Miramax co-chief Harvey Weinstein told Entertainment Weekly last week that he’d ”go door-to-door” stumping for Martin Scorsese to win a Best Director Oscar, his first, for ”Gangs of New York,” but he may have gone too far. According to the Los Angeles Times, the studio’s ”Gangs” ads featuring a testimonial from former Academy president Robert Wise have outraged the Academy and some of its voters for its potential violation of Oscar rules by soliciting an Academy member to reveal how he will vote. As a result, Miramax has pulled the offending ads, but the controversy may hurt the film’s chances with voters who haven’t mailed their ballots yet.
According to the Times, Miramax enlisted Wise, a two-time directing Oscar winner for ”West Side Story” and ”The Sound of Music,” to write the pro-Scorsese essay (actually, Wise says, his assistant Mike Thomas wrote it, and he approved the draft), which was published in the Los Angeles Daily News on March 6. Miramax subsequently published the 500-word essay in its entirety in ads that have appeared six times over the last few days in the L.A. Times, the New York Times, and industry trade papers.
”The reaction among our membership has been real dismay, anger and outrage,” said Academy president Frank Pierson told the L.A. Times, noting that some voters even asked to have their ballots returned so they could cross Scorsese off their list. However, he said, mailed ballots will not be returned.
Even Scorsese disapproved of the tactic, his publicist told the Times. ”Marty was very touched by what Bob Wise said. But he never knew it was going to become an advertisement,” publicist Lois Smith said. ”He was not happy.”
Barry Levinson, who won an Oscar for directing ”Rain Man,” told the Times, ”There is just something extremely vulgar about the idea of a blatant campaign advertisement like this. You look at an ad like that and say, ‘My God.’ Why don’t we just give money to people and tell them how to vote?”
Miramax exec Rick Sands said that the studio had no idea that the ad might be considered outrageous or illicit. ”We were completely unaware that this was something academy members found offensive, and since there is nothing that addresses this in the academy marketing guidelines, we certainly did not know this practice was a violation of academy rules,” he said in a statement.