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Will Smith's Oscar Slap Was Bad - But John Wayne's 1973 Attack Was Worse

CBR 1/27/2023 Renaldo Matadeen
© Provided by CBR

Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the 2022 Oscars for joking about Jada Pinkett Smith's hair will definitely go down as one of Hollywood's most shocking moments. It led to many celebrities and fans condemning the slap, including Zoƫ Kravitz, Amy Schumer and a disgusted Jim Carrey, while others felt Smith had to defend his wife from being the butt of jokes due to her alopecia.

Nonetheless, the Academy banned Smith from the awards for ten years after he copped the Best Actor award for King Richard, understanding if unchecked, it could be seen as condoning assault on a public stage. However, while folks are debating whether this was the Academy's most horrific incident, it wasn't. That actually occurred in 1973 when Marlon Brando sent a proxy to make a statement after winning Best Actor for The Godfather. In that instance, rather than something emotional and reactive, what ensued was ignorance and hatred toward a minority.

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Marlon Brando and Littlefeather's Activism Efforts Were Met With Mockery

In the Brando case, the esteemed actor sent Native American actor Sacheen Littlefeather to refuse the Oscar and deliver a speech for his Best Actor win. The 26-year-old Littlefeather wore a traditional Apache gown and issued Brando's statement to the audience and press on the public platform, outlining his displeasure over the treatment of American Indians in the entertainment industry. As the Native American activist spoke about incidents such as Wounded Knee, sadly, there were both jeers and cheers, with many feeling she hijacked the show.

Clint Eastwood later mocked the speech, trivializing her words and standing up for cowboys "shot in all the John Ford Westerns over the years." His demeanor was insensitive and tone-deaf, totally missing the point of Brando's message. It compounded the white privilege, entitlement and ownership Brando was actually speaking to and made even more shocking by many in the crowd applauding this ignorance.

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John Wayne Attempted to Attack Littlefeather After Her Speech

To make it worse, Littlefeather later admitted John Wayne had to be held back by six security guards from attacking her, outraged over her words of equality, representation and diversity. Clearly, fragile egos were hurt, with both showing a severe case of toxic masculinity rather than compassion or empathy. More so, to become violent like this toward a woman was quite frankly criminal, which is where the line is drawn between such vitriol and aggression in '73 versus now. Smith's act was uncalled for, but it's couched by a lot of emotions and societal variables, given his mental health issues and the problems he recently faced with his marriage and public ridicule over their problems.

Eastwood and Wayne weren't provoked at all, highlighting the unconscious bias, latent racism and how the industry was so resistant to change that it'd take decades for it even to attempt to stitch in the inclusivity Brando and Littlefeather wanted. Sacheen Littlefeather passed away on October 2, 2022, after developing Stage IV breast cancer in 2018. Just months before her death, in June 2022, the Academy issued a formal apology from Academy President David Ruben. Marking the apology as a "dream come true," Littlefeather read the apology in its entirety at a celebration of Native American performances held at the Academy Museum in September 2022. She was 75 at the time of her death.

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