Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

5 Of The Worst Campaign Controversies In Oscar History

by Oliver Lyttelton
February 24, 2013 2:35 PM
  • |

In some respects, this Oscar season has been a classic one, with a strong line-up of films and a narrative full of twists and turns. But it's also marked the return of a less-than-happy Oscar tradition in a fairly major way – the smear campaign and dirty tricks. Almost every serious contender has had some kind of attack leveled against it. "Lincoln" played fast and loose with historical facts and demeaned the good name of the state of Connecticut. "Argo" was even faster and looser and downplayed the part of an entire nation, Canada, in the real-life story. "Zero Dark Thirty" is pro-torture, "Django Unchained" is racist, and "Silver Linings Playbook" star Jennifer Lawrence was ungracious towards Meryl Streep and her fellow nominees in acceptance speeches and 'SNL' monologues.

This sort of ridiculous thing has cropped up a few times in the last few years – "The King's Speech" was criticized for downplaying its main character's alleged fascist sympathies, while "The Artist" was attacked by Kim Novak for appropriating the score to "Vertigo." Neither paper thin charge stopped the films from winning Best Picture, but with dirty campaigning so much more prevalent this year, it seemed like a good moment to highlight some of the most egregious slurs and smears against Best Picture Contenders in the past. We'll see which of this year's proved the most successful when the ceremony kicks off tonight.

"The Color Purple" (1986)
The NAACP is a great organization that does hugely important work, but like all organizations, it has moments of idiocy in the past. And one such came along in 1985 and 1986, as Steven Spielberg's "The Color Purple" became an awards contender. When the film was released in December 1985, the Hollywood chapter of the organization teamed up with the Coalition Against Blaxploitation to organize a well-publicized protest against the film's "stereotypical" portrayal of African-American males. The film went on to be nominated for eleven Oscars, but perhaps as a result of the high-profile controversy, ended up not winning a single one (it still holds the record as the most-nominated film not to win an award, along with 1977's "The Turning Point"). At that point, the same chapter of the NAACP, having their cake and eating it too, as it were, started another protest, calling the Academy's snub of the film racist and calling it "a slap in the faces" of producer/composer Quincy Jones and Steven Spielberg. There's no indication that other studios were egging up the protests ("Out of Africa" was the big winner), but it was certainly the kind of takedown that Harvey Weinstein dreams of.

"Good Will Hunting" (1998)
The story of the two young actors who penned a script to give themselves a showcase, and ended up at the Oscars was almost too good to believe. And indeed, some didn't buy into the story that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon actually wrote the script for "Good Will Hunting." Rumors persisted that veteran writer William Goldman was really behind the screenplay (the "All The President's Men" scribe says he gave the duo notes, but didn't write a word), and Variety went as far as running a story claiming that "The Silence of the Lambs" writer Ted Tally was actually the creator of "Good Will Hunting." Tally swiftly denied it, as Damon told the New York Times over a decade later: "Ted Tally to his credit, he called up Variety and said 'I want to go on the record and just say I didn’t write that movie, I wish I did but if I had written it I’d take credit for it.’ ” According to Damon, he was told that a rival Oscar campaign was behind it. "[They told me] it’s the ‘As Good As It Gets’ camp,” he said. “And I was like, come on, 'you must be kidding me. You’re telling me it’s Jim Brooks, the director of that movie?' 'No, Jim Brooks would never do that. It’s the camp!’ Like, what does that mean? It was so stupid. I was just flabbergasted.” Nevertheless, it didn't work, and the film won Best Original Screenplay.

  • |

More: Features, Oscars, Awards, Academy Awards

Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    


  • Bob Roberts | February 26, 2013 11:34 PMReply

    K get it, Alan. My arrogance is impressed with you condescension. Touche sir.

  • Bob Roberts | February 26, 2013 12:42 AMReply

    I'm done with the ZDT debates here. Don't know why I try to change hearts and minds on internet threads.

    Stay in touch with morality and humanity is all I can say.

    One love.

