A Ukrainian expatriate group disseminated to press an open letter addressed to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, questioning whether Top Gun: Maverick should be allowed to remain in this year’s Oscar race following reports the film was partly funded by a Russian oligarch who put money in the film as a silent investor in LA-based New Republic Pictures.
The mega-hit – in which Tom Cruise reprised his role as US Navy pilot Pete “Maverick” Mitchell – is nominated for best picture, adapted screenplay, editing, original song, sound and visual effects in this year’s Academy Awards taking place this Sunday.
The Toronto-based Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) asked AMPAS to review the film’s Oscar eligibility, following media reports in January that Russian billionaire Dimitry Rybolovlev indirectly helped finance the film. Rybolovlev is on a list of Russian businessmen sanctioned by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. The purpose of the letter per UWC is to stamp out the potential for Russian meddling in the content of Hollywood films.
“The Ukrainian World Congress expresses its serious concerns over Russia’s influence on the Hollywood film industry,” UWC president Paul Grod wrote in an open letter addressed to AMPAS president Janet Yang that was circulated to press on Monday, during the final two days of Oscar voting that ended 5 PM PST Tuesday.
Grod offered an unsubstantiated, speculative and seemingly shaky smoking gun claim that Rybolovlev’s involvement may have resulted in the Kremlin meddling with the script to remove references to Russia in the storyline as the antagonist in the Top Gun sequel. “Rybolovlev’s funding of Top Gun: Maverick was not publicly disclosed and there is good reason to believe that his involvement may have led to censorship on behalf of the Kremlin,” he wrote. “Contrary to the original film, Top Gun: Maverick makes no direct or indirect reference to Russia. This is hardly a coincidence. Hollywood must be vigilant and transparent of Russian money being used to further pro-Kremlin censorship.”
A source familiar with the deal said that while New Republic has invested in Paramount film slates since 2020, it has no creative input into the content of the studio’s pictures, Top Gun: Maverick included.
The LA Times reported that in a recent breach of contract lawsuit brought against New Republic by its former president Bradley Fischer, the plaintiff alleged that Monaco-based Rybolovlev played a major role in New Republic funding Top Gun: Maverick and the Mission Impossible sequels.
Grod described Rybolovlev “as one of Russia’s richest oligarchs and “a known close friend and business partner” of Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev.
He said the oligarch had also been Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko’s biggest business partner in potash exports for more than a decade, helping him sustain his authoritarian regime with cash flows.
Top Gun: Maverick first began development in 2010, with principal photography finally taking place from May 2018 to April 2019, at a time of deteriorating US-Russia amid allegations the latter had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.
Deadline has contacted Paramount for comment on the letter and its claims.
Rybolovlev, who is known as the “fertilizer king”, has been based in Monaco since 2010, where he is the owner of its soccer club AS Monaco.
Aside from his recent alleged involvement in Hollywood, Rybolovlev is a renowned art collector whose collection includes works by Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, Auguste Rodin and Henri Matisse.
Rybolovlev previously gained notoriety in the U.S. for his $95M purchase of Donald Trump’s Maison de L’Amitie in 2008, which he has since sold.
He is among a group of Russian businessmen who were sanctioned by Ukrainian president Zelensky in October 2022 but he has avoided sanctions in Europe and the U.S. so far.
Grod ended his letter with a call to the Academy to reject all films with any direct or indirect investment by Russian oligarchs or other parties enabling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
He also asked the body to issue a strong statement during the Sunday night’s ceremony condemning Russia’s war against Ukraine and “any attempts to influence Hollywood and American society”.
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