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(Credit: Far Out/Academy Awards)

Film

The only three actors ever to decline an Academy Award

@Russellisation

For many, an Oscar statuette awarded by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is the highest form of praise you can ever receive for any given on-screen performance or behind the scenes efforts. Putting filmmakers among the likes of classic directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, and actors with such icons as Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep and Kathy Bates, an Oscar puts you in the history books of cinema.

Though, for others, the Academy Awards aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, with the self-congratulatory parade of Hollywood glamour regularly ignoring the wider efforts of filmmaking across the globe. For the most subversive actors and filmmakers that have graced the industry, winning an Oscar can be seen as more of an insult than a mark of greatness. 

Three such rebellious creatives stood firm against the awards show and declined the Oscar statuette, with the first such protestor coming in 1935 in the form of screenwriter Dudley Nichols. Declining his statuette for Best Adapted Screenplay for the film The Informer due to a dispute between the Screen Writers Guild, of which he was a founder, and the Academy over union matters, Nichols did, however, accept the award three years later. 

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Nichols’ refusal of the award was the first time in the ceremony’s history someone dared to turn down a coveted award, though it wouldn’t be the last time, with George C. Scott refusing his Best Leading Actor Oscar for Patton in 1971. After having warned the Academy months in advance that he would turn the award down on philosophical grounds if he won, the principled actor believed that every dramatic performance was totally unique, with comparison to others being tiresome and futile.

Penning a letter to the Academy, Scot wrote that he did not feel in competition with the other actors, before stating elsewhere, “The whole thing is a goddamn meat parade. I don’t want any part of it”. 

Creating something of a short fad, it was only two years later when Marlon Brandon would become the third and final person to refuse an Oscar, turning down his award for Best Actor in the Francis Ford Coppola classic, The Godfather. Appearing alongside the likes of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Diane Keaton in the film, the only reason the actor turned down the award was because of the “treatment of Native Americans today by the film industry”.

Famously sending the Native American Californian actress Sacheen Littlefeather to the ceremony to refuse the award, she clarified in the acceptance speech that Brando was absent due to the poor “treatment of American Indians today by the film industry…and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee”. Though she was drowned out by jeers at one point in her speech, Littlefeather concluded by stating that she hoped “our hearts and understandings will meet with love and generosity,” as she was clapped off stage.

Take a look at the iconic acceptance speech, below, recalling the last time an Academy Award was turned down by a filmmaker or actor. Though will it be the last?