#Movies & TV

22 Of The Best Times Award Shows Got Political

by Jennifer Lafferty

22 Of The Best Times Award Shows Got Political

Every major awards show has had more than its fair share of awkward moments over the years — from wardrobe malfunctions to strange shout-outs. But many of the most memorable unexpected moments occur when entertainers decide to use their star power to talk politics.


Marlon Brando and Littlefeather



It’s been decades since Marlon Brando sent activist Littlefeather to decline his Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather in 1973 and speak out on Native American rights, but it’s still one of the show’s most famous moments.


“Spotlight” Producers Talk to the Pope



When Spotlight won Best Picture at the Oscars in 2016, producer Michael Sugar had a message for Pope Francis about protecting children and restoring faith. But at least his comments were relevant to the movie itself, a biographical film that focused on the investigation of widespread child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the Boston area.


Tina Fey and Amy Poehler Rag on George Clooney



At the Golden Globes in 2015, co-hosts Amy Poehler and Tina Fey referenced human rights lawyer Amal Clooney’s many accomplishments, then said “So tonight, her husband is getting a lifetime achievement award.” This tongue-in-cheek joke about society’s misplaced values got a big laugh from the audience.


Sally Field’s Anti-War Speech



During the Iraq War in 2007, Sally Field was bleeped giving an expletive-laced anti-war speech while accepting her Emmy for Brothers & Sisters, saying “And let’s face it, if mothers ruled the world, there would be no goddammed wars.”


Michael Moore Scolds President George W. Bush



When his documentary Bowling for Columbine won the Oscar in 2003, controversial filmmaker and Iraq War critic Michael Moore used his acceptance speech to scold President George W. Bush, saying “Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you.”


Vanessa Redgrave on Zionists



While accepting her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Julia in 1978, in which she plays an anti-fascist activist who was murdered by the Nazis, Vanessa Redgrave went on a now-famous rant stemming from her work on another film entirely. The English actress previously narrated a documentary called The Palestinian, which received significant pushback from Israeli nationalists. Yahoo reports that upon her nomination for Julia, these ultra-nationalists burned effigies of the actress –– and in response, she used her time on the Academy stage to respond to those critics, calling them “Zionist hoodlums.”


Al Gore on Climate Change



When Al Gore’s global warming film An Inconvenient Truth won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2007, the former vice president sounded more like a politician than a filmmaker. Given the seasoned lawmaker’s decades spent in office (he won his first election in 1977) and the topic at hand, it makes sense that the environmentalist would use the occasion to talk about climate change.


Controversial Award Winner Elia Kazan



Legendary director Elia Kazan was the recipient of a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars in 1999, but many attendees refused to stand or applaud the 89-year-old awardee –– even going so far as to protest his nomination with a full-page ad before the broadcast of the show. Their issue? In 1952, Kazan testified in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee during the “Hollywood blacklist,” where he was pressured to provide the names of eight former colleagues from the Group Theater who’d been Communists.


Sean Penn on Gay Rights



During his acceptance of the 2009 Best Actor Oscar for his role in Milk, a film about politician and gay rights activist Harvey Milk, Sean Penn criticized the anti-gay protesters who were outside picketing the ceremony itself, with signs attacking the recently deceased Heath Ledger. Penn addressed the audience by referring to the protestors, saying “those who voted for the ban against gay marriage” should “sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame … if they continue that way of support. We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone.”


Maggie Gyllenhaal on Gender Equality



After winning best actress in a mini-series for her role in The Honourable Woman, Maggie Gyllenhaal gave a memorable Golden Globes acceptance speech touching on gender equality. She used the 2015 ceremony not to criticize, but to instead highlight an increase in the “roles for actual women.” Her fellow nominees represented a shift in the entertainment industry to more complex female characters.


Andy Serkis Goes After Donald Trump



Among the (many) barbs directed at the Republican presidential candidate and game show host Donald Trump during the 2016 Oscar ceremony, presenter Andy Serkis compared the candidate to a “megalomaniacal monster” onstage… which is actually pretty tame considering the commentary heard throughout this heated election season.


