Eric Goldin | Marlon Brando and Daring to Seek Greatness

SCV Voices: Guest Commentary
SCV Voices: Guest Commentary

Charlie Chaplin and Humphrey Bogart may be the two most iconic movie stars of all time, but the greatest and most influential actor who ever lived was Marlon Brando. 

Before Brando, acting was a superficial spectacle of immaculate costumes, bombastic dialogue and hammy gesticulation. Brando shredded these archaic theatrical conventions, and he turned acting into an art form of depicting reality.   

Brando proved that the acting techniques formulated by Konstantin Stanislavski were highly effective for making a performance feel as genuine as possible. 

In the original Broadway run of “A Streetcar Named Desire” (and its 1951 film adaptation), Marlon Brando’s Stanley Kowalski was the most authentic portrayal of a man ever seen up to that point. 

There was no fancy fedora hat, phony transatlantic accent or melodramatic forced emoting — every inch of Brando’s performance was raw, natural and real.   

“A Streetcar Named Desire” is often seen as a war between the values of Stanley Kowalski and Blanche DuBois. I see it as a clash between acting styles: Marlon Brando’s naturalism versus the classical theatrical form of Vivien Leigh. 

In the story of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Stanley Kowalski wins. In real life, Marlon Brando and his acting style also emerged victorious, and from then on, aspiring actors would try to emulate it.  

Brando’s career floundered in the 1960s, but a talented young director, Francis Ford Coppola, would inject him with new life and help remind everyone how good Brando was. 

With the role of Vito Corleone in “The Godfather,” Brando once again enthralled the world, earning him his second Oscar win. 

This performance solidified his acting legacy, but it was what he did at the ceremony that would stick in the social conscience of Americans. 

Brando had a long history of social activism. He was a huge supporter of the civil rights movement. He gave a lot of his money to civil rights organizations. He participated in the march on Washington in 1963.  

When fighting for social justice he always fiercely stood up for those who’d been discriminated against because of their race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Even at great personal risk, he fearlessly did the right thing throughout his life.  

On the evening of March 27, 1973, at the Oscars, in front of an audience of more than 80 million television viewers, Brando made his most vocalized statement on civil rights. 

When his name was announced as the winner for Best Actor, a Native American woman named Sacheen Littlefeather came onto the stage.  

She announced that Brando was refusing to accept the award — because he was disgusted by the film industry’s unfair treatment and portrayal of Native Americans; and also because he was dismayed by the Wounded Knee Standoff that had started a few months earlier (and was still ongoing). 

Brando had prepared a long speech for her, but she was only allowed to speak for barely a minute. 

Even though it was very short, her message was heard, and it greatly helped bring awareness to the suffering of her people.  

Marlon Brando set a precedent that night. With great privilege comes great responsibility. After Brando’s example, many actors have brought awareness to important causes when given a major platform.  

Marlon Brando is the most influential actor who ever lived because of his immense skill in realistically portraying characters and pioneering a new style of acting. But more importantly, his overall legacy is especially respected and revered because he was one of the very first actors who vocally fought for marginalized and oppressed groups of people.  

There are still many social injustices that need to be addressed today. A person with a huge following, such as a movie star or athlete, has a responsibility to use their fame to fight for social justice and other huge issues. Whether it’s systemic racism, global climate change or some other major cause, a celebrity should use their voice to bring awareness to these issues.  

The recent wave of hate crimes against Asian Americans proves that racism has, unfortunately, not gone away. Racism is still something we have to fight. It would be a very powerful thing if more famous people spoke out against racism.     

This year at the Oscars I hope that the talented actors and actresses who’ve been nominated for the most prestigious award a person in their profession can receive will use their voices to help make the world a better place. 

They don’t need to do something as dramatic as what Brando did in 1973, but they should use this platform to do something great.  

Eric Goldin is a Santa Clarita resident.

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