How Kobe Bryant’s Big Night at the Oscars Turned Controversial

Few could have predicted that NBA legend Kobe Bryant would follow up 20 seasons in the NBA and five championship wins with an Academy Award. But winning — and making/breaking records — has become a resounding theme for arguably one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

Bryant last night took home the Oscar for Best Animated Short for his contributions to the digital re-creation of “Dear Basketball,” a poem he wrote in 2015 announcing his retirement from basketball. (Bryant shared the award with Disney animator Glen Keane.)

But one year after the academy itself was taken to task for a lack of diversity among nominees and winners (the social media hashtag #OscarsSoWhite trended across platforms in 2017), last night’s ceremony yet again offered A-listers a platform to call out societal ills.

When Bryant took the stage to accept his golden statue, he also took the opportunity to send a message. Following sentiments shared by his co-winner, who noted that through passion and perseverance, “the impossible is possible,” Bryant added: “I don’t know if it’s possible. I mean, as basketball players, we are really supposed to shut up and dribble. But I am glad we do a little bit more than that.”

Kobe Bryant Glen Keane oscars
Kobe Bryant (L) and Glen Keane accept the Academy Award for Best Animated Short.
CREDIT: Rex Shutterstock

Bryant’s retort was a reference to a controversial statement from Fox News journalist Laura Ingraham, who in February sought to chastise Cleveland Cavaliers baller LeBron James for his political commentary.

Bryant’s comments not only served as a nod of support to his fellow athlete, they could also be interpreted as a protest against the racial undertones many deemed to be present in Ingraham’s rebuke of James. (Other nods to the need for racial inclusivity and representation in Hollywood would come throughout the night from stars such as Tiffany Haddish and Maya Rudolph.)

But in the wake of #MeToo, Time’s Up and other movements that seek to address and denounce sexual assault and harassment of women in the workplace, perhaps all eyes were on the Oscars for A-lister commentary on sexual misconduct as well as disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. (Those would certainly come — starting at the very beginning of the night with host Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue.)

With the wave of new attention being given to sex crimes against women, Bryant’s big night may have also been soured by a resurgence of interest in a sexual assault case dating back to 2003. At the time, Bryant was accused of sexually assaulting a then-19-year-old female hotel employee in Colorado. Although the criminal case against Bryant was dropped, he settled a civil suit with the alleged victim out of court — a move that seems to continue to cast doubt against Bryant’s innocence in the case.

Now, citing the 15-year-old allegation, an online petition seeking to revoke Bryant’s Oscar is gaining significant support, racking up 16,400-plus signatures as of today.

“The Oscars almost avoided nominating sexual predators for awards,” the creator of the petition wrote. “Woody Allen and James Franco didn’t get anything. But Kobe Bryant, who was charged with a horrific sexual assault, was nominated.”

While it is uncertain whether the academy will take any action if the petition reaches a very-close goal of 17,000 signatures, the rehashing of the case certainly seems to have dimmed some of Bryant’s luster on the heels of becoming the first NBA player to take home an Academy Award.

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