On Sunday night, live from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, the 88th annual Academy Awards (The Oscars) were held and aired around the world. The 3+ hour award ceremony celebrated the year’s best in all facets of film, highlighted by the movie Spotlight — the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation in the Catholic church, which took home the award for Best Picture of 2015.
While the program’s ratings hit an 8 year low, due in large part to the active boycott of the event for a lack of diversity amongst the year’s nominees, many still tuned in and witnessed Leonardo DiCaprio finally win an Oscar for best actor after numerous nominations.
Well-known for his work as a global activist in addition to being a world-renowned actor, it only seemed fitting that Leo would use his long overdue acceptance speech to shed light on a matter he is passionate about. This inspired me to put together a list of 8 of the most memorable Oscar speeches that said more than just the traditional thanks to God, loved ones, and the Academy.
Marlon Brando (1972)
Not all Oscar acceptance speeches are well liked, and Marlon Brando’s acceptance speech for Best Actor in The Godfather was certainly one of them. Part of the issue was that Marlon elected to not make the speech himself, and instead sent Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather to speak on his behalf. Sacheen formally and respectively declined the Oscar on the grounds of the poor treatment of American Indians in the film industry.
Cuba Gooding Jr. (1997)
While Cuba didn’t use his few minutes on stage to stir up controversy, he did use it to re-define gratitude and love. Rather than plainly thanking everyone who helped him win the award for Best Supporting Actor in Jerry Maguire, Cuba instead got overwhelmed with loving excitement, repeatedly yelling “I love you” to everyone in the audience and those watching around the world.
Roberto Benigni (1998)
There are few movies that have made me cry more than the 1998 Italian film Life Is Beautiful, which deservedly took home the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Director and star of the film Roberto Benigni took genuine excitement to a whole new level when the film’s name was announced, jumping on chairs and kissing everyone in sight. What also made Roberto’s speech memorable was the gratitude he had towards his parents for giving him the gift of poverty growing up.
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Halle Berry (2002)
In 2002, Halle Berry became the first woman of colour to win the prestigious award for her performance in the film Monster’s Ball. Overwhelmed with emotion, Halle used her acceptance speech to share the award with all women of colour who came before her and was excited that her win would open the door for even more success moving forward.
Adrien Brody (2003)
Adrien Brody set the stage for his Best Actor winning speech by unexpectedly smooching presenter Halle Berry upon receipt of his award for his role in The Pianist. After thanking all those involved, Adrien refused to stop when his time was up to speak on how the film impacted his view of war. He got emotional describing the sadness and dehumanization that war inflicts upon the world, and sent his genuine hope for a swift and peaceful solution to all existing conflict.
Michael Moore (2003)
In undoubtedly the most controversial Oscar acceptance speech of all time, documentary filmmaker Michael Moore decided to use his two minutes of airtime to directly call out President George W. Bush. Michael shed light on the fiction behind election results and the lack of truth to the reasons why we are at war, directly yelling “Shame on you Mr. Bush” in front of a stunned crowd. Michael also invited all other nominees in the category for Best Documentary Film to come to the stage with him to celebrate the importance of investigative journalism.
Dustin Lance Black (2009)
When openly gay male Dustin Lance Black won the award for Best Original Screenplay for the film Milk, he used his acceptance speech to deliver a message of hope to all members of the LGBT community. Dustin spoke on behalf of the late Harvey Milk, reminding everyone within the community that they are beautiful, that God does love them, and that they are on a path to equal rights.
Leonardo DiCaprio (2016)
It only seems fitting to round out the list with the gentleman I opened this article with, Leonardo DiCaprio. After thanking everyone involved in The Revenant, Leo spoke out on behalf of the planet, reminding us all that we can no longer take it for granted and abuse it in the ways that corporate America has made a habit of.
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