Magazine article Variety

Difficult Chapter, Tough Choices for Oscar Voters

Magazine article Variety

Difficult Chapter, Tough Choices for Oscar Voters

Article excerpt

Another film awards season dawns. But before the early festivals in Venice, Telluride, and Toronto could even define the day, storm clouds had already gathered.

The controversy surrounding Fox Searchlight's Sundance acquisition "The Birth of a Nation" - with director and star Nate Parker falling under heavy scrutiny in the wake of resurfaced rape allegations from a 1999 incident at Penn State University - has been a consistent point of discussion and deliberation for weeks. Everyone who covers this beat was immediately asked how the allegations might affect the film's awards hopes. It's a query at which one can only cringe. A woman is dead. Who cares about a Hollywood bauble in the face of that?

But perceptions are important. Many outside the business view the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as a monolith that makes singular decisions, not as a body whose nominations result from the views of a wide-ranging collective. That stamp of approval is significant, and it might leave voters who would otherwise have complex feelings about a complex situation with a relatively simple choice: Should the Academy be associated with this film?

In my travels on the circuit, I have not found much of that kind self-questioning just yet. "Are we saying there's no redemption in life? I don't believe that," one voter told me. "When you're voting, your job is to look at the work," said another.

Separating the art from the artist has been part of the Hollywood fabric since the last "Birth of a Nation" more than a century ago, when D.W. Griffith invented the very language of visual storytelling while painting a vile and racist portrait of antebellum America.

But this is dicey territory for the entertainment media to be traipsing through. It's not really our job to put Parker on trial, and if somehow it is, then where is the line for watermarking court documents and relitigating in the movie press? …

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