Now and then, among the standby speeches thanking partners, friends, agents, and fans, there comes an acceptance speech that stands out from the rest. Let’s take a look at some of the award show speeches that hit a nerve, spoke some hard truths, and even made us laugh.
Marlon Brando, 1973 Oscars
The most memorable (and controversial) speeches haven’t always been given by the winners. At the 1973 Academy Awards, Marlon Brando won Best Actor for his role in The Godfather, but Sacheen Littlefeather, president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee, refused the award in his place, citing “treatment of American Indians today by the film industry…and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.” Many in the audience booed, and the incident caused the Academy to ban winners from using representatives to accept (or refuse) their awards.
Yoko Ono, 1982 Grammys
Just a year after John Lennon’s murder in New York City, a weepy Yoko Ono and their son, Sean Lennon, received a standing ovation while accepting the Album of the Year award for ”Double Fantasy,” the album Ono made with her late husband.
Cuba Gooding Jr., Oscars 1997
For years, Cuba Gooding Jr. was known for an animated performance as an up-and-coming pro athlete managed by a scrappy agent played by Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire. Gooding Jr. couldn’t hold back his excitement when he accepted his award for Best Supporting Actor, either, drowning out the playoff stage music with a boisterous round of “thank you’s,” “I love you’s,” jumps, fist pumps, and tears.
Halle Berry, 2002 Oscars
In 2002, Halle Berry became the first (and still only) African American woman to win an Academy Award for Best Actress. In her emotional speech, she described the significance of the moment and the importance of representation to pave the way for a generation of African American actors to come.
Adrien Brody, “The Kiss,” 2003 Oscars
In the early 2000s, 29-year-old Adrien Brody was an up-and-coming holiday star and unconventional heartthrob. His role in Roman Polanski’s The Pianist earned him widespread critical acclaim and the award for Best Actor at the 2003 Oscars, making him the youngest actor to win in that category. After delivering a rousing speech, Brody celebrated his Best Actor award by planting a huge, impromptu kiss on presenter and previous-year’s winner Halle Berry— a move that likely wouldn’t fly in the post #metoo movement.
Al Gore, 2007 Golden Globes
Today’s news cycle is hyper-focused on the impending threat of climate change. But in 2007, Al Gore was one of the first to bring attention to the issue with his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. While accepting the award for Best Documentary film, Gore omnisciently warned the audience that the threat of climate change is “not a political issue, it’s a moral issue. We have everything we need to get started, with the possible exception of the will to act,” he said. “That’s a renewable resource. Let’s renew it.”
2017 Best Picture Winner Blunder
Not exactly a speech, but the now infamous Best Picture gaffe of 2017 made for some of the most memorable moments in Oscars history. Presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were given the wrong envelope for Best Picture, mistakenly calling out La La Land as the winner. After a few preliminary thank-yous and awkward moments, producers of La La Land were stopped mid acceptance speech to be informed that Moonlight was the correct winner. Shock and chaos ensued, but after a course correction and graceful concession, the rightful winner took the stage.
Drake, 2019 Grammys
The Grammys have long been criticized for ignoring rap for major category awards. In 2019, many nominated rap artists, including Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino boycotted the ceremony, along with Jay-Z and Kanye West. Drake was there to accept his Best Song award for “God’s Plan,” and took the opportunity to throw subliminal shade on the Recording Academy for their selection process and to make sure up-and-coming artists know a Grammy isn’t the ultimate measure of success.
Joaquin Phoenix, 2020
From late-night to Oscar night, Joaquin Phoenix is known for his memorable TV appearances — and he didn’t disappoint at the 2020 Oscars. Building on his powerful acceptance speech at the homogeneous BAFTA awards, Phoenix railed against cancel culture, cow insemination, and intolerance in his passionate yet meandering acceptance speech after winning Best Actor for his role in Joker.
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