A history of Oscar scandals: is Will Smith’s slap really the most controversial ever?

We list some other red faces at the Academy

Rare are the moments that someone wishes they’d been stage-invaded by Kanye West instead, but such was Chris Rock’s fate, as Will Smith reacted to an inappropriate joke with an even more inappropriate display of toxic masculinity at Sunday’s Oscars. Violence, of course, is never a good look, particularly having chosen to attend a well-known forum of the ancient jester tradition of mocking the successful and privileged – i.e. the Hollywood award ceremony. A stony-faced scowl to camera would have won the online argument far more effectively.

Instead, Will Smith slapping Chris Rock will go down forever in the annals of Oscars scandal. But how does it rate against the most jaw-dropping (rather than jaw-rubbing) moments in the history of the ceremony? Let’s look at the nominees.

Announcing the wrong Best Picture, 2017

Remember that moment when you’ve reached the front of a long and hot-headed queue for last-minute PS5s, only to spend five humiliating minutes trying to pay with an out-of-date debit card? Now transpose that to the world’s most-watched awards ceremony and you’re Warren Beatty, trying to fathom why you’ve been given the envelope for the winner of the Best Actress award (Emma Stone, for La La Land) when you’re supposed to be announcing Best Picture. Panicking, your co-host Faye Dunaway takes the card and declares La La Land Best Picture. The film’s jubilant cast then troop onstage and it’s up to producer Jordan Horowitz to rush across and correct the record: Moonlight had actually won.


How many slaps out of 10? Seven – there were certainly red faces all round.

Scattering Kim Jong-il’s ashes, 2012

In his guise as Admiral-General Haffaz Aladeen from his 2012 mockumentary The Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen arrived at the Oscars carrying an urn containing, he claimed, the ashes of the late North Korean leader and Aladeen’s “doubles tennis partner” Kim Jong-il to fulfil the despot’s lifelong dream of attending the ceremony. He then proceeded to scatter the ashes on the red carpet, most by tipping them onto interviewer Ryan Seacrest.

How many slaps out of 10? Five – at least everyone understood the joke.

Björk lays eggs, 2001

A few weeks before the Oscars 2001, Björk arrived at the Golden Globes in a dress sequined with Michael Jackson’s face and an owl handbag. Then, clearly in costumed competition only with herself, she hit the Oscars red carpet in a swan dress, laying six large eggs behind her as she went. “Other people’s bodyguards kept picking them up and saying in their thick American accents, ‘’Scuse me, ma’am, you dropped this’,” she said.


How many slaps out of 10? in retrospect, zero – despite being described as “the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen” by fashion pundit Steven Cojocaru on the night, the swan dress has since become iconic.

Björk at the 2001 Oscars CREDIT: Getty

Non-contractual nudity, 1974

There are wardrobe malfunctions and nip-slips… and then there was art gallery owner Robert Opel deciding to streak across the front of the Oscars stage just as host David Niven was introducing Elizabeth Taylor to present the 1974 Best Picture award. “That’s a pretty hard act to follow,” quipped Taylor.

How many slaps out of 10? Eight – as Niven commented at the time, “shortcomings” were revealed in both cases.

Brando no-show, 1973

Few actors manage to cause a stir at the Oscars without even showing up, but Marlon Brando certainly did when he boycotted the 1973 awards and sent Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to announce that he wouldn’t be accepting his Oscar for The Godfather, citing “the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry and on television and movie re-runs”. In later years, organisers would try to keep the Oscars non-political by slapping (short-lived) lifetime bans on Tim Robbins, Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon for making activist acceptance speeches and set the orchestra playing to hurry Michael Moore offstage when he began attacking George Bush Sr’s “war for fictitious reasons” in his 2003 speech.

How many slaps out of 10? Three – you’ve given them a platform, Academy, it’s not up to you if they use it for something more worthwhile than thanking their orthodontist.

The segregated winner, 1940

Little shames Oscars history more than the fact that the first ever black recipient of an award – Hattie McDaniel, for her supporting actress role in Gone With The Wind – was forced to make her acceptance speech from the back of the segregated room at the Ambassador Hotel in Las Vegas. Over 70 years later the struggle continued, with the #OscarsSoWhite movement criticising the lack of Black nominees in 2015 and Rock himself joking “if they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job”.

How many slaps out of 10? 11 – do better, Oscars.

Hattie McDaniel
Hattie McDaniel, alongside Vivien Leigh in ‘Gone With The Wind’. CREDIT: Alamy

Brotherly love, 2000

“I’m so in love with my brother right now,” announced Angela Jolie as she received the Best Actress In A Supporting Role Oscar in 2000, having celebrated with a supportive sibling hug from her brother James Haven. Later, she was photographed giving him an innocent smack on the lips, and it all went a bit Luke ’n’ Leia in the press.

How many slaps out of 10? One – can we please stop trying to turn everything into a song off ‘Surfer Rosa’?

Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie and her brother James Haven at an Oscars 2000 after party. CREDIT: Getty

J-Lo? No, 2000

Nominated for Best Original Song in 2000, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone turned up wearing revealing frocks previously made famous by Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow. And on acid.

How many slaps out of 10? Five – it sure felt like our eyeballs got sucker-punched.

South Park
Trey Parker & Matt Stone on the 2000 Oscars red carpet. CREDIT: Getty

Snow White besmirched, 1989

In 2020, in a minor Oscars scandal, the stage lights went out while the team behind Parasite were collecting their Best Picture award. Back in 1989, Rob Lowe must have wished for such good fortune. With no host that year, Grease producer Allan Carr concocted a 15-minute opening number for the ceremony involving Lowe duetting with Snow White on a cinematic reworking of Tina Turner’s ‘Proud Mary’, surrounded by dancing tables in a vision described by the Snow White actress Eileen Bowman as looking like “a gay bar mitzvah”. The routine was deemed so cringe-worthy that Disney sued for copyright infringement, 17 Hollywood big-hitters including Paul Newman and Julie Andrews signed a letter of complaint and Carr never worked in Hollywood again. Lowe, meanwhile, convinced his career was finished, must have found dealing with the scandal around his sex tape a few months later a relative breeze.

How many slaps out of 10? Eight – a real head-spinner.

You May Like