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The Award For Best Oscar Controversy Goes to...

Pretenders, protests and politics


Cate Blanchett, so beautiful, so perfect in 2013's Blue Jasmine, was a shoo-in to take home the Oscar for her heartbreaking performance as the film's title character. Until Feb. 1.

"What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett?" asked Dylan Farrow in an open letter to The New York Times.

Farrow, the daughter of Blue Jasmine director Woody Allen, took Blanchett to task for separating her art from her career choice of working with Allen in the shadow of Farrow's chilling allegation that Allen sexually assaulted her in 1992, when she was 7 years old. Allen was never charged and he denies the accusations.

But Farrow's letter has upended Hollywood in the final days of voting leading up to the Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday, March 2. The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg writes that "whether intended or not, the byproduct of [Farrow's letter] may well be that Academy members will think twice before supporting Allen or those who have chosen to associate with him ... when they fill out their Oscar ballots."

The Academy's clumsy dance with controversy is nothing new. Consider the multiple incidents throughout Oscar's 86 years in which Hollywood's facade was stripped away by shame or ignorance.

1957--When Robert Rich was named as the winner for Best Original Story for The Brave One, no one came to the podium. It turns out that Rich never existed. The man behind the fake moniker was blacklisted scribe Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten.

1971--At the height of the Vietnam War, "Hanoi" Jane Fonda won the Best Actress award for Klute. The Academy held its breath as she strode to the podium, paused, and said, "There's a great deal to say, and I'm not going to say it tonight." You could hear a collective exhale from the auditorium on TV.

1973--Marlon Brando refused his Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather and instead sent actress Sacheen Littlefeather to the podium to deride racist portrayals of Native Americans in film.

1975--This was perhaps Oscar's most embarrassing year. After being called to the stage to pick up the Best Documentary Oscar for Hearts and Minds, filmmaker Bert Schneider read a telegram from the North Vietnamese government that read, "Please transmit to all our friends in America our recognition of all they have done on behalf of peace." Co-hosts Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra rushed to the podium to disavow the Academy's responsibility for the speech. But co-host Shirley MacLaine expressed her displeasure with Hope and Sinatra's remarks, making it a pretty chilly evening all around.

1977--Upon receiving her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Julia, pro-Palestinian advocate Vanessa Redgrave thanked the Academy for standing up to "Zionist hoodlums."

1999--Elia Kazan, director of On the Waterfront, East of Eden and A Streetcar Named Desire, won a Lifetime Achievement Oscar, but a number of people at the ceremony refused to stand for a man who outed members of the American Communist Party to the 1962 House Committee on Un-American Activities.

2003--Michael Moore won the Best Documentary Oscar for Bowling for Columbine but used his speech to proclaim George W. Bush's election was "fictitious."

"Shame on you, Mr. Bush. Shame on you," Moore shouted to a mix of cheers and jeers.

Most Academy Award ceremonies are noted for heartfelt or funny moments; but, every so often, the true consequences of personal behavior and geopolitical conflict are too great to hold behind a velvet rope. And that's when you know that you're watching more than a silly awards show. You're watching history happen.