Sam Smith's claim that he's the 'first openly gay man' to win an Oscar attracts ire

Sam Smith's win for Best Original Song was already a surprise for many people, but some are calling his erroneous statement that he was the first openly gay man to have won an Oscar even more baffling.

His acceptance speech was doubly wrong

Singer-songwriter Sam Smith's claim he's "first openly gay man" to win an Oscar is doubly wrong, though the Internet is happy to remind him. (Peter Robinson/Twitter Kevork Djansezian/Getty )

Sam Smith's win for Best Original Song was already a surprise for many people, but some are calling his erroneous statement that he was the first openly gay man to have won an Oscar even more baffling.

As one of the artists behind Writing on the Wall, for the James Bond film Spectre, Smith beat Earned It by the Weeknd and Til It Happens to You by Lady Gaga. Smith was considered an unlikely win, given the song had been poorly received online and critics gave Spectre mixed reviews overall.

But when Smith heard his name called, he walked onto the Oscars stage and made a speech implying that he was first gay man to win an Academy Award based on an article he read, which cited actor Ian McKellen. 

"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 said soon after accepting his prize. "I stand here tonight as a proud gay man, and I hope we can all stand together as equals one day."

The statement was doubly wrong, however. Not only is Smith not the first gay man to have won an Academy Award, he misstated McKellen's point.

Many openly gay men have won Oscars in the past, including like the screenwriter of Milk, Dustin Lance Black. In the category of Best Original Song alone, Elton John, Stephen Sondheim, Melissa Etheridge, and Howard Ashton are all LGBT people who have won Academy Awards – in some cases multiple times. 

As for McKellen's statement, in January, the British actor did say that gay men had yet to win an Academy prize, but he was referring specifically to the Oscar for Best Actor. 

"No openly gay man has ever won the Oscar; I wonder if that is prejudice or chance," McKellen said to the Guardian. "My speech has been in two jackets … 'I'm proud to be the first openly gay man to win the Oscar.' I've had to put it back in my pocket twice."

Alex Abad-Santos, a writer for the news website Vox, called the speech "inelegant, erroneous, and self-congratulatory," saying that "in order to talk about a struggle like the LGBT struggle for onscreen representation and do it justice, you have to understand and acknowledge the past and the pioneers who came before you." 

Late last year, Smith said he wanted to become a spokesperson for the gay community to NME magazine, although some outlets responded with criticism, saying that despite the claim, he had accomplished little and in some statements collected by Gawker, made things harder for gay men.

Another concern is that with the push for greater racial diversity in Hollywood, Smith acted opportunistically, forwarding his own agenda in spite of the concern for minority representation. 

"If Smith had a lick of sense, he would recognize that on an evening rightly focused on pushing back against entrenched racism in Hollywood, piggybacking on that advocacy while drawing attention to his relatively privileged position as a well-employed white gay man might be bad form," wrote Slate associate editor Bryan Lowder.

"I'm sure Smith's heart is in the right place," he continued, "but it's hard to be a spokesperson when you don't know your community's own history."

Meanwhile people on Twitter took advantage of Smith's maligned attempts at advocacy to compile an equally erroneous list of things, for which Smith could potentially take credit under the hashtag #SamSmithFacts.


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