Friday, February 24, 2012

The Academy Imposes Sanctions on The Dictator

Movies: Tony Nunes ponders what motivated the Academy to ban Sacha Baron Cohen from the Oscars, only to change their mind 24 hours later

Come on Academy, don’t you guys know by now that nothing leads to better press than controversy? News that Sacha Baron Cohen’s ticket to this Sunday’s 84th Academy Awards had been pulled by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences led to a day and a half of the best press Cohen’s new movie The Dictator could ever dream of. After 24 hours of bad press for the Oscars itself, it looks like now, the Academy may be changing its tune. We’ll see come Sunday, but for now I can’t help but question the out-of-touch, conservative scruples of the Academy at a time when even they themselves are trying to court a younger fan-base. 

It all started when the Academy caught wind of Cohen’s plan to walk the red carpet in character as Dictator Admiral General Shabazz Aladeen, the newest Cohen persona and focus of his upcoming film. Cohen is the king of satirical devotion, and as we saw with both Borat and Bruno, once he commits to introducing a character to the world, he carries that persona with him everywhere until the films release. The Dictator is no different.

Cohen went on the Today show in character as Aladeen to share his outrage. He posted a video to his website for the Republic of Wadiya, the fake homepage for Aladeen’s fictitious kingdom. “I am outraged at being banned from the Oscars by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Zionists," he proclaimed. "While I applaud the Academy for taking away my right to free speech, I warn you that if you do not lift your sanctions and give me my tickets back by 12 p.m. on Sunday, you will face unimaginable consequences."

Awesome. Cohen is a great satirist, and I only wish he was tapped as a presenter for this years Oscars. Hell, he’d even make a great, albeit controversial host for a future Oscar telecast.

In  2007 the Academy wouldn’t allow Cohen to attend the Oscar’s in character as Borat. He was asked to present and said he’d only do so in character. When the Academy refused, Cohen simply did not attend. This time however, the Academy actually banned Cohen from attending, even though he is one of the stars of the Best Picture nominated Hugo. The excuse for their crotchetiness is that the Academy frowns on using the Oscars for promotion and publicity stunts. The ironic thing here is that the Academy  was so bent on attracting a younger audience (for ratings mind you, ahem) that they hired James Franco and Anne Hathaway to host the horrendously mediocre ceremony just last year. Shouldn’t they be a bit looser with the pomp-and-circumstance and let the show sprout a little unpredictability?

There was similar discussion prior to last years Oscars with the Academy putting out a warning to graffiti artist Banksy who was nominated in the Best Documentary category for his film Exit Through the Gift Shop. The Academy feared that Banksy, who keeps his identity secret, would show up to the red-carpet in a mask and punk their show. Just one year ago exactly I wrote a story for DG on that Oscar controversy. And here we are again.

Maybe the Academy does this stuff for their own publicity, but likely not. I love the Oscars. I’ve been watching and making bets since I was a kid. The Oscars are my Super Bowl, but like the big game, maybe we need a flash of boob once in awhile to keep things interesting. What will the majority of people be talking about Monday morning? It won’t be whether or not Clooney beat Dujardin for Best Actor, it will be about who said what, who wore what and who did what. Take last years Golden Globes for example. The Hollywood Foreign Press condemned Ricky Gervais for being overly cruel, yet asked him back as host as soon as they saw the ratings and press his unabashed hilarity wrought.

See what I mean? People feed off of satire. People don’t watch the Oscars because they like to observe the super-rich wearing clothes and jewels worth more than their homes while awarding each other with solid gold statues? At least that’s not why I watch. I watch because I love the work these people do. I love the movies. But I also love those unscripted moments of uncomfortable tension where someone has the balls to step out of the formality. Sacha Baron Cohen, if he is in fact allowed to attend will do just that. 

Watch the Oscars live this Sunday February 26th at 8pm ET on ABC and follow us on Twitter @DreamingGenius as we live tweet the event.

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