Cher at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion in Los Angeles, CA (Photo by Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

The Academy Awards (or the Oscars, as most of us call the awards show) is 95 years old this year. While the show’s red carpet and celebrity couple appearances get plenty of headlines, the biggest night in Hollywood isn’t without its scandals and controversies.

Scandal and controversy are intrinsically tied to Hollywood — the place where drama is made is, of course, filled with its own drama behind the scenes. The Oscars is often where those whispers and disagreements become public knowledge, especially if there is an award upset.

Ahead of the Academy Awards this year, we’re taking a look back at some of the biggest scandals and controversies to come out of the Oscars.

1969: Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn Tie For Best Actress

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While there have been several ties in Oscars history, the tie for Best Actress between a 26-year-old Barbra Streisand, just starting her rise to stardom, and veteran actress Katharine Hepburn is probably one of the most famous Oscars controversies. Hepburn won for her performance in The Lion in Winter, and already had 10 nominations under her belt, plus won the same award the year prior for Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Streisand, meanwhile, had just made waves for her performance in Funny Girl, and famously accepted the award with the line “Hello, gorgeous!” from the film.

While no one could dispute today that Streisand delivered an incredible performance in Funny Girl, it was pretty scandalous to have a young newcomer co-win an award with a legend of the screen.

1973: Marlon Brando Declines His Best Actor Award

Activist Sacheen Littlefeather (born Marie Louise Cruz, 1946 – 2022) speaks after rejecting the Academy Award on behalf of Best Actor winner Marlon Brando.

Marlon Brando’s performance as Don Corleone in The Godfather is one of the greatest in the history of film, so naturally he won the Best Actor Academy Award for the role in 1973. However, Brando declined the award and instead, sent Apache actress Sacheen Littlefeather up on his behalf, where she delivered a powerful speech about the “poor treatment of Native Americans in the film industry.”

Littlefeather told the crowd amid a mix of boos and some cheers that she was “representing Marlon Brando this evening,” and that he had a lengthy speech she would happily share with press after the event. It’s alleged that she was told she must condense the speech into 60 seconds or risk being arrested. In June 2022, decades after the speech, the Academy sent Littlefeather an apology which read, “The abuse you endured because of this statement was unwarranted and unjustified. The emotional burden you have lived through and the cost to your own career in our industry are irreparable. For too long the courage you showed has been unacknowledged. For this, we offer both our deepest apologies and our sincere admiration.” 

1980: Francis Ford Coppola Misses Out on Best Director

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Francis Ford Coppola is renowned as one of the director greats in Hollywood, but in 1980 he missed out on the Best Director award for one of his most famous films. Instead of Ford Coppola getting the prestigious Oscar for Apocalypse Now, one of the most revered films in history, losing to Robert Benton for Kramer vs. Kramer.

While Benton’s film saw Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman win both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress without contention, it was considered a scandal that Ford Coppola missed out — with some feeling that the Academy perhaps felt he’d already received extensive acclaim for his work on The Godfather.

1986: Cher Steals the Red Carpet in Bob Mackie

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The Oscars red carpet has been controversial on several occasions, but back in 1986 there had never been a fashion moment more controversial than Cher’s Bob Mackie creation. With it’s dramatically low-waisted skirt and delicate, barely-there crop, not to mention that eye-catching feathered head piece, it certainly sparked plenty of conversation.

Later, Mackie told New Yorker that the outfit was, in part, an act of revenge. “She was pissed off, because she didn’t get nominated for Mask. There were a lot of people who said, ‘That’s not fashion!’ And I said, ‘Of course it’s not fashion. It’s a crazy getup for attention.’ And it did get attention — people talk about it still.”

1990: ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ Wins Best Picture


While no one would suggest Driving Miss Daisy wasn’t a film worth awards, when it took Best Picture in 1990, it wasn’t without scandal. However, this wasn’t a case of one film beating another many felt was more worthy of Best Picture. Instead, the controversy goes deeper.

In 1989 Spike Lee’s acclaimed film Do the Right Thing, a raw depiction of police brutality and racially-motivated violence, was released. It was named film of the year by several critics, including Roger Ebert, who said it was “closer to reflecting the current state of race relations in America than any other movie of our time.”

But the film was shockingly snubbed from the Academy Awards — its only nominations being Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor, won by Spike Lee and Danny Aiello respectively.

The fact that another film depicting race relations but in a far more sanitized way won Best Picture further rubbed salt into the wound. Kim Basinger presented Best Picture that year and made note of the snub, saying, “We’ve got five great films here, and they’re great for one reason: They tell the truth. But there is one film missing from this list that deserves to be on it because, ironically, it might tell the biggest truth of all. And that’s Do the Right Thing.”

2000: Angelina Jolie Gets Very Affectionate with Her Brother

Angelina Jolie and James Haven (Photo by Ke.Mazur/WireImage)

Back to the red carpet, where in 2000 gossip magazines went into overdrive after Angelina Jolie brought her brother James Haven as her date. Jolie was up for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Girl, Interrupted, but it was her red carpet interactions with Haven that had everyone talking.

