Sometimes the Academy Awards get it right. More often than one might hope though, they get it wrong. But judgments about excellence — which films, directors and actors are truly Oscar-worthy — are things the Academy can control. What it has no say in is what the people they award do after or before they take home those honors.
Throughout Oscar history, terrible, bad and not-at-all good people have taken the top prizes across all the various categories. Some of these actors, producers, writers and directors have become infamous for their trespasses. Others have remained secretly horrible. All of them prove the dangers of honoring anyone as the "best" anything, given that the person awarded can wind up being the absolute worst. It's a risk all awards take, and just another thing that should make us question the value of handing them out in the first place.
Here are just a few of the individuals who are walking this earth as Oscar winners despite their objective awfulness. Note that only the living who haunt the integrity of the Academy are listed here. Due to constraints of space and time, we're letting the odious dead lie silently in their graves.
1. Mel Gibson
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There are a goodly number of reasons to dislike the previously highly likable Mel Gibson. For one, he stretched the text of the Gospels to their breaking point in what seems like a bid to cram as much blood, anti-Semitism and sensation as possible into his controversial film "The Passion of the Christ." Then there's the homophobia he wove into "Braveheart," the movie that won him Best Director and Best Picture honors at the 1996 Academy Awards. Then there's that 2006 drunk driving incident in which he sexually harassed the arresting officer and reportedly said, "F**king Jews...the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. Are you a Jew?" Even though Gibson has apologized for at least some of that remark, it's enough to close the book on anyone.
But his worst trespasses involved the intimidation as well as physical and verbal abuse he piled on his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva. In a series of racist, misogynist rants recorded by Grigorieva, he threatened to kill her, rape her and bury her in a rose garden. There was considerable fallout from those recordings, along with all his other statements. And yet, Gibson has clawed his way back into Hollywood's good graces, a horrid person welcomed back into the fold.
2. Kevin Spacey
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Spacey was well known in certain circles for being a self-aggrandizing, self-serious and often imperious jerk high on his success and his 1996 Best Supporting Actor win for "The Usual Suspects" and his 2000 Best Actor victory for "American Beauty." But that sort of low-grade awfulness is not much to write home about in Hollywood, and certainly not enough to get you on this list.
No, what must shame the Academy is that Spacey has an alleged history of sexually harassing and assaulting young men — some of them underage — that goes back at least a decade before his first Oscar win. At this point, no less than 14 men have accused Spacey of misconduct ranging from unwanted passes, to groping, to full sexual assault, and there are suggestions that he may have offered the same treatment to at least 20 more.
And then there's the angry outcry from the gay community about the way he responded to the first round of allegations. Yep, he's pretty terrible, and he has an Oscar for each hand.
3. Woody Allen
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As time goes on, it seems less and less a possibility that Woody Allen raped his daughter Dylan when she was 7 years old and more a clear and likely probability. If you have doubts, just watch her recent appearance on "CBS This Morning" and try to deny the real pain visible there. There's also Mariel Hemingway, who claims that her "Manhattan" co-star and director tried to seduce her when she was 18 and he 46.
But even if one had never heard those reports, there's still enough awful history attached to the winner of three Best Original Screenplay Oscars and one Best Director to condemn him.
Woody Allen's longtime romantic partner Mia Farrow discovered nude photographs of her daughter Soon-Yi Previn in 1991 or early 1992, photos Allen allegedly admitted to taking after he and Previn began a sexual relationship weeks before. It's important to note that Previn would have been approximately 21 at the time, well over the age of consent. But Allen and Farrow had been romantically involved since 1979, just a year after Farrow adopted the 8-year-old Previn. Allen had had regular contact with Previn throughout and has at times admitted he had a paternal relationship with her (while other times he has denied it). Whatever the case, he cheated on his partner with her daughter, someone 35 years his junior. While Woody Allen and Previn have now been in a seemingly stable marriage for over two decades, that's still objectively terrible.
4. Dustin Hoffman
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To the outside world, Dustin Hoffman, who won Best Actor honors for both "Kramer vs. Kramer" and "Rain Man," along with five other nominations, was a cuddly, if somewhat irascible, character — a talented performer you might want to share a meal with. At least, that was the case until multiple reports of his sexual and professional misconduct came to light in late 2017.
In early November, Anna Graham Hunter alleged that Hoffman verbally harassed and groped her on the set of "Death of a Salesman" in 1985 when she was 17 years old. Hunter's accusations run the gamut from unwanted touching and propositions to displays in front of the cast and crew that seemed designed to humiliate her. Soon after, reports surfaced that he had slapped and accosted Meryl Streep during the filming of "Kramer vs. Kramer." Then four more women came forward, reporting instances of indecent exposure, crude and persistent come-ons and full sexual assault. It all came to a head with a testy confrontation with John Oliver in December that underlined just how horrible Hoffman can be.
5. Roman Polanski
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In 1977, Roman Polanski drugged and raped 13-year-old Samantha Geimer. Polanski accepted a plea deal in a 1978 trial stemming from that rape, a deal that required him to admit fault. When rumors began to circulate that, instead of the reduced sentence prosecutors had agreed to, the judge was about to send him to prison for decades, Polanksi fled overseas. Though Geimer has asked for leniency on the director's behalf and made other statements that some have used to undermine the facts in recent years, there is simply no question he raped a child. He even admitted to having sex with Geimer in his 1985 autobiography.
To that point, actor Charlotte Lewis alleged in 2010 that Polanski "forced himself" on her when she was 16 in 1983. In 2017, one woman claimed the director had raped her in 1972 when she was 15; another said he assaulted her in 1975 when she was 10. Polanski says this is all behind him — and why shouldn't he? He has enjoyed the support of much of America's and Europe's creative elite, despite broad awareness of the charges against him. Such was the continued good favor the industry held him in that the Academy awarded him Best Director honors for "The Pianist" in 2003, 25 years after he pled guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.
6. Harvey Weinstein
Where does one even start. No fewer than 84 women, ranging from international household names to waitresses and employees, have accused Weinstein of a broad swath of violations ranging from general harassment and professional misconduct to unwanted propositions, indecent exposure, unwanted touching, sexual coercion, sexual assault and violent rape. In addition, Weinstein allegedly supported a system of self-protection that involved everything from blacklisting industry figures, to blackmail, to payoffs, to surveillance programs conducted by former members of the Israeli Mossad.
It was the public unraveling of this alleged system of abuse that, to a great extent, kicked off the ongoing national reckoning over sexual misconduct and unequal treatment toward women that continues to this day. It's also worth remembering Weinstein's longstanding reputation as a loud, sometimes physical bully willing to hijack entire films just to satisfy his own belief in his editing prowess.
Weinstein is the most prodigiously terrible on this list, but he is also the man who has had the greatest presence at the Academy Awards. Through his tenures at Miramax and the Weinstein Company, films he has been associated with, distributed or owned outright have won approximately 81 Oscars in multiple categories. The number of nominations Weinstein projects have received is likely quadruple that. And yet, even as the leader of two different award-minting machines, he only has a single Oscar with his actual name on it — Best Picture for 1998's "Shakespeare in Love" (a film that never should have won in the first place).