Has Anyone Ever Given an Oscar Back Before?

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In 2017 the Academy released an updated code of conduct in the wake of the #MeToo movement, with Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences CEO Dawn Hudson writing to members at the time, “There is no place in the Academy for people who abuse their status, power, or influence in a manner that violates recognized standards of decency. The Academy is categorically opposed to any form of abuse, harassment, or discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability, age, religion, or nationality.”

It’s unclear exactly how the Academy will proceed with regards to Smith’s indiscretion, but there’s some historical precedent for Oscar winners returning their awards or otherwise stripping themselves of their Academy accolades; actors Marlon Brando and George C. Scott and screenwriter Dudley Nichols have all refused their awards.

Violence, particularly a public display of it like Smith offered at the Oscars, should never be normalized or condoned, but it’s worth noting that accused sex offenders, including Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, have not only not been asked to return their Oscars in the wake of the sex-abuse allegations made against them by women under the legal age of consent, but they have actually been honored by the Academy after those allegations were brought to light. (Polanski was awarded his Oscar in 2003, 26 years after he pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old, while one of Allen’s four Oscars came after his adoptive daughter Dylan Farrow first accused him of sexual abuse in 1992.)

As far as incidences of violence at the Oscars themselves go, actor John Wayne had to be forcibly restrained from confronting Indigenous actor and activist Sacheen Littlefeather after she brought up Hollywood’s offensive portrayals of her community while accepting Brando’s Oscar for him in 1973.

As of now, no Oscar winner has ever had their award rescinded by the Academy, although producer and serial sexual abuser Harvey Weinstein was expelled from the governing body in 2017. When it comes to Smith, we’ll have to wait and see how the Academy responds under pressure—however, it’s worth asking what kind of potentially racialized message it would be sending if the organization did choose to remove the Oscar awarded to Smith, a Black man, while letting Polanski and Allen’s stand.

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