Susan Sarandon on Haitan Refugees



Susan Sarandon is no stranger to expressing her opinions, even if it’s onstage at the Academy Awards. When Sarandon and her then-partner Tim Robbins were Oscar presenters in 1993, they used the opportunity to draw attention to the U.S. government’s internment of HIV-positive Haitian refugees at Guantanamo Bay, who were fleeing their country after a military coup and had been intercepted in international waters off the coast of Cuba. After years of protest, the camp was declared unconstitutional and closed later that year.


Leonardo DiCaprio Tries to Save the Planet



Like Al Gore, Best Actor winner Leonardo DiCaprio used his Oscar acceptance speech in 2016 to talk climate change. Although DiCaprio’s historical drama The Revenant didn’t have much to do with global warming, he claimed to see its effects during filming, saying film production “needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow.” The Washington Post later reported that over 34.5 million viewers heard his speech, resulting in a huge spike in internet search traffic about the topic.


“Transparent” Creator on Transgender Rights



Accepting her Emmy in 2016 for best directing in a comedy series, Transparent creator Jill Soloway focused her speech on transgender rights, saying “We don’t have a trans tipping point yet, we have a trans civil rights problem.” She also urged viewers to support the proposed Trans Equality Bill by visiting TransEquality.org.


“The Cove” Director on Animal Rights



Director Ric O’Barry was creative in getting his message across in 2010 when The Cove won Best Documentary. He held up a sign that read “Text DOLPHIN to 44144” to get people involved in ending the dolphin hunt.


Jimmy Kimmel Blames Mark Burnett for Trump Candidacy



The 2016 Emmy ceremony was one of the most political in recent memory. In one of the evening’s many Donald Trump jokes, Jimmy Kimmel referenced Apprentice creator Mark Burnett, saying: “Thanks to him, we don’t have to watch reality shows anymore because we’re living in one.”


Academy Award Winner Criticizes Vietnam War



During his 1975 Academy Awards acceptance speech for his work on the film Hearts and Minds, a documentary about the conflict in Vietnam, producer Bert Schneider read a telegram to the audience from the head of the North Vietnamese delegation to the Paris peace talks. The notably conservative Frank Sinatra was co-hosting the show and read a statement later in the evening denying responsibility for any political remarks on the show.


Richard Gere on Tibet



Richard Gere was banished from the Oscars for years after he was a presenter at the 1993 ceremony. Gere, an outspoken advocate for human rights, used his moment in the Academy’s spotlight to tell the audience he hoped Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping was watching the show so he could discuss human rights violations in Tibet. After 20 years, the actor returned to the ceremony in 2003.


Chris Rock Jokes About Racial Equality in Hollywood



Host Chris Rock made multiple jokes about the controversy surrounding the lack of people of color nominated for awards during the 2016 Oscars ceremony. His most memorable zinger of the evening? “I’m here at the Oscars, otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards.” Ouch!


Celebs Support The ACLU Support With Ribbons


Frazer Harrison | Getty


The 2017 Oscars brought up plenty of political statements, starting with the red carpet. Several celebs showed up to the event wearing blue ribbons to signify their unity with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Stars included Karlie Kloss, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ruth Negga, and Busy Phillips. Emma Stone and Dakota Johnson both showed up sporting Planned Parenthood logos in their ensemble as well.


Gael García Bernal Goes After The Mexico Wall


Kevin Winter | Getty


Before presenting the award for Best Animated Feature, Gael García Bernal gave an heartfelt speech in regard to Donald Trump’s plans for a wall between the United States and Mexico.

“Actors are migrant workers; we travel all over the world,” he said. “We built a life that cannot be divided. As a Mexican, as a Latin American, as a migrant worker, as a human being, I’m against any form of wall that wants to separate us.”



Asghar Farhadi Protests Donald Trump’s Travel Ban


Maarten de Boer | Getty


In protest of Donald Trump’s travel ban, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi did not show up to the 89th Annual Academy Awards show. He was awarded Best Foreign Language Film for “The Salesman,” and a statement was read on his behalf.

“My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of the other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immingrants to the US,” the statement said. “Dividing the world into the ‘us and our enemies’ categories creates fear. A deceitful justification for aggression and war. These wars prevent democracy and human rights in countries which have themselves been victims of aggression.”