6 Of The Biggest Oscar Scandals That Still Get Talked About

Will Smith glaring at Chris Rock at 94th Academy Awards
(Image credit: ABC)

It’s crazy to think that in just five years, we’ll be celebrating the 100th Academy Awards. Of course, that century-long history is not without scandals.

With the 95th Oscars ceremony only about a month away, many movie lovers are wondering what the ceremony will look like in the wake of last year’s scandal (but we’ll get into that in a minute). We’ll have to wait until March 2023 to find out, but in the meantime let’s recount some of the biggest scandals that have rocked Academy Award shows since their debut in 1929.

Chris Rock after the "Oscars slap"

(Image credit: Entertainment Tonight)

The Slap

It hasn’t even been a year since the infamous “Oscars slap,” or so the incident was dubbed after Will Smith smacked host Chris Rock across the face at the 94th Academy Awards.

Will Smith’s first post-slap movie, Emancipation, was just released in December 2022, although as we approach the 1-year anniversary of the debacle, many are wondering if the actor should have taken more time off. However, the drama was in the works long before The Slap ever occurred.

As intriguing as the internet’s response to The Slap was, it’s unlikely that anyone wants a repeat of the event at the 95th Academy Awards. It will be interesting to see what kind of changes the Oscars implement for the upcoming March ceremony.

The producers of La La Land announcing that Moonlight is really the best picture winner

(Image credit: ABC News)

The Wrong Movie Was Announced At The 89th Academy Awards

This one is still so bizarre. Due to an apparent mixup backstage, La La Land was announced as the best picture winner—until a producer from the film announced that it was really Moonlight that had won the award.

The drama meant that the deserving drama missed out on its post-Oscars bump in sales at the box office, causing many to speculate if there was a greater conspiracy behind the “mix-up.” That included Jay-Z, who spoofed the incident in a Friends-themed music video.

As strange and suspicious as the whole thing was, the audience reactions gave birth to many of our greatest memes.

Sacheen Littlefinger turns down Marlon Brando's Oscar on his behalf

(Image credit: Oscars)

Sacheen Littlefeather Goes To The Oscars In Marlon Brando’s Place

If you weren’t aware, Marlon Brando was a complete badass—and he proved that by refusing to accept the award for Best Actor in The Godfather at the 1973 awards ceremony.

Instead, he sent Native American actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather in his place. When his name was called, Littlefeather took the stage and shared that Brando would not be accepting the award in an act of protest against the portrayal of Native Americans in film:

As you can hear in the clip, Littlefinger’s speech was met with mixed reviews from the audience. Phew. As brave as Brando was for his protest in the first place, nothing compares to how brave Littlefinger had to be to face the crowd.

Fifty years later, the Academy issued a formal apology to Littlefinger—a bit overdue, no?

Hattie McDaniels accepts the award for best supporting actress for Gone With the Wind

(Image credit: Oscars)

Hattie McDaniel Winning At The Segregated Oscars

Gone With the Wind star Hattie McDaniel made history as the first Black person to win an Oscar. Despite the fact that she had won, she wasn’t even allowed to sit at the same table as her white co-stars from the film.

Racism and bigotry in the film industry certainly didn’t die with her historic win—McDaniel’s career stalled afterwards as she was typecast for racist “mammy” roles, and it would be over 20 years before another black actor would win a competitive Oscar—but this scandal definitely serves as a reminder of the systemic issues Black actors have faced in the film industry, more recently than most people may realize.

The nominees for actor in a leading role at the 2015 Oscars

(Image credit: Oscars)


This hashtag took the film world by storm in 2015, when Twitter user April Reign used the phrase to express her distaste for the fact that all 20 Oscars nominations for acting went to white actors.

The hashtag created a wave of discourse on Twitter, with much of the outrage focused on the lack of nominations for the cast of Selma.

Despite the widespread reach of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag in 2015, the Academy voters didn’t get the message for the 2016 ceremony. For the second year in a row, actors of color were absent from the list of nominees.

While two years in a row with only white acting nominees definitely counts as a scandal, this systemic Oscars issue is far from resolved in 2023.

Adrien Brody's reaction to Roman Polanski's Best Director win for The Pianist

(Image credit: Oscars)

Roman Polanski’s Win In 2003

Roman Polanski is a sex offender. He admitted to sleeping with a 13-year old girl when he pled guilty to statutory rape charges in 1977, and then he fled the country to avoid charges. You’d think that would be the end of his career, right?

Apparently, not so—the director was nominated for best director and best film at the Academy Awards in 2003 for his work on “The Pianist,” alongside star Adrien Brody.

Polanski’s past apparently didn’t upset Academy voters (or his colleagues), as he was announced as the best director of the year to a thunderous standing ovation. Reminder: he couldn’t be there in person because he’s a literal fugitive.

The whole thing was disgusting, and looking back many wonder why the Academy even allowed Polanski’s films to be submitted for consideration. He’s since been banned from the Academy with the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby, but the incident seemed to illustrate Hollywood’s true colors for many appalled viewers.

Idina Menzel in Disenchanted

(Image credit: Disney)

Bonus: The Wickedly Talented Adele Dazeem

Fine, it’s not a scandal, but it’s important. No one was canceled in the wake of this Oscars blunder, but Disenchanted cast member Idina Menzel did earn a new alias as a result.

I’ll just roll the clip!

That’s a classic Oscars moment if I’ve ever seen one. Plus, the rest of this list was so heavy I had to give you something to chuckle at.

Did any of these Oscars scandals slip your mind? Of course not, because we never stopped talking about them. Furthermore, what are we expecting for the first Oscars ceremony since The Slap? I’m anticipating approximately four slap-themed jokes in the first hour.

Tune in to the 95th Academy Awards this March 13 to see how host Jimmy Kimmel handles the gig. And, not to jinx anything, but he was the host when the whole La La Land/Moonlight thing happened. So, we'll see!

Emily Marek

She/her. Lover of female-led comedies, Saturday Night Live, and THAT scene in Fleabag. Will probably get up halfway through the movie to add more butter to the popcorn.