  • Alan B | February 26, 2013 6:27 PM

    Yeah, that's actually your problem: you don't actually want to engage in a debate with people, you want to "change" them, as if they need changing. That's arrogant.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | February 25, 2013 7:21 PMReply

    Saying/writing "based on a true story" basically indemnifies you from having to tell an unerringly true story (which is usually boring).

  • huffy | February 25, 2013 11:47 AMReply

    Also I'm still dumbfounded that people continue to insist that Zero Dark Thirty is pro-torture. It's called subtlety (and ZDT wasn't even that subtle with the fact it felt torture was unnecessary, you just had to fucking pay attention); if a movie doesn't smash you over the head with its message it flies over the head of half the audience.

  • Kurskij | February 28, 2013 11:04 AM

    "KURSKI, don't you remember the scene where the torture victim is screaming everyday of the week just so the Daniel character will stop. That apparently represents a positive representation of torture. Or something."
    Ah, yes. Now it all makes sense. That and other scenes (including the post-torture dinner scene where they trick the info out of him). Yep, totally pro-torture. *wink-wink*

  • Alan B | February 26, 2013 5:52 PM

    "in what or which scenes does it promote torture or gives such impression?" Oh KURSKI, don't you remember the scene where the torture victim is screaming everyday of the week just so the Daniel character will stop. That apparently represents a positive representation of torture. Or something.

  • Kurskij | February 26, 2013 12:05 PM

    @huffy and Alan B - agreed. Also, Edelstein piece was truly horrible.

    As for "ZDT promotes torture" or Bob's "It clearly is in that it gives the impression that torture led to UBL, which is factually not true"

    ^in what or which scenes does it promote torture or gives such impression? I'm not claiming it doesn't, but when exactly? I didn't see it after watching it three times. Maybe I'm blind, idk.

    I had my problems with the movie, but it wasn't one of them.

  • Alan B | February 26, 2013 1:55 AM

    Yeah, I read the Mayer article ... a while ago. And I also read Edelstein ('I am a VERY IMPORTANT film critic and I am going to tell you HOW IMPORTANT I AM. In fact, I am not just a film critic, I am THE SPEAKER OF TRUTH'), Greenwald ('It's Obama propaganda. No wait, it's CIA propaganda. No wait, I don't need to see the film to criticise it. No wait, I just saw the film and it's worse than ANYONE CAN POSSIBLY IMAGINE'), the Senators ('It's bullshit, and it's such bullshit that we are using taxpayer money to investigate the film'). I also read Leon Panetta, who said “[There's] no question that some of the intelligence gathered was a result of some of these methods. But I think it's difficult to say that they were the critical element. I think they were part of the vast puzzle that you had to put together in order to ultimately locate where bin Laden was ...I think we would have found him, even without that piece of the puzzle." You see, BEFORE forming an opinion, I like to look at a NUMBER of sources, but I guess you'll just say that Panetta is WRONG. No wait, he's a CIA stooge. No wait, he has never even entered the CIA and couldn't possibly know any of these things. *sigh*

  • Bob Roberts | February 26, 2013 12:36 AM

    Please read the whole article: "Zero Conscience in Zero Dark Thirty" - Jane Mayer
    (can't upload links)

  • Bob Roberts | February 26, 2013 12:27 AM

    From Jane Mayer, one of the best reporters with regards to CIA detention and the War on Terror, who wrote the book the Dark Side:

    "Yet what is so unsettling about “Zero Dark Thirty” is not that it tells this difficult history but, rather, that it distorts it. In addition to excising the moral debate that raged over the interrogation program during the Bush years, the film also seems to accept almost without question that the C.I.A.’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” played a key role in enabling the agency to identify the courier who unwittingly led them to bin Laden. But this claim has been debunked, repeatedly, by reliable sources with access to the facts. As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent first reported, shortly after bin Laden was killed, Leon Panetta, then the director of the C.I.A., sent a letter to Arizona Senator John McCain, clearly stating that “we first learned about ‘the facilitator / courier’s nom de guerre’ from a detainee not in the C.I.A.’s custody.” Panetta wrote that “no detainee in C.I.A. custody revealed the facilitator / courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts.”

