According to unofficial reports, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has rejected for the second year in a row a proposal by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to remotely join the Oscars and address the assembled Hollywood cream.
Variety magazine reports that President Zelenski, a former comedian and actor, counted on the Academy’s green light, as he was welcomed by several award-giving bodies in the past year.
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, camera-savvy Zelenski addressed the audience via satellite link at both the Cannes and Venice Film Festivals, as well as at the Grammy and Golden Globe Awards, and in September he even rang the bell virtually at the opening of trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
At the Golden Globes, Zelensky repeated the message he had already heard many times: That Ukraine will win the war against Russia, and at the same time he greeted “the free people of the free world – those who are united in their support for the free Ukrainian people”.
He turned to the Academy Mike Simpson, an influential agent at the WME agency hired by Zelenski’s team. The point of contact was Simpson’s client, the director Aaron Kaufmanwhich is together with Sean Penn directed a documentary portrait of Zelensky in wartime, Superpower, which premiered at this year’s Berlinale. As an interesting fact: The title song of the documentary Supersila is with a Ukrainian pop star Tino Karol recorded by Simpson’s son Tommy.
During promotions of the film and press conferences, Penn repeatedly called on the US government to increase its military support for Ukraine, including the supply of long-range missiles. In December, Zelensky traveled to the United States and met with the president Joe Bidenand on this occasion also called on Congress to send more military equipment and weapons to Ukraine.
By the way, Sean Penn last year he handed one of his two Oscars to Zelensky, saying that “he will return it to him in Malibu once they win the war”.
(Previously, the actor threatened to “stomp” his idol if Zelensky was not allowed to speak at last year’s Oscars, but he apparently did not follow through on the threat. “The Academy cannot do anything better than to give Zelensky the opportunity to address us,” Penn stated at the time.
Last year, only a solidarity moment of silence
But, as Variety reports, not everyone agrees that Zelensky should get more air time. Last year, the producer of the Oscars reportedly prevented the switch on Will Packer: he expressed concern that it might not be wise to give Zelensky the floor because everyone affected by the Ukraine conflict is white, and in the past, tragedies and wars with non-white victims have not received comparable attention at the Oscars – and Hollywood in general.
Part of the award ceremony was just a solidarity moment of silence.
It’s not clear what the argument was for keeping Zelensky off camera this year, but the Academy usually prefers to focus on contributions from within the film community and steer clear of politics.
The academy isn’t the only one with concerns. In September, Zelenskyi’s team approached the organizers of the Toronto Film Festival (TIFF) to have the Ukrainian president address the crowd, but they also received a negative response. A representative of TIFF said at the time that the festival supports Ukrainians, both at home and around the world, and is happy to showcase Ukrainian creativity at the festival, but did not want to comment on discussions with government representatives or embassies.
A recent poll by the Associated Press agency showed that in the United States, after a year of war between the Americans, support for Ukraine, or the idea that economic aid and weapons should be provided to the country, is waning.
In this year’s set of Oscar nominees, it is also nominated in the category of best documentary A house made of reeds (A House Made of Splinters); documents the everyday life of Ukrainian children in an orphanage in the east of the country. We will be able to see the film already on Sunday in Ljubljana as part of the Documentary Film Festival, and soon also on the schedule of Television Slovenia.
Among the ten nominees for the best film is a blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick, which has been the target of criticism over the past week, claiming that it was partially financed by Russian oligarch Dimitriy Rybolovlev. The Ukrainian World Congress – an expatriate organization based in Toronto – expressed “serious concern over Russian influence on the Hollywood film industry”. Studio Paramount has not yet commented on these allegations.