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Claims That Last Night’s Slap Was the Oscars’ ‘Ugliest Moment Ever’ Are in Desperate Need of Perspective

Here are five far uglier moments.

Will Smith flashes a peace sign as he and Jada Pinkett Smith walk the Oscars red carpet

Following last night’s Oscars, all corners of the internet have been flooded with handwringing reactions to the biggest moment of the night, when Will Smith walked on stage and slapped Chris Rock after the presenter made a tasteless joke about Jada Pinkett’s Smith’s shaved head, essentially mocking her alopecia, about which she has been extremely open.

Yes, it was a huge moment, but the reactions have been out of control. In addition to rumors that Smith might lose his Oscar (and calls from at least one Academy member for that to happen), the internet is awash with tweets and thinkpieces opining that Smith’s actions irreparably tarnished the night and possibly the entire legacy of the Oscars. Comparisons to Vladimir Putin and even 9/11 were made. Kathy Griffin implied Smith might inspire legions of violent hecklers at comedy shows. Judd Apatow tweeted and deleted the ridiculous claim that Smith “could have killed” Rock with his open-handed slap.

“Ugly” is the word many have chosen to describe the slap. And far too many people, including celebrities like Mark Hamill and Mia Farrow, have gone a giant step further and called it the Oscars’ ugliest moment ever.

That’s a hell of a claim when discussing the Academy Awards which, in its 92-year history has had way more than its share of “ugly” moments.

People want to talk about the Oscars’ “ugliest moment ever”? OK, let’s start with these:

John Wayne tried to assault Sacheen Littlefeather for talking about inequality and oppression

In 1973, Marlon Brando boycotted the Oscars and tapped Native American actress and activist Sacheen Littlefeather to refuse his Best Actor award, won for his role in The Godfather, on his behalf. She spoke about the recent standoff between Native Americans and federal law enforcement at Wounded Knee, as well as “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry.”

She was met with a mix of applause and loud boos from the audience. John Wayne, famed Western actor, and self-proclaimed white supremacist, was watching from the wings and reportedly tried to rush the stage.

“During my presentation, he was coming towards me to forcibly take me off the stage, and he had to be restrained by six security men to prevent him from doing so,” Littlefeather said in an interview with Guardian last year.

That profile continues:

Presenting best picture soon after (also for The Godfather), Clint Eastwood quipped: “I don’t know if I should present this award on behalf of all the cowboys shot in all the John Ford westerns over the years.” When Littlefeather got backstage, she says, there were people making stereotypical Native American war cries at her and miming chopping with a tomahawk.

The treatment of Hattie McDaniel

If we’re going to talk about Oscar’s ugliest moment, it’s hard to think of many things uglier than the treatment of Hattie McDaniel when she won her Best Supporting Actress award for her role in Gone With the Wind in 1940. She was the first Black actor to be nominated for (let alone win) an Oscar, and she was only allowed into the ceremony, held at a strict whites-only hotel, as a special favor for producer David O. Selznick. She was not allowed to sit with the rest of her cast—including Olivia de Havilland, who was nominated for the same award for the same film as McDaniel—and was instead placed at a small table in the back of the room with just her escort and her agent.

Seth MacFarlane sang a whole song reducing actresses’ performances to their breasts

When Seth MacFarlane hosted in 2013, misogyny was the theme of the night. He made a joke about Rihanna’s experiences with domestic violence as well as a gross joke about nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis almost being old enough to date George Clooney. (Yes, that joke was meant to be at Clooney’s expense but Wallis was nine. Leave her out of it!)

The worst moment of the night though had to be the opening number, which featured MacFarlane singing and dancing to a number titled “We Saw Your Boobs,” in which he named a bunch of actresses who had done nude scenes in their films.

I don’t think I can articulate the grossness better than this piece from The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson Sorkin from the time:

“We Saw Your Boobs” was a song-and-dance routine in which MacFarlane and some grinning guys named actresses in the audience and the movies in which their breasts were visible. That’s about it. What made it worse was that most of the movies mentioned, if not all (“Gia”), were pretty great—“Silkwood,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Monster’s Ball,” “Monster,” “The Accused,” “Iris”—and not exactly teen-exploitation pictures. The women were not showing their bodies to amuse Seth MacFarlane but, rather, to do their jobs. Or did they just think they were doing serious work? You girls think you’re making art, the Academy, through MacFarlane, seemed to say, but all we—and the “we” was resolutely male—really see is that we got you to undress. The joke’s on you. At a moment when Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook chief operating officer, talks about how women have to “lean in” in the workplace, Seth MacFarlane pops up from behind to say, “So we can see your boobs.”

A standing ovation for Roman Polanski

In 2003, Roman Polanski won the Best Director award for The Pianist. He wasn’t present to accept, given that he fled the U.S. in the 1970s to avoid sentencing after being accused of drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl and pleading guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sex with a minor.

That didn’t stop the audience from giving Polanski a standing ovation when his win was announced.

The decades-long celebration of Harvey Weinstein

You can’t talk about the Oscars’ ugliness without talking about Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein was able to prey on actresses in Hollywood for decades not just because he produced a lot of films, but specifically because of his reputation as an Oscar maker.

“Everyone knew if you were in a Harvey movie, chances are you were going to win or be nominated for an Oscar,” said Sasha Stone, founder, and publisher of AwardsDaily.com told Forbes in 2017. “It’s a sick thing to be in a business where that was the collateral used to coerce women.”

OK, it’s not just one moment and while Weinstein may be one of the industry’s most prolific predators, he’s certainly not the only one in/being celebrated by the Academy. But while the Academy has revoked Weinstein’s membership, they have not rescinded the two Oscars he won in 1999 and 2003. That’s pretty ugly, isn’t it?

(image: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.