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The Messy Divorce of the Oscars and Harvey Weinstein

As long as I have been writing about the Oscars, going on 20 years now, they have been influenced by Weinstein Inc. I wasn’t here when the English Patient really changed the game — when Miramax introduced what would be the Weinstein brand going forward, which could be described in the following way: class, gravitas, sex. Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan lays it out pretty well here, in this piece from 2011 about the “Five Talking Points to Guarantee the King’s Speech the Oscar.

The Social Network is an expensive bully.
The King’s Speech cost $14 million. How can we compete against movies that cost three times what we spent?” asks Weinstein, not even bothering to go bigger with his comparison by pointing out megabudget Best Picture nominees like Inception and Toy Story 3. Nope, the wealthy bully in this race is the $40 million-budgeted The Social Network, though Weinstein notes, “We haven’t even gone really wide yet. We will overtake The Social Network. The movie will outgross The Social Network.” So you see, The King’s Speech is a more profitable movie, too.

Don’t let critics tell you whom to vote for.
Remember that ubiquitous Peter Travers pull quote for The Social Network: “This film is better than the movie of the year. The Social Network also defines the decade”? Why, Harvey Weinstein is offended that you would even go there, Mr. Travers. “Putting tags on these movies, or finding the zeitgeist, is an insult to Academy members,” Weinstein said, effectively placing all the other critics’ groups who toppled for The Social Network on blast, too. “And I’m hearing the backlash and them say, ‘I’m sick of being told what is relevant or what will get ratings for the network special.'” Instead, “We just have to give Academy members permission to vote their heart, as opposed to what somebody else is voting.”

Instead, let movie stars tell you whom to vote for.
Watch out, Harvey, you just dropped a name: “John Travolta said it best — I don’t know if he’s allowing me to say this — but he said the reason I’m voting for The King’s Speech is because it inspired me and we need inspiration.” In fact, Weinstein has so many A-listers on retainer that he brags, “I once asked Warren Beatty to judge between Shakespeare in Loveand Saving Private Ryan, because everyone said we were outspending them. He did something phenomenal, counted the ads. And, not by much, but Private Ryan did outspend us.” Really, just give Weinstein the Oscar for the visual of Beatty peering over his reading glasses at ads his assistant clipped from two months’ worth of Variety.

As those who read this site know, that year sucked. Lots of people love The King’s Speech — no doubt. But it was the moment that the Oscars made the choice to be not about the best film of the year – the one that would stand the test of time — but about embracing the movie “that made you feel,” the movie of the moment, the one that was guaranteed (for the most part, give or take) not to last. That aggressive style, that dirty pool, won a lot of people Oscars over the years, from Juliet Binoche way back when, all the way to the last Weinstein joint to earn a nod — Lion in 2016. Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, Colin Firth, Jean DuJardin — they all won thanks in part to that Weinstein playbook.

Let’s go through them one last time, shall we? Best Picture winners and nominees:

As Miramax:
1996 – The English Patient
1997 – Good Will Hunting
1998 – Shakespeare in Love
1999 – The Cider House Rules
2001 – Chocolat
2001 – In the Bedroom
2002 – Chicago
2002 – Gangs of New York
2003 – The Hours
2004 – Finding Neverland, The Aviator

As Weinstein Co:
2009 – The Reader
2009 – Inglourious Basterds
2010 – The King’s Speech
2011 – The Artist
2012 – Silver Linings Playbook
2013 – Philomena
2014 – The Imitation Game
2016 – Lion

For all of these that got in, we can’t help note the movies each year that everyone admires and loves that didn’t go to the Big Show, like Carol, The Talented Mr. Ripley, or Italian for Beginners, etc. How does one even begin to separate the Oscar machine from Harvey Weinstein? Very painfully.

The Weinstein brand would become the meal Academy voters didn’t know even know they wanted but one they ended up taking to like ducks to water. That brand is alive and well, because the publicists who once worked for him are still at the top tier of the profession. Nothing about the Oscars was ever the same after his decades-long influence, from advertising, to the way people like me suss out the films we think “they” will like? It all came down the pike, mostly, give or take, from that Weinstein brand.

What Harvey Weinstein did to all of those women over so many years is something Hollywood now seeks to cut out like cancerous tumor. Sunday night’s Oscars will be the moment they check the body to see if the cancer is all gone after a lengthy and painful series of treatments that hauled high profile men out of their jobs, where women came forward to tell their stories — each unique, but so many of them woefully the same. For every one those who talked there are still probably countless who have not. Is the cancer gone? All the way gone? Is sending Jodie Foster and Jennifer Lawrence out to bestow the Best Actress prize to the lucky winner this year, publicly erasing Casey Affleck from his win, going to make it all the way gone? Is wearing black to the various awards shows, with a hashtag and a fund and hopes of activism, complete with a picture of this year’s only female directing nominee on the cover of TIME an attempt to show that it’s all the way gone?

Unfortunately, while television has exploded to offer portrayals of many types of women of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities — the film industry, at least in America, has a ways to go in that respect. Maybe sexual harassment will be curtailed. Maybe. It was an agreed upon exchange since Hollywood began that women — and men — could trade favors for jobs. The casting couch was one hideous way for up-and-comers to have the edge over hundreds of others. Today’s younger generation is in for a quite a shock once they begin to watch Hollywood movies from the beginning onward, to see how men and women on screen interact with one another. Have things changed now to the extent that our films will reflect what we want ourselves to be?

Most people will probably be very happy once this chapter at the Oscars is over and this conversation is put to bed. So to speak. It has become an exhausting thing to remain angry for a solid year, or two if you count Trump’s election in the extended torment. We’ve one more ceremony to go where the topic at hand will be a room full of people, three quarters of whom have benefited, in some way, from Harvey Weinstein’s Oscar machine.  In some respects, the whole thing should come down. It should all be taken down and rebuilt in a different way, using a different model, one that allows the Oscars to become part of the evolution of film as we’re seeing it now, where Black Panther is potentially a Best Picture contender. Now that we’ve cut out the Weinstein tumor can we also break free from the “Oscar movie” so that the film industry and Academy members can engage in a different kind of dialogue?

May this be the moment the Academy and the film industry can begin to mirror what’s happening on Netflix and HBO, where new opportunities flourish and minds are open and the Oscar movie is a thing of the past.