Fretting over what to say as Oscar campaign kicks off

LOS ANGELES • This is the time of year when Hollywood spends copious amounts of time and money to celebrate itself. But this awards season promises to be unlike any other.

Many have come forward with allegations of sexual misdeed by well-known folks such as producer Harvey Weinstein, director Brett Ratner and actor Kevin Spacey.

With no end in sight to the revelations, film publicists have been struggling to figure out how stars should handle the topic of sexual misconduct as they campaign for the Oscars - a three-month stretch that starts now and ends with the event on March 4.

Should stars speak out about sexual harassment or try to promote their movies and performances ?

There are also concerns that it will be mainly women who are expected to talk about sexual misconduct. "If white male creators get to talk about their craft and women are expected to discuss sexual harassment, that is not acceptable," said Dee Rees, director of Mudbound, a drama about racism that some see as a contender for Best Picture.

Many publicists privately recommend that if put on the spot in a red-carpet interview, stars should give a quick answer about the behaviour being abhorrent before swiftly pivoting back to their film.

Other strategists said awards hopefuls should remember their audience. Oscars are voted on by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members who are 72 per cent male and 87 per cent white. So, calling out Hollywood as a cesspool of white male privilege may ensure that someone else's name is written on the card inside that Oscar envelope.

For another group of publicists and Oscar advisers, that stand is immoral. "For me, not talking about it does not feel like an option," said Will Poulter, who played a racist police officer in Detroit. "The more we talk about that, the better the chance it ends."

Mr Marc Malkin, who has been a red-carpet reporter for more than a decade, said publicists would be less successful at controlling celebrity journalists this time round.

Last year, gatekeepers for actor Casey Affleck were able to persuade some reporters not to focus on two sexual harassment suits filed against him in 2010. He ultimately won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Manchester By The Sea (2016).

The difficulty in striking a balance between serious and celebratory has already been on display.

The Hollywood Film Awards early last month avoided the subject. Presenters at the Governors Awards late last month, including actress Jessica Chastain, similarly steered clear of the issue.

The Gotham Awards tried to have it both ways. The host, John Cameron Mitchell, allowed that it was a "strange time" in Hollywood.

That left Ms Joana Vicente, executive director of the organisation behind the Gothams, to state briefly on stage: "This has been a tough year for our industry and for the world. We would like to take a moment to recognise and to honour those women and those men who have stepped forward."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2017, with the headline 'Fretting over what to say as Oscar campaign kicks off'. Print Edition | Subscribe