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Harvey Weinstein Taps Trump’s Travel Ban for New ‘Lion’ Oscar Messaging

When it comes to awards season, Harvey Weinstein has a long history of tethering his contenders to the zeitgeist, or at least to a wider-ranging socio-political concern. And it usually happens in phase two, as campaigns begin to pivot toward a win.

For “Philomena” in early 2014, writer-star Steve Coogan and the film’s eponymous subject Philomena Lee were shuffled off to Rome for an audience with Pope Francis. They were there as representatives of the Philomena Project, which aims to raise public awareness in Ireland and around the world on the issue of forced and illegal adoptions and to help reunite families with the advancement of open records legislation in Ireland.

Weinstein himself hit the morning shows on behalf of “The Imitation Game” in early 2015, calling on the British government to pardon the thousands whose lives had been ruined with convictions under laws forbidding homosexuality, which was not decriminalized in the U.K. until 1967. He was even willing to give up his Commander of the Order of the British Empire designation to see it happen, he declared at the time.

And in early 2013, “Silver Linings Playbook” star Bradley Cooper and director David O. Russell put on a rather strained show of meeting with then-Vice President Joe Biden at the White House to discuss mental health issues. Because the lead character had bipolar disorder, you see.

Right on schedule this year, “Lion” is receiving similar treatment. An ad for the film in Thursday’s Los Angeles Times featured young actor Sunny Pawar, and it confronted the issue of Donald Trump’s travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries head-on. “It took an extraordinary effort to get 8-year-old actor Sunny Pawar a visa so that he could come to America for the very first time,” the ad reads. “Next year, that might not be an option.”

And like so many phase two campaigns, which tend to shift messaging to something more pointed — “Find Your Voice” for “The King’s Speech” comes to mind — this ad ties things together with a subtle nod to the immigration debate. “Remember where you came from,” it reads.

A follow-up placement enlisting quotes from the likes of Madeleine Albright and Salman Rushdie is set to run Friday.

Even when you can see through the effort — awards attention for these films equals box office potential, and “Lion” finally pulled the trigger on a wide release last weekend — the organic quality of this sort of messaging is impressive. You use what’s available to you in an Oscar campaign. Trump handed Weinstein an opportunity. It would be naive to assume he’d pass it up.

“Lion” is nominated for six Academy Awards, including best picture, best supporting actor (Dev Patel), best supporting actress (Nicole Kidman) and best adapted screenplay.


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