9 Times the Oscars Got Political

If all the world’s a stage … the Oscars have frequently been the setting for some of Hollywood’s biggest names to take a political stand, with everyone from Marlon Brando to Halle Berry making their voices heard on the industry’s biggest night. And if this awards season so far — amid one of the most politically divisive moments in American history — is any indication, the 2017 Oscars will likely have its fair share of political speeches. Relive some of the most political speeches in Oscars history in the video above!

In January, Meryl Streep made headlines after she delivered an unapologetically anti–Donald Trump speech at the 2017 Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, January 8. “Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. If you kick ’em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts,” the 67-year-old movie icon said at the time, referring to the president’s frequent attack on minority groups.

Ashton Kutcher also took a shot at Trump for his executive orders to temporarily ban immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries and indefinitely ban Syrian refugees from the United States at the 2017 SAG Awards on Sunday, January 29. “Good evening, fellow SAG members and everyone at home and everyone in airports that belong in my America,” he said to kick off the night, sparking thunderous applause from the audience.

And the tradition runs deep. Here are seven memorable times that celebrities have gotten political at the Oscars.

Jane Fonda
Jane Fonda thanks the audience after accepting an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress, at the 44th annual Academy Awards, at the Music Center. Bettmann/Getty Images

1. Jane Fonda, 1972 (Klute)

Fonda represents perhaps one of the first politically charged Oscars acceptance speeches since the award ceremony’s 1929 inception — and the Hollywood icon didn’t even mention the war when picking up her first Oscar. “Thank you. Thank you very much, members of the Academy, and thank you, all of you who applauded,” she said. “There’s a great deal to say, and I’m not going to say it tonight. I would just like to really thank you very much.”

The actress, who was an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War, explained why she didn’t mention the conflict directly while speaking to reporters afterwards, saying, “I was thinking that, while we’re all sitting there giving out awards, which are very important awards, there are murders being committed in our name in Indochina,” she told the press. “And I think everyone out there is aware of it as I am, and I think that everyone out there wants it to end as much as I do. And I didn’t think I needed to say it. I think we have had it. I really do. I think everyone feels that way. And I just didn’t think it needed to be said.”

Sacheen Littlefeather
Sacheen Littlefeather at the 45th Academy Awards. Speaking on behalf of Marlon Brando, she refused the best actor honor he was awarded for his role in ‘The Godfather.’ Brando’s refusal was done to protest the treatment of Native Americans by Americans. Bettmann/Getty Images

2. Marlon Brando, 1973 (The Godfather)

Brando, who won the Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor, boycotted the awards ceremony that year and instead asked Sacheen Littlefeather, a Native American activist, to read from a statement he wrote. “Hello, my name is Sacheen Littlefeather. … I’m representing Marlon Brando this evening, and he’s asked me to tell you, in a very long speech, which I cannot share with you presently because of time, but which I will be glad to share with the press afterwards, that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award,” she said. “And the reasons for this being, are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry and on television and in movie reruns, and also at recent happenings at Wounded Knee. I beg at this time that I have not intruded upon this evening and that we will, in the future, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and generosity. Thank you on behalf of Marlon Brando.”

VANESSA REDGRAVE
Vanessa Redgrave on April 3, 1978. ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images

3. Vanessa Redgrave, 1978 (Julia)

Redgrave faced plenty of backlash following her best supporting actress nomination for her film Julia, in which she played Julia to Jane Fonda’s anti-Nazi activist Lillian Hellman, after the Jewish Defense League pointed out that the actress had helped fund and narrate a documentary promoting Palestine. When Redgrave received the award, she took the opportunity to blast her critics and thank the Academy for not bowing to the pressure. “I think you should be very proud that in the last few weeks, you’ve stood firm and you have refused to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world and to their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression,” she said.