  • Alan B | February 25, 2013 7:20 PM

    And I admire you, Bob: you are so CONFIDENT in your point of view that you'll essentially repeat the same contention three times in the ONE ARTICLE. Yeah, that's right: it's your CONFIDENCE that inspired you to do so.

  • Alan B | February 25, 2013 7:05 PM

    And we know it's not true because ... a couple of Senators told us.

  • Bob Roberts | February 25, 2013 6:50 PM

    It clearly is in that it gives the impression that torture led to UBL, which is factually not true.

  • huffy | February 25, 2013 11:38 AMReply

    "Some Academy members tried to get their ballots back to change their vote,"

    Example number #242 of why the modern Academy Awards are worthless.

  • Kurskij | February 26, 2013 12:08 PM

    Once again, (somewhat) agreed.

    First judge a movie based, presumably, on artistic merits. Then someone (and who) tells you there's a vile-vile story behind it. And you try to revoke your vote.

    Did the movie suddenly became worse?

  • MAL | February 25, 2013 10:02 AMReply

    Get off your high horses people. Movies, by their very nature, are works of fiction. They are not life, but representations thereof. Even documentaries are biased by filmmakers taking their own perspective of an issue or story and filming and editing it to suit the story they want to tell! Did Zero Dark Thirty achieve success in telling the story it set out to tell and in the way in which it set out to tell it? Stop being so damn political in your thinking and enjoy the films for what they are! (And I'm Canadian and thoroughly enjoyed Argo, knowing full well that the CIA had practically nothing to do with the escape of the American hostages in Iran -- it was a Canadian operation!)

  • Bob Roberts | February 25, 2013 6:49 PM

    I did see Zero Dark Thirty for what it was. Other than it's terrible politics, it was just bad. Jessica Chastain was so one-noted. It was so obvious that she was the crusader in the shadows, the character we must revere as we live our lives in oblivion. This is simply a female Batman. No real character depth at all. That scene where she is screaming at Kyle Chandler and her neck is bulging is ridiculous. And when she's writing the days on the glass, is so silly. Come on can't anyone agree with me that those scenes are sooo ridiculous? It's just a sign of the times I guess that ZDT is considered good and subversive art.

  • Bob Roberts | February 24, 2013 5:36 PMReply

    I wish you would actually distinguish what is factually true and what isn't instead of lumping all articles legitimately criticizing a movie as a "smear campaign". Zero Dark Thirty clearly shows that torture got key information that lead to Bin Laden. Any minimal amount of research will show you that this just not true! Also the movie conveniently didn't show when the U.S. lost Bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains. And where's the Iraq war throughout the whole movie?? Also, Argo is a glorification of the CIA, who set-up a brutal dictatorship in Iran that terrorized and killed thousands. Again widely available information. Why can't you guys see that? Are you guys not somewhat politically astute at all? I really love the site but this thing of defending all movies from legitimate political questions is a major flaw of your writers. It's like you are defenders of cinema against anyone who doesn't "get movies" or something. I loooooove love love the movies but I also look at real world implications and others who have true objections to portrayals within those films. Please don't dismiss this. It's a serious thing you as a website need to question.

    The best movies of the year are "The Master" and "Silver Linings Playbook". Two true artists have made two of their best movies. There's actual humanity in those films unlike these movies that are simply morally hollow.

