British singer-songwriter Sam Smith sparked a bit of unexpected backlash Sunday night at the 88th Academy Awards when he purported to be the first openly gay man to ever win an Oscar in his acceptance speech for Best Original Song.
"I read an article a few months ago by Sir Ian McKellen, and he said no openly gay man had ever won an Oscar. If this is the case -- even if it isn't the case -- I want to dedicate this to the LGBT community all around the world," Smith told the crowd, as he accepted the award for his Bond theme "Writing's on the Wall." "I stand here tonight as a proud gay man and I hope we can all stand together as equals one day."
It was a lovely sentiment, to be sure. The only problem with it was that Smith was not, in fact, the first openly gay man to win an Oscar. Far from it.
At the 63rd Academy Awards, acclaimed Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim won Best Original Song for the Madonna track "Sooner Or Later (I Always Get My Man)" from the film "Dick Tracy."
Elton John then won the Oscar for Best Original Song at the 67th Academy Awards for "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" from "The Lion King." In fact, Elton John and his lyricist Tim Rice were responsible for three of the five songs nominated that year, including "Hakuna Matata" and "Circle of Life."
Legendary musical theater lyricist Howard Ashman won the Oscar for Best Original Song twice; in 1989, for "Under the Sea" from "The Little Mermaid," and posthumously in 1991, for "Beauty and the Beast" from the animated Disney movie of the same name.
And most recently, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 2008 for the film, "Milk," delivering an inspirational acceptance speech addressed in part to struggling LGBTQ youth. Black, who is now engaged to British Olympic diver Tom Daley, took to Twitter on February 29, 2016 to throw a bit of shade at Sam Smith's acceptance speech blunder.
"Hey @SamSmithWorld," he wrote, "if you have no idea who I am, it may be time to stop texting my fiancé." He then inserted a link to his Oscars acceptance speech.
Hours later, Black returned to Twitter, clarifying his earlier message. The point, he wrote, is that "knowing our LGBTQ history is important. We stand on the shoulders of countless brave men and women who paved the way for us."
In the spirit of that LGBTQ history, it's important to note that lesbian women have been honored at the Academy Awards, as well. In 1983, "NCIS: Los Angeles" actress Linda Hunt won Best Supporting Actress for her role as male photographer Billy Kwan in "The Year of Living Dangerously." In 2007, American rock singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge won Best Original Song for "I Need to Wake Up" from "An Inconvenient Truth."
Joel Grey and Jodie Foster, now both openly gay actors, each won Academy Awards before coming out.
As it turns out, British actor Ian McKellen had been referring specifically to the acting categories when he told The Guardian last month that he sympathized with black actors over the #OscarsSoWhite controversy because he had personally noted the lack of openly gay actors who had won an Oscar. A number of straight men -- like Tom Hanks, Jared Leto and Sean Penn -- had won for portraying gay men on screen, McKellen continued. "What about giving me one for playing a straight man?"
So, there are clearly still inroads to be made, concerning the Academy's recognition of LGBTQ actors. And had Sam Smith understood McKellen's point correctly, he likely could have communicated that on Sunday more effectively.