I know it was five years ago and the world at large cannot possibly care less, but every Oscar Sunday since 2003, I cringe a little without immediately remembering why.”There’s something… wrong about this experience,” I mutter to myself, before sprawling out on my sofa and girding myself for (at least) three and a half marathon hours of couture, acceptance speeches, bad musical numbers, and unfunny banter, live from Kodak Theatre. What is this thing—a memory? an image?—that gnaws at my sensibilities? Why does my skin crawl just a little as each Oscar telecast begins? Fortunately, this year, I didn’t have to conjure up my source of disdain from the dark recesses of my repressed mind. I needed look no further than EW.com and the Oscar telecast itself, which both ran stills or clips of this, cutely calling it one of Oscar’s most memorable moments:
Yeah, it was memorable, all right. Having not watched The Pianist before the Academy Awards in 2003, I had no idea who Adrien Brody was. Having witnessed in real time his mauling of presenter Halle Berry, I didn’t care to know anything else about him.
Even now that I’ve seen some of his work, I’ll always primarily characterize him as the dude who inappropriately slobbed Halle Berry down at the 2003 Oscars—and totally got away with it.
The use of the phrasing “got away with it” is intentional, as it’s obvious from the tension in Berry’s closed eyes in the pic above and the way she sort of disgustedly wipes her face as he begins his speech that the incident wasn’t pre-planned or welcome. And without getting into the sexual or racial politics of Brody’s gesture, as that was covered by a few critics back in the day with more depth and scope than I’ll lend it here, I’m still left wondering, even after all these years, why there wasn’t more controversy or fall-out surrounding this moment.
The morning after the original telecast aired, USA Today ran an article about how the kiss launched Brody as an international sex symbol. As previously stated, Entertainment Weekly and the Academy itself dredged up the footage this weekend, citing the moment as one of the most “memorable” or “exciting” in awards history.
Fine that they all found it so titillating and great that Halle never made any public comment suggesting disdain or infuriation (thus validating everyone’s belief that the gesture was either welcome or totally okay with her in retrospect). But every time media sources trot these few minutes out—complete with Brody’s uber-arrogant, “I bet they didn’t tell you that was in the gift bag” quip and Jack Nicholson’s and Nicholas Cage’s salivating gazes from the audience—I’m sickened afresh.
I’ve spent years shouting down protests that Brody’s kiss was “all in good fun” and to be offended by it means that I have “no sense of humor.” The fact is: the Oscars aren’t known for their impromptu self-congratulatory tonguing downs of presenters and past winners. It’s one thing for performers to make jokes about bedding actresses in the audience (as Jack Black, Will Ferrell, and John C. Reilly did with Helen Mirren during their song and dance routine last year), but would any of them have grabbed her, knocked her off kilter, bared down on her with the sheer force of their torsos and licked her face?
Not likely. Call me stodgy, but actual groping—as opposed to hypothetically referenced groping in onstage, song-and-dance parodies… from the safe distance of at least 150 feet—are two different things.
Take this grudging trip down memory lane for yourself and weigh in below.