  • - | February 28, 2013 1:40 PM

    "Zero Dark Thirty clearly shows that torture got key information that lead to Bin Laden."
    Watch the film again, and pay attention to what happens around the one-hour mark. If you've seen it and are saying that, you've missed something.
    "Also the movie conveniently didn't show when the U.S. lost Bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains."
    Yeah. I also find it convenient that Raging Bull didn't show when Jake Lamotta was rejected for military service during World War 2. (the point being that the film is set after that event occurred, you twonk)
    "And where's the Iraq war throughout the whole movie?"
    It's not about the Iraq War. Jesus fucking Christ.
    "Also, Argo is a glorification of the CIA, who set-up a brutal dictatorship in Iran that terrorized and killed thousands. Again widely available information."
    So widely available that it's mentioned in the first few minutes of the film, as well as being mentioned a couple of times after the scene where protesters storm the embassy.
    Why is it that most of the problems you're mentioning seem to stem from you not having paid attention to the films, at all? It's pretty clear you went into both of those films expecting to not like them. It's not the film's job to mould itself to fit your ideological fancies, you fucking pseudo-intellectual twat.

  • cosmo vitelli | February 25, 2013 1:31 AM

    "The King's Speech" was criticized for downplaying its main character's alleged fascist sympathies, while "The Artist" was attacked by Kim Novak for appropriating the score to "Vertigo." Neither paper thin charge..."

    also ^this line is pretty awful. I love the playlist but these aren't "paper thin" charges. They're either true or false. They happen to be true. We can all debate how meaningful the charges are, but they're true, and that kinda completely changes the meaning of what you're saying here. Of course The Artist appropriated the music from Vertigo. And I'm with Kim Novak, it was a shitty move. One of the most most iconic scores of all time was used to class-up that pasty cutesy one-note smilefest, so cheap!

    and while we're at it, The King's Speech would have been so much more compelling if he had to overcome a speech impediment, and was likeable, and had some fascist sympathies, so way to screw that up dudes

  • Wash | February 24, 2013 8:04 PM

    Yeah, and Silver Linings Playbook is a glorification of the Philadelphia Eagles, who have been terrible for years. Again, widely available information.

  • pol | February 24, 2013 4:37 PMReply

    Yeah, there's no such thing as propaganda. Imbecile.

  • Jason | February 24, 2013 4:13 PMReply

    "Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq war drama was both the victim of a campaign and the perpetrator, both to the film's detriment (though once again, not to the extent that it lost Best Picture). "

    For the love of god, hire an editor.

  • brace | February 24, 2013 3:22 PMReply

    I'm not sure that every controversy surrounding a certain movie has something to do with awards campaigns. it looks like that but maybe it's because they release their Oscar contenders in December, when awards season has began. maybe, just maybe some of those controversies could happen if the movies are released in may.

  • rodie | February 24, 2013 3:12 PMReply

    Goldman did give Damon and Affleck notes on the script and met with them for a couple hours about the movie. In the process the story COMPLETELY changed. The actors had all kind of crazy, cheesy stuff in there about the FBI recruiting Hunting, and blowjobs underneath Robin William's character's desk. Goldman may not have spent a lot of time helping Damon and Affleck, but his notes and influence completely altered the narrative and tone of the movie.

  • Hombre Gato | February 24, 2013 5:01 PM

    I read that Terrence Malick (Affleck's godfather, I was surprised to learn) told them to cut the "FBI helicopter chase" stuff and told them the movie should end with Damon leaving Boston to go after his girl. This only came out last year and while yes, it's a MAJOR contribution, it could have been anyone that gave that advice. Doesn't mean they deserve a writing credit.

  • cattt | February 24, 2013 4:56 PM

    Goldman gave them notes, that doesn't mean that the guys didn't write it.

    Robert Altman's films have won for best screenplay, but Altman never won for directing. I think that it's kinda stupid because Altman-movie screenplay was nothing like the finished film. Most of them are improvised, he never used the script as it was written.

  • Ken | February 24, 2013 3:23 PM

    To their credit though, a lot of screenplays go through those types of processes. Oftentimes, an early draft can look way different than the final draft and you know other screenwriters have gotten similar help in the past.

  • Jake | February 24, 2013 2:48 PMReply

    A Beautiful Mind didn't win Best Actor. Russell Crowe won the year before for Gladiator. Denzel Washington won that year for Training Day.

  • BEF | February 25, 2013 2:19 PM

    King Kong ain't got shit on you, Jake.

Email Updates