Here are some questions to really ask yourself about the idea of Sacha Baron Cohen appearing on the Oscar red carpet as “The Dictator”…
1. Paramount and Graham King’s company spend millions of dollars to push for Hugo to win some Oscars and, they hoped, Best Picture. Do you really think they want to shift all the focus from Hugo, a film about the artistry of cinema made by a living legend (and really a team of living legends) and which they still hope will be a multiple Oscar winner, to their upcoming film of the (higher end) Norbit variety?
2. Do you think Martin Scorsese wants Sacha Baron Cohen mocking, for lack of a better word, the sanctity of the Oscar red carpet, on his dime?
3. Have you considered how this stunt plays out on the red carpet? Unlike the silly stunt by the South Park guys, who arrived in drag for the show and walked the carpet, Cohen’s methodology involves drawing other people in to his sometimes brilliant game. Is it fair or even decent to allow him to infringe on everyone else’s moment?
I was an advocate of allowing Banksy to turn up at the Oscars in any disguise that pleased him. Again, the difference is that Banksy being masked is a part of his art and a part of his film, which was honored with a nomination. I would not advocate him walking around with a can of spray paint, painting other nominees as they talked to E! on the red carpet. Ironically, as much as a guerrilla as Banksy is, he seems to understand his place in the world and respects it as much as any businessperson would.
If it were just Sacha walking down the red carpet in that outfit, waving… whatever. But you know that the money shot is going to be Octavia Spencer giving The Dictator the stink eye or trying to get some international outlet to interview him as though he was a nominee or engaging Meryl Streep in some way. If you aren’t actually in Ari Emanuel’s pocket, as some “journalists” won’t toldja they are, the idea of Mr Emmanuel’s client disrupting the event may be amusing at first, but ultimately will get in the way of journalists whose outlets invest heavily in this event getting their jobs done.
I don’t believe that this was Paramount’s idea, though Nikki Finke seems to want to collar them with it. This is a company that is heavily invested in the awards season and respectful of The Academy. And no one over there is stupid. Stunting the red carpet is not a tradition.
And the comparison of this event to Cohen’s Borat premiere at Toronto is, simply, moronic. That stunt was brilliant. But it was at an event that was specifically about Borat. It wasn’t in conflict with the tone of the evening. It did a great job setting the tone of the evening. (And by the way, it was planned WITH the festival in space set aside by the festival for pre-premiere press activities.) And after the projector broke and they had to reschedule the screening at another venue, we were all disappointed when there was not an even bigger stunt at the new venue.
The con here is to spin this as The Uptight Academy. But that either intentionally unfair or just plain ignorant. Hundreds of people are invested in that red carpet, thousands and thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars… and that’s beyond the investment by ABC and The Academy. But there are always plenty of people who just want to see the staid, organized event turned upside down. Ha ha.
There is a difference between inventive spontaneity and imposing yourself on others.
Paramount’s marketing and publicity department know this. They are as smart as anyone in this business.
And actually, Sacha Baron Cohen knows this. This kind of thing is actually a bit out of his wheelhouse. Even when he included celebrities in his Bruno stuff, he set up small, private, controlled situations. Neither of his previous characters for film were about invading major public events and subverting them. He gets his laughs from pained intimacy, not mocking the business in which he makes 10s of millions a movie. (Rebel with a platinum card.)
Of course, in the end, this was probably never meant to end up with Cohen on the red carpet in his dictator suit. Once it was announced to The Hollywood Reporter, it lost any chance of being subversive and would have all the edginess of product placement in it went forward. Cohen would be the perky Ford that keeps getting close-ups for no apparent reason.
My guess would be that everyone knew this… that Paramount would never have allowed WME’s client to announce this – and maybe didn’t know it was coming – unless they knew it would die before Sunday… and that the story on Sunday night after all this will be that Sacha isn’t going to do any interviews on the red carpet, which he wouldn’t be doing out of character anyway, so people will speculate on him being muzzled by The Academy. Perhaps he will wear a piece of tape on his mouth to create more media drama as he moves quickly into the theater.
So I would bet the real answer to the headline question is, “No one’s.” The goal was to get attention for a new movie without actually shitting where Paramount, Cohen, WME, and Nikki Finke live. Goal achieved. Shame on y’all. Shame on us.