In case you are wondering if Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences member David Clennon ran afoul of official Academy rules regarding member behavior when he spoke out against Zero Dark Thirty at a media event today, he did not. Clennon said “I’m a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. The Motion Picture Academy clearly warns its members not to disclose their votes for Academy Awards. Nevertheless I firmly believe that the film Zero Dark Thirty promotes the acceptance of the crime of torture, as a legitimate weapon in America’s so-called war on terror. In that belief, following my conscience, I will not vote for Zero Dark Thirty in any category… I cannot vote for a film that makes heroes of Americans who commit the crime of torture.”
The Academy’s rules about member conduct do not extend to the First Amendment right of Freedom of Speech, even if someone like Clennon invokes his voting intentions to make a political point. The only time a member can seriously jeopardize their Academy standing is if a member or someone involved in a competing film makes disparaging remarks about another competing film or person such as The Hurt Locker producer Nicholas Chartier did in 2010 when he sent multiple emails urging members not to vote for Avatar which was also a Best Picture nominee that year. The Academy revoked his tickets to the Oscars but ultimately did not take the step of denying him his Oscar should the film win. It did and several days later he received his Oscar quietly from then-President Tom Sherak.
Last year actress and longtime Academy member Kim Novak took out a full page ad in Variety slamming ultimate Best Picture winner The Artist for using music from Vertigo in one scene saying “I want to report a rape”. Although it caused a headache for The Weinstein Company at the time, the Academy took no public stand since Novak was a private citizen not involved in a competing campaign and had the right to express her opinion.
Clennon’s IMDB profile clearly describes his political beliefs beginning his bio by stating, “Political activist known for hands-on approach to politics. Frequently participates in rallies, readings etc even if the cameras aren’t rolling. Has turned down roles because of his political beliefs…”
Sony co-chairman Amy Pascal put out a strongly worded statement condemning Clennon by saying in part, “we are outraged that any responsible member of the Academy would use their voting status in AMPAS as a platform to advance their own political agenda.”
Nevertheless the Academy will stay far away from commenting or doing anything about this particular incident.
Meanwhile controversy surrounding the film won’t go away anytime soon. Pascal was at today’s AFI Awards luncheon at the Four Seasons which honored the AFI top 10 films of 2012, a list that includes Zero Dark Thirty. Filmmakers Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal were also in attendance. After the lunch Boal told me that although he initially was silent after U.S Senators denounced the movie as “grossly inaccurate” and launched an investigation, plus the acting head of the CIA said it does not reflect the facts, he plans to speak out more and defend his movie and the Oscar-nominated script he wrote. Although there are legal issues involved and he doesn’t want to inflame the situation he told me he can’t just sit back and stay silent. So expect to hear more on this, especially now that the film, nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture (but snubbed for Bigelow’s direction), has gone wide today and according to early box office forecasts will be Number 1 for the weekend.