wasn’t even the first. Screenwriter Dudley Nichols refused to accept an award for writing The Informer in the 1930s in solidarity with the writers strike at the time, and George C. Scott famously refused in 1970 when he won for Patton, stating he didn’t feel he was in competition with other actors and referring to the ceremony as a “meat parade.”
Both of these refusals are admirable, but aside from the Scott’s meat parade comment, they lack the misanthropy and schadenfreude of a good troll, so I’m going to give them 5/10 Brandos.
Redgrave And The Z-word
Vanessa Redgrave got creative with her trolling when she won Best Supporting Actress in 1978, going after an issue close the heart of the film industry – the Israel/Palestine conflict – rather than the film industry itself. Redgrave’s open support of Palestinian rights put her at odds with many of her peers, and her nomination for a film that had nothing to do with the Middle East drew loud protests from the Jewish Defense League.
Redgrave was the first Oscar winner of the night. Apparently, she thought putting all her opponents on blast would set the right tone for the rest of the ceremony.
The highlight of Redgrave’s rant is the incendiary “Zionist hoodlums” remark, which is the kind of easy-bake troll phrase that would inspire millions of angry tweets if someone said it this Sunday. Regardless of whether or not you agree with Redgrave’s politics, getting up and saying those words in front of that audience takes some serious lady-balls, which is why I give this 8/10 Brandos.
Franco Phones It In
The Oscars are about as cool as Hillary Clinton, but they’re always finding convenient ways to ignore how hopelessly out-of-touch they are with young people. The Academy ignored the issue again in 2011 by picking two youthful actors out of a hat, selecting James Franco and Anne Hathaway as hosts and setting the stage for what can only be described as a high-art performance of longform Oscar trolling by Franco.
There’s no point of comparison for Franco’s career trajectory, aside from maybe a drunken sparrow with a clipped wing. His acting resume his filled with indie detours and vanity projects, and the list of colleges he has attended rivals his blockbuster filmography. Every time Franco is on the cusp of superstardom, he sidesteps it in a way that seems incredibly ill-advised, but follows its own internal logic. He’s basically a film industry Kanye West, only he gets more leeway because he’s white.
Franco entered the 2011 the Oscars as host and a nominee for Best Actor, with his starring role in that summer’s Planet of the Apes reboot looming on the horizon. Everything was looking up, which made it the perfect time for Franco to tear it all down and deliver a dismissive middle finger to those in the industry who saw him as the next mindless rom-com heartthrob or superhero action figure stand-in.
Or maybe he was really stoned. We’ll never know.
It’s not that Franco didn’t want to be there so much as he just wasn’t there at all. His demeanour suggests someone whose focus was far away from the teleprompter, or Los Angeles county for that matter. Franco mumbles while looking at his shoes, steps on punchlines, and glances around with a facial expression that’s equal parts bemused, bored, and blissful, all while Hathaway flails around in a desperate attempt to counter his apathy.
Refusing the hosting gig would have simply left the spot open for a young celebrity likely eager to make a good impression, but ostensibly buying into the Academy’s cynical appeal to coolness allowed Franco to sabotage the awards from the inside by becoming the living embodiment of dead air and leaving a massive hole in the proceedings when they needed him most.