Marlon Brando was, quite possibly, the last celebrity we expected to be imitated on last night’s MTV Video Music Awards — to wit, this was a show that included an homage to that time that Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake wore matching denim outfits, so that’s the direction things were headed early on — but there it was, a callback to forty-one years ago, delivered care of Miley Cyrus. No, you’re not hallucinating.
Cyrus picked up the Moon Man for Video of the Year for her “Wrecking Ball” (a song that I, somewhat begrudgingly, really like), but although she stood up when her name was announced, she ultimately pushed a tall young man to the stage to accept her award from a charmingly bewildered Jimmy Fallon, who was dressed as if he had been shaken out of a Miami Vice box set. Jesse identified himself as a homeless youth, and took the opportunity to talk about his plight in front of a somewhat baffled audience. (Cyrus took the opportunity to both cry on command and bring attention to an issue most people like to ignore, so she’s definitely working on the positive side here). It’s not the first time this has happened, and it certainly won’t be the last.
During the 45th Academy Awards back in 1973, Brando won the Best Actor Oscar for his work in The Godfather. Brando not only refused to show up to get his award, he sent Sacheen Littlefeather in his stead, who took the stage to accept the award and then, well, to refuse it, too. Take a look:
After Littlefeather’s refusal speech, a ton of misinformation was spread about her, including that her real name wasn’t Sacheen Littlefeather (true, she was born Marie Cruz), that she wasn’t actually Native American (not true), and that she was just looking for glory (not exactly true, though Littlefeather was an aspiring actress at the time). Last year, Entertainment Weekly published a catch-up piece with Littlefeather, which is certainly worth the read.
It’s unclear if Cyrus knew that the stunt she pulled last night had been pulled before, but we hope that she’s not so self-involved to think that she invented this particular move (although she does seem to think that she invented twerking, at least to some degree). At least she added her own spin to it, what with attending the show and literally pushing Jesse on to the stage, only to sit on the edge of the stage and theatrically cry. (The Huffington Post has a particularly great GIF of an emotional Cyrus, um, wiping the tears away from her…is that her mouth? okay, sure.) Here it is:
It’s unlikely that Jesse will face the same kind of backlash that Littlefeather did — after all, Cyrus is treading in less controversial waters here, and she didn’t use her platform to rip Hollywood, the way Brando did at the Oscars — but he certainly brought attention to Cyrus’ charity work in the arena. The pop star has already posted a fundraising page for “My Friend’s Place,” a homeless center for youth located in Hollywood. Of course, everyone who donates is entered to win a trip to Brazil to see Miley on tour, because there had to be some kind of incentive for doing the right thing here (besides, well, doing the right thing).