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How can Oscars celebrate in Weinstein's long shadow?

Harvey Weinstein may have been expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but he has left lasting marks on the Oscars race

Cara Buckley | NYT 

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Oy vey, it’s awards season again. Could there be a worse time for Hollywood to celebrate itself? It was around this time last year — a more innocent time — that the fair people of Tinseltown began using acceptance speeches to shake their manicured fists at Donald J Trump.
 
There was Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes, tearing into Trumpian cruelty, and, amid furore over the Muslim travel ban, David Harbour of Stranger Things vowing at the Screen Actors Guild Awards to “repel bullies” and “hunt monsters.” Sitting in the cheering audiences on both occasions was Harvey Weinstein, months away from being accused of being a rapacious predator. As Hollywood has bitterly learned, it is a whole lot easier to preach when the monster is not one of your own.

 
Harvey Weinstein
Disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein
Even if more players from the entertainment world hadn’t been accused of sexual misconduct or harassment, the gravity of the accusations levelled at Weinstein — who has denied allegations of non-consensual sex — would still have injected a stink into the awards season this year.
 
Get out
Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out
Weinstein may have been expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but he has left lasting marks on the race. He elevated and made a blood sport out of campaigning. Guild and ancillary awards matter more now in part because of him: He fought bareknuckled for every prize.
 
Wonder Woman
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
Though his power had sharply waned from his heyday, which lasted from the ’90s through the aughts, Weinstein’s outsized presence and shameless politicking were awards-season staples. His reputation for being a bully endured, but he was also beheld as a grandstanding lion in winter, one who prompted eye rolls and the perennial question, “What will Harvey pull this year?”
 
Mudbound
A still from Dee Rees’ Mudbound
Despite being financially weakened, Weinstein delivered, audaciously. He arranged for Philomena Lee, who was forced by Irish nuns to give up her son for adoption, to meet the pope in the final weeks of the awards campaign for the 2013 film about her.
 
In ads for The Imitation Game, his 2014 film about the persecuted gay mathematician, Alan Turing, Weinstein called for the pardoning of 49,000 people convicted for their sexuality. “Honour this movie, honour this man,” the ads read. The day before Oscar voting closed, went out that the Turing family would deliver a petition with hundreds of thousands of signatures to 10 Downing Street.
 
Even an actor’s visa denial became a media opportunity attached to a cause. After the cherubic Indian child star of Lion was initially denied entry to the United States to attend the movie’s November 2016 premiere, the Weinstein Company fired off a release blaming “immigration paranoia.”
 
Now that Weinstein faces a mountain of damning corroborated evidence, his tactics seem tinged with malevolence, fronts for a man who abused women and used the promise of Oscar gold as bait.
 
He might be gone, but his protégés remain. Former Weinstein Company employees have gone on to jobs at Netflix, Lionsgate, Warner Bros, Focus Features, Sony Pictures Entertainment and A&E Networks. The most prominent awards strategists — Tony Angelotti, Cynthia Swartz, Lisa Taback — all came from his shop. Several former employees said they did not know the terrible extent of Weinstein’s behaviour, though some were on the receiving end of his infamous wrath, which now seems like another front of sorts, too.

Still, questions about who else knew what, when, hang heavy. And crassly or not, insiders began speculating about how the sexual harassment revelations would affect this year’s race as soon as the Weinstein broke. That’s a shame, because this year’s race boasts a bumper crop of movies that aren’t exclusively about or made by straight white men.
 
Early favourites and award winners include Call Me by Your Name, a gay coming-of-age story from a gay Italian filmmaker, Luca Guadagnino; Get Out, the racially charged horror movie by a biracial writer-director, Jordan Peele; and Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig.
 
Mudbound, a World War II-era tale about black and white farming families in rural Mississippi, has generated attention for its performances and director, Dee Rees, who could become the first black woman to land an Oscar nomination for directing. Wonder Woman, the female superhero movie directed by Patty Jenkins that shifted the cultural terrain, is also in the mix. So is The Florida Project, from Sean Baker, about a mother and daughter living a precarious existence in an Orlando-area motel and I, Tonya, starring Margot Robbie as the skater Tonya Harding.
 
Nor is this a season dominated by ingénues. The average age of the seven women leading the best supporting actress list at the prediction site Gold Derby is 55 and the youngest is 46. Frances McDormand, who turned 60 this summer, is the strong favourite for best actress, followed by Sally Hawkins, who is 41.
 
They both play central characters in movies that are strongly tipped for best picture nominations. Hawkins is a mute cleaning lady who falls for a jewel-coloured merman in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water. McDormand is an acidic, tough-as-nails grieving mother in Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which won the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, a bellwether for Oscar nominations and wins.
 
Yet the Weinstein scandal has cast a tangible pall. Monday’s Gotham Awards, which kick off the season, had a desultory feel. At the academy’s Governors Awards earlier this month, the sexual harassment scandals went unmentioned despite being the elephant in the room. “It seemed during a few moments as if the Governors Awards were taking place in a parallel dimension,” The New York Times’s Brooks Barnes wrote in his dispatch.
 
Even the filmmakers who hastened to rid themselves of any association with accused abusers ended up making the scandals indelibly part of their films’ narratives.
 
Taylor Sheridan quickly erased all traces of the Weinstein Company and its logo from Wind River, his drama about a slain Native American woman. Acacia Entertainment, which is backed by the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana, is now fully funding that movie’s awards campaign, and future revenues have been pledged to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. After Kevin Spacey was accused of sexual misconduct, Ridley Scott excised footage of him playing J Paul Getty in All the Money in the World, reshooting the part with Christopher Plummer. To be determined: whether this distancing lifts the films’ prospects, though doing nothing would probably have hurt them more.
 
Questions will invariably swirl around the ceremony itself, like what might or might not be said if Casey Affleck, who has settled two sexual harassment suits and was last season’s best actor winner, will show. It’s Oscar tradition for the previous year’s best actor winner to hand out a statuette. Close attention will be paid to the host, Jimmy Kimmel, who handled last season’s best picture snafu with heartfelt grace.
 
Writing in The New York Post, Kyle Smith, critic at large for National Review, said the ceremony should be cancelled, and its date, March 4, 2018, made a day of atonement for Hollywood.
 
He was hardly serious, but regardless, fat chance, and not just because Hollywood isn’t known to atone.
 
The have never been cancelled, only postponed, and even then just three times: in 1938, because of flooding in Los Angeles; in 1968, following the assassination of the Martin Luther King Jr; and in 1981, after the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.
 
Weinstein may be dead to Hollywood, but his victims and survivors are not. Let’s bring them all together, onstage, en mighty masse. 
©2017 The New York Times

First Published: Sat, December 02 2017. 00:29 IST
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