Halle Berry
Halle Berry accepts her Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for ‘Monster's Ball’ during the 74th Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, March 24, 2002. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

4. Halle Berry, 2002 (Monster’s Ball)

An emotional Berry could hardly contain herself as she took to the stage in a stunning Elie Saab gown when she won the best actress Oscar for her powerful leading role in Monster’s Ball, taking a few moments at the podium to let her tears flow freely. “This moment is so much bigger than me. This moment is for Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll,” she was finally able to eke out. “It’s for the women that stand beside me, Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica Fox. And it’s for every nameless, faceless woman of color that now has a chance because this door tonight has been opened. Thank you. I’m so honored.” Berry was the first African American woman to ever win the top honor.

Michael Moore
Michael Moore accepts his Oscar for documentary feature for ‘Bowling for Columbine’ during the 75th Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, March 23, 2003. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

5. Michael Moore, 2003 (Bowling for Columbine)

Though he is an outspoken opponent of President Donald Trump now, Moore’s target of choice back in 2003 was then-President George W. Bush. The filmmaker took to the stage with the rest of the documentary nominees behind him to lambast the president. “We like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times. We live in a time when we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president,” he said. “We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. Whether it’s the fiction of duct tape or the fictitious of orange alerts, we are against this war, Mr. Bush! Shame on you, Mr. Bush. Shame on you! And anytime you’ve got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up. Thank you very much.”

Sean Penn
Sean Penn accepts his best actor award for ‘Milk’ during the 81st Annual Academy Awards held at Kodak Theatre Feb. 22, 2009, in Los Angeles. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

6. Sean Penn, 2009 (Milk)

Penn, known for his oft-rebellious ways and activism, didn’t hold back when he won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role in 2009 (his second Oscar after 2004’s Mystic River) for his portrayal of gay and civil rights icon Harvey Milk. “You commie, homo-loving, sons of guns!” he exclaimed upon reaching the podium. “I did not expect this, but I want it to be very clear that I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me, often.” The actor then directly referenced the then-controversial Prop 8, which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.

“For those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support,” he said. “We’ve got to have equal rights for everyone. And there are, and there are these last two things. I’m very, very proud to live in a country that is willing to elect an elegant man president and a country who, for all its toughness, creates courageous artists, and this is in great due respect to all the nominees, but courageous artists who, despite a sensitivity that sometimes has brought enormous challenge, Mickey Rourke rises again, and he is my brother.” (Penn took home the award in a surprise upset over Rourke, who many had pegged as the surefire winner for his comeback role in The Wrestler.)

Jared Leto
Jared Leto accepts the Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role award for 'Dallas Buyers Club' on stage during the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on March 2, 2014, in Hollywood. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

7. Jared Leto, 2014 (Dallas Buyers Club)

After winning the best supporting actor Oscar for his role as the transgender woman Rayon diagnosed with AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club in the earliest, most frightening days of that epidemic, Leto got political with his acceptance speech, addressing the Ukranian unrest that was taking place at that time. “To all the dreamers out there around the world watching this tonight in places like the Ukraine and Venezuela, I want to say we are here and as you struggle to … to make your dreams happen, to live the impossible … We’re thinking of you tonight.”

Common and John Legend
Common and John Legend accept the best original song award for ‘Glory’ from ‘Selma’ during the 87th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on Feb. 22, 2015, in Hollywood. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

8. John Legend and Common, 2015 (Selma)

Legend took to the stage with fellow musician Common to accept the Oscar for Best Original Song in 2015, for the much-acclaimed film Selma. The two men were heartfelt and direct when addressing the race issues that still impact society several decades after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s march from Selma to Montgomery. “Nina Simone said it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times we’re in,” Legend said. “Selma is now … because the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than there were in slavery in 1850.”

Patricia Arquette
Patricia Arquette accepts the award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for ‘Boyhood’ during the 87th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on Feb. 22, 2015, in Hollywood. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

9. Patricia Arquette, 2015 (Boyhood)

Arquette had a mission when she took to the Oscars stage in 2015 after winning the award for best supporting actress, and it was to address the gender and wage gaps that still exist within the industry today. “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights,” Arquette said in her speech. “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

Us Weekly will have all the inside scoop at the Oscars on Sunday, February 26, so be sure to check back to catch all the best moments!

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