Sacha Baron Cohen wants to walk the Oscar red carpet dressed as a Middle Eastern dictator. Should the Academy let him?
Sacha Baron Cohen apparently wants to bum rush the Academy Awards. The comedic merry prankster—who, you might recall, descended on wires crotch-first into Eminem’s face at the 2009 MTV Movie Awards to promote his comedy Brüno and has pulled similar guerilla stunts in the guise of Borat and Ali G—would reportedly like to strut down the Oscar red carpet this Sunday as his character in the upcoming movie The Dictator: a Qadaffi-esque Middle Eastern leader named General Aladeen.
The plan, if he pulls it off, would obviously give a huge publicity boost to Paramount’s The Dictator, which opens on May 11. Perhaps not surprisingly, though, the Academy doesn’t see the comic value in Baron Cohen’s fictional strongman rubbing elbows with Hollywood royalty in all their formal finery. “We would hope that every studio knows that this is a bad idea,” a spokesperson for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences told Deadline. “The red carpet is not about stunting.” That said, the Academy has stopped short of banning Baron Cohen outright; a spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter, “We don’t think it’s appropriate. But his tickets haven’t been pulled. We’re waiting to hear back.” [UPDATE: Deadline reports that the Academy has said that it will, in fact, rescind Baron Cohen’s tickets if he intends to proceed with the Dictator stunt. Otherwise, as an Academy member and one of the stars of the Best Picture-nominated Hugo (which is also a Paramount film), he is invited to attend the show. Baron Cohen’s rep tells EW, “We have no comment.” Stay tuned…]
The Academy is in an awkward position here. On the one hand, this isn’t some raucous, anything-goes awards show like the MTV Movie Awards we’re talking about—this is the Oscars, the venerable, tradition-bound granddaddy of all awards shows that’s supposed to honor cinema’s highest values and achievements. The Academy has a longstanding policy of not allowing the promotion of specific movies during the telecast (though, to be fair, there have been occasional exceptions, like when Ben Stiller presented with Starsky & Hutch co-star Owen Wilson wearing his Starsky duds in advance of their big-screen reboot of the ’70s cop show). Banning obvious shilling for particular movies seems reasonable enough: Would anyone really like to see the Academy Awards reduced to a cheesy plug-fest? On the other hand, the venerable, tradition-bound granddaddy of all awards shows could use a little shaking up, couldn’t it? If the Academy tried to put the kibosh on Baron Cohen (who has already reaped some nice publicity simply from this idea being floated), it would risk looking like a bunch of humorless fuddy-duddies—not the ideal image for an institution that needs to attract younger viewers in order to maintain the Oscars’ relevance going forward.
There are potential risks for Baron Cohen, too, of course: The stunt could fall flat (the Oscar red carpet, packed wall-to-wall with stressed-out stars and their equally stressed-out handlers, is not exactly the most comedy-friendly environment). Or, even if it succeeds, it could do so at the cost of making Baron Cohen—who you have to assume wouldn’t mind getting some Oscar love of his own some day—about as welcome a figure at the Academy asBrüno was when he showed up at that Arkansas steel-cage wrestling match.
What do you think? Should the Academy relax and embrace the spectacle of Baron Cohen sauntering down the red carpet in his medal-bedecked military uniform and long fake beard? Or are they right to try to dissuade him from potentially making a mockery of the industry’s biggest night?