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‘No Oscar Campaigning,’ Academy Says, While Providing the Opportunity

A few weeks ago the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences met with representatives from various studios and reminded them to please not campaign for Oscars at the Governors Awards, which were held Saturday night in Hollywood. Don’t escort talent around the room making the usual introductions to press and Academy voters, they said. Don’t sully the evening with the status quo of this time of year.

If you’re laughing, that’s fair. It does sound like a joke. I’m not even sure how much the Academy meant it or if it was just putting on airs. After all, the org sent out a rules and regulations update over the summer that included this stunningly vague passage: “Academy members may not be invited to or attend any non-screening event, party or dinner that is reasonably perceived to unduly influence members or undermine the integrity of the vote.”

That sounds like a textbook definition of the Governors Awards, however. The Academy often projects the sentiment that campaigning for Oscars — however you might define that, which could be a number of ways — is inappropriate and therefore discouraged. And yet the org provides the single greatest campaign opportunity of the year, right in the middle of November.

Not only that, but the satellite events that revolve around this week every year exhaust iCals all over town. Like clockwork, a number of films have had talent on hand for luncheons and the like, from “Hell or High Water” to “Captain Fantastic” to “A Monster Calls.” (And I’d be remiss not to concede the media quotient in all of this: A number of Variety productions and round tables are timed to this stretch every year as well. Because the talent is here!)

Few but the overworked are really complaining, though. The Governors Awards presents a unique opportunity, a single ballroom packed with the very audience Oscar campaigns are trying to reach this time of year. So of course the guest list is always star-studded. Attendees included Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, Mark Wahlberg, Jeff Bridges, Nicole Kidman, Ava DuVernay, Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Aaron Eckhart to name a fraction. Representatives of virtually every film angling for awards attention were on hand yet again this year, and despite that meeting a few weeks ago, they were dragged around the room to meet and greet, per usual. Who can blame them?

If the Academy is serious about this untoward nature of “campaigning,” what is stopping them from holding the Governors Awards in June or July? It would be refreshing to spread things out on the calendar like that. But the downside is there’s little incentive for many of the big names to show up when they’re not promoting or campaigning. And make no mistake, the Academy benefits from the splash a November ceremony makes. The Governors Awards may not be televised, but they’re a huge event that draws attention because of the stars on hand. That’s a promotional opportunity.

I don’t really feel strongly about any of this. Curtailing campaigning is a fool’s errand. But the Academy could be a little more honest about it and not act like it’s all beneath the integrity of the org. If that were true, the heartfelt acceptance speeches from Lynn Stalmaster, Anne V. Coates, Frederick Wiseman and Jackie Chan would have been delivered months ago, celebrated in their own space, rather than under the specter of the Academy Awards and the agenda of countless Oscar hopefuls squeezing their own opportunity out of the event.

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