From affectionate arm-stroking to kissing on the mouth, their behavior was then scrutinized further after Jolie won Best Supporting Actress and thanked Haven in her acceptance speech, saying she was “in love” with him.

2001: Bjork’s Swan Dress


Is this the worst Oscars red carpet fashion of all time, or one of the most iconic? When Bjork walked the Academy Awards arrival stretch wearing a tulle swan by Macedonian designer Marjan Pejoski, leaving “eggs” in her wake, she landed the top spot on worst dressed lists worldwide.

However, decades later, the dress is considered a form of performance art. “They wrote about it like I was trying to wear a black Armani and got it wrong, like I was trying to fit in,” Bjork reflected in an interview with The New York Times. “Of course I wasn’t trying to fit in.”

2011: Anne Hathaway and James Franco Host the Awards

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Normally the Oscars involves a famous comedian taking on the difficult job of host, but in 2011 the Academy made the controversial decision to target a younger crowd, selecting James Franco and Anne Hathaway to lead the proceedings. It was a trainwreck, to say the least. Hathaway seemed uncomfortable, Franco disinterested. There were bad jokes and the most awkward of silences. At one point Franco came onstage dressed as Marilyn Monroe for no particular reason. The scripting was either clunky or delivered terribly — whatever was going on behind the scenes, what we saw on stage was not good.

Years later, Hathaway poked fun at her hosting moment, posting on Instagram “no matter what happens with today’s show, just remember, it’s already been worse. Happy Oscars!” Later, Hathaway appeared on What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, where the host cut to a shot of her from that Oscars. “[We] sucked,” she said bluntly, laughing along with the audience.

2015: #OscarsSoWhite

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It began with a Tweet. After seeing all 20 nominations for acting roles go to white actors, April Reign started the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, and an online revolution was imminent. But it took another year to gain speed — when the 2016 Oscars also reflected a serious lack of diversity, #OscarsSoWhite went viral — finally, the Academy was under scrutiny as people globally pointed to the lengthy history of racism, plus an Academy membership that was 92% white. The controversy wasn’t #OscarsSoWhite, but the decades-long racism that had been exposed by it.

Prominent Hollywood stars like Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith joined the campaign, calling for boycotts of the ceremony. Lupita Nyong’o spoke out, saying “I stand with my peers who are calling for change in expanding the stories that are told and recognition of the people who tell them,” and eventually President Barack Obama made a statement, saying  “I think when everybody’s story is told, then that makes for better art. That makes for better entertainment. It makes everybody feel part of one American family. So I think, as a whole, the industry should do what every other industry should do, which is to look for talent, provide opportunity to everybody.”

The movement led to the Academy revisiting their membership program and other aspects of the voting process, and while there is definitely plenty more that needs to be done, it was April Reign’s Tweet back in 2015 that set the wheels of change in motion.

2017: ‘La La Land’ Accidentally Announced as Best Picture

HOLLYWOOD, CA – FEBRUARY 26: Actors Faye Dunaway (L) and Warren Beatty speak onstage during the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

There are some Oscars scandals you remember vividly — some, you even remember where you were. Like the moment when Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty read out La La Land for Best Picture, the entire crew of the film head onstage and begin to give their speeches, only for producer Jordan Horowitz to announce that actually, La La Land had not won Best Picture — Moonlight had.

Moonlight director Barry Jenkins then took to the stage, with Horowitz graciously handing the Oscar to him, saying “I’m going to be very proud to hand this to my friends from Moonlight,” Jenkins then gave an emotional speech, saying “even in my dreams this could not be true. But to hell with it, I’m done with dreams – because this is true.”

2019: Bradley Cooper & Lady Gaga’s Electric Performance

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Whether you were secretly hoping their on-screen romance would spill over into real life, or found the endless will-they-won’t-they performances on red carpets a little awkward, Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga certainly did sell the hell out of A Star Is Born. One of the most memorable (and scandalous) moments of their promotional journey was a performance of “Shallow” at the Oscars in 2019. Crooning into the same microphone, bucketloads of chemistry and some seriously steamy eye-gazing had everyone wondering if these two were hooking up in real life.

In the end, nothing came of all that sexual tension (that we know of), but this was one Academy Awards musical performance no one will be forgetting in a hurry.

2022: The Oscars Slap

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2022’s Oscars wasn’t a memorable one until around halfway through, when Will Smith stepped up onto the stage, slapped host Chris Rock across the face, and yelled “Keep my wife’s name out of your f***ing mouth!”

Smith’s reaction was in response to a joke Rock had just made that referenced Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett Smith‘s shaved head, the result of her struggle with alopecia. After the incident, Smith resigned his Academy membership and issued an apology to Chris Rock. Months later, he appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, saying  “That was a horrific night, as you could imagine. There’s many nuances and complexities to it, but at the end of the day, I just lost it. I guess what I would say is you just never know what someone’s going through.”