Just because the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been quiet about its inner workings—a museum fund-raising announcement here, an Oscar press release there—doesn’t mean it’s been quiet inside. Every once in a while, rumblings from the Wilshire Blvd. headquarters are loud enough to be heard out here.
This week, the loudest grumbles came from within the documentary branch, where members and staff were churning around what is said to be an 11-page complaint filed by filmmaker Lauren Greenfield. According to people briefed on the complaint, it says, among other things, that prospects for her documentary feature The Kingmaker, about Imelda Marcos, were unfairly diminished by social media posts from fellow Academy members, including filmmaker Ramona Diaz, whose own Imelda won a Sundance award in 2004, and Roger Ross Williams, who recently directed The Apollo, and represents the doc branch on the Academy’s Board of Governors.
In response to a query, an Academy spokesperson said in a statement on Friday: “Yes we have received her summary and the Academy has had several conversations with Lauren Greenfield since last fall. We have determined that no campaign regulations were violated.”
Representatives for Diaz and Williams have not responded to requests for comment, and a spokesperson for Greenfield declined comment.
But one person briefed on the Academy’s decision said it was guided partly by the fact that Diaz had no film in contention for the current Oscars.
Williams was on the year’s short list with The Apollo, but wasn’t nominated. Diaz has been at Sundance with A Thousand Cuts, about Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, but wasn’t in the Oscar running. Greenfield might have been in the running, but The Kingmaker didn’t make the short list.
According to those briefed on the complaint, it centers on Web assertions and intimations that The Kingmaker followed in the footsteps of Imelda without acknowledging Diaz’s prior achievement in opening doors and getting Imelda Marcos on film. Both verbally and in the complaint, Greenfield has argued that, regardless of any determinations in the current case, Academy rules should be strengthened to provide more specific coverage of social media behavior, and that members should be reminded to avoid damaging each other in the Internet’s ‘Wild West.’
Such steps remain possible, though no one is being disciplined for misbehavior. Still, the dust-up has unsettled the Academy as it was beginning to focus on five other documentary features—American Factory, The Cave, The Edge Of Democracy, For Sama, and Honeyland—that have all been nominated for Oscars.
Somewhat less audibly, things are also still rumbling around Roman Polanski’s legal challenge to his expulsion from Academy membership under newly instituted rules governing abusive behavior, sexual or otherwise. Based on the public record, the case would seem to have been static since September, when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary H. Strobel told the parties to come up with a discovery schedule, with a hearing on Aug. 25, 2020. But Polanski—whose An Officer And A Spy was nominated last week for 12 French Cesar awards—still faces the difficult issue of fugitive disentitlement: Having fled the United States decades ago on the eve of final sentencing in a statutory rape case, is he permitted to pursue the civil suit?
Not one to go quietly, Polanski’s lawyer Harland Braun on January 21 sent a letter directly to Kevin C. Brazile, who is Presiding Judge of the Superior Court. In it, Braun, referring to the criminal prosecution, said he and his client plan “to reopen this ancient case to ascertain the current legal validity of the ‘secret marching orders’ issued by the court over which you preside.” In very short form, the claimed “marching orders” refer to internal court communications that were said to insist that Polanski appear personally in the U. S. and “cool his heels in Los Angeles County Jail” before issues regarding his sentencing and flight could be resolved.
Asked for comment, a spokesperson for the Superior Court on Thursday noted that “the Polanski case is still open and judicial canons forbid judges from discussing open cases.” As for the Academy, its lawyers now have to keep an eye on the never-ending criminal case, which could affect the expulsion suit.
As if that weren’t noise enough for the coming Oscar week, it’s also annual report time again. As of Friday, the Academy hadn’t yet posted financial for the year ended June 30, 2019, which would include cost and revenue from last year’s show. The new report—presumably due soon—will be closely watched for clues as to cost and cash consumption at the yet-to-open Academy movie museum. As the group has already acknowledged plans to float a new bond issue, it’s safe to assume that insiders are still rumbling about money.