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What happens if you refuse an Oscar?

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Emily Reynolds
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What happens if you refuse an Oscar?
Receiving an Oscar is the highest accolade in filmmaking – the holy grail for those working in the entertainment industry.

But that doesn’t mean that everyone shortlisted for an Academy Award actually wants one – and we’re not talking about the stars who simply claim they don’t care about winning. 

In fact, several stars have rejected their awards – some for philosophical reasons, some for political. But what actually happens if you reject one?

What happens if you reject an Academy Award? 

Well, it turns out…not very much. Numerous actors, writers and directors have rejected their awards over the year – and they’re still listed as winners in all official records.

Stars are free to send back the award statuettes, however. So basically… you still win the award but you don’t actually get anything to put on a shelf in your bathroom. 

The most famous example was Marlon Brando’s 1973 boycott and refusal – but here are some of the other stars who have also refused to accept their awards.

Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando’s role as Don Corleone in The Godfather is widely considered to be one the greatest feats of acting in entertainment history – and he was rightfully rewarded for it in the 1973 Oscars.

But, in perhaps the most famous example of an Oscar rejection, he wasn’t there to accept it. When the camera panned to him, an Apache woman called Sacheen Littlefeather was there – ostensibly to accept the award on his behalf.

In fact, as you’ve almost certainly guessed, she was there to reject the award – because of the federal government’s treatment of Native Americans in Wounded Knee, South Dakota. 

“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 in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee.”

George C. Scott

What happens if you refuse an Oscar? 1

Actor George C. Scott won the award for Best Actor in 1971 for his role as General George Patton in the film Patton – but he’d been saying he wouldn’t accept an award for many years previously. 

His first nomination came in 1959 – Best Supporting Actor in Anatomy of a Murder. But it was two years later, in 1961, when he first said he’d reject an award if he won Best Supporting Actor in The Hustler. He objected to the awards “on principle”, disagreeing with the idea of “pitting actors against each other”. 

But it wasn’t until 1971 that he had the chance to reject the award, telling organisers that he would be boycotting the awards in advance – so it wasn’t a surprise when he failed to collect the award. 

Dudley Nichols

The very first person to decline an Oscar was screenwriter Dudley Nichols – who did it to protest the Academy’s “refusal to acknowledge unions” including the Screen Writer’s Guild. 

Nichols won an Oscar in 1935 for his film The Informant – but boycotted the event and rejected his award, famously sending the trophy back twice when it was sent to him. 

He was vindicated in the end though – in 1938, the National Labor Relations Board recognised the Screen Writers Guild, and Nichols finally accepted his Oscar. 

Images: Rex Features

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