Sam Smith was part of one of the biggest upsets of the 2016 Oscars.
The singer-songwriter won Best Original Song for Spectre's "Writing's on the Wall," beating out "Earned It" from 50 Shades of Grey and "Til It Happens to You" from The Hunting Ground — and then followed his win with an inelegant, erroneous, and self-congratulatory speech.
Before the winner of Best Original Song was announced, many expected Lady Gaga to win because Vice President Joe Biden had introduced her, and her live performance of "Til It Happens to You" was both heartbreaking and spellbinding. (Smith warbled during his own live performance.) Plus, it looked like "Writing's on the Wall" was an underdog, because "Earned It" was the biggest commercial hit of the bunch, and Radiohead had produced an unofficial theme for Spectre that some consider better than Smith's.
Nevertheless, Smith won and then launched into an acceptance speech that seemed tone-deaf. Smith stated that he'd read an article about Sir Ian McKellen in which McKellen said no openly gay man had ever won an Oscar.
Smith then continued, "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. I stand here tonight as a proud gay man."
Smith was essentially saying that he was the first openly gay man to win an Oscar. But he got his facts wrong and misconstrued McKellen's point. McKellen had been referring only to openly gay actors not winning awards.
Smith didn't have to make a speech about LGBT history at the Oscars. And it probably wasn't his intention to diminish the work of Elton John and Stephen Sondheim, two gay men who have both won Oscars for Best Original Song. Or the work of Howard Ashman, who won two Oscars for Best Original Song prior to his death from AIDS complications in 1991. Or the work of Dustin Lance Black, who won for screenwriting in 2009 for Milk. Or the work of Melissa Etheridge, a gay woman who won Best Original Song in 2006.
But 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. And if Smith wanted to make a speech about breaking new ground, he could have easily looked up past Oscar winners. But in this moment it seemed like he didn't care enough to do so, and it showed.