Courtesy of NBC
Over the past year, Volodymyr Zelensky has been welcomed with open arms by award shows, film festivals and even the New York Stock Exchange. But when it comes to snagging airtime on the most coveted telecast of them all – the Oscars – the Ukrainian leader is met with a cold shoulder.
For the second year in a row, the Academy snubbed Zelensky, who was hoping to follow up his (remote) appearance at the Berlin Film Festival last month with a virtual spot during ABC’s Sunday broadcast of the Oscars. Sources say WME power operative Mike Simpson pleaded with the Academy to include the comedian-turned-politician but was shut down. The Academy declined to comment.
Zelensky’s Oscar overtures come as polls show American support for Ukraine aid has waned.
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Zelensky appeared via satellite at the Cannes and Venice film festivals as well as the Grammy Awards and virtually rang the New York Stock Exchange opening bell in September. . At the Golden Globes in January, Sean Penn introduced Zelensky, who reiterated his message of the past 12 months that Ukraine will win the war against Russia and applauded “the free people of the free world – those who have united around the support of the free Ukrainian people.
Simpson got involved because he represents Aaron Kaufman, who co-directed Zelensky’s documentary “Superpower” with Penn, which debuted at the Berlin Film Festival in February. At various press events for the film, Penn called on the U.S. government to step up military support for Ukraine, including “the delivery and supply of long-range precision missiles.” In December, Zelensky traveled to the United States to meet with President Biden and urge Congress to send more military aid to Ukraine.
But not everyone agrees with giving Zelensky more airtime. Last year, Oscar producer Will Packer canceled an appearance by Zelensky. Sources say Packer expressed concerns that Hollywood was only drawing attention to Ukraine because those affected by the conflict are white. By contrast, Hollywood has ignored wars around the world that impact people of color, he argued. Packer did not respond to a request for comment. It’s unclear what the reason for the rejection of this year’s Oscars is, however, the Academy has traditionally preferred to focus on contributions from the film community and avoid anything political.
Meanwhile, the Academy isn’t the only group turning down Zelensky. In September, Zelensky’s team contacted the Toronto Film Festival about the leader appearing via satellite, but they were denied. A TIFF spokesperson said at the time that the festival “does not comment on discussions with dignitaries, government officials or international embassies”. The spokesperson added that the festival “stands in solidarity with Ukrainians here and abroad and is proud to showcase the depth and creativity of Ukrainian filmmakers at this year’s festival.”
In recent months, Zelensky’s team has enlisted Simpson, who represents heavyweights such as Quentin Tarantino and Bong Joon Ho, to make overtures to the Globes and re-engage the Academy after last year’s rejections. While the Globes embraced the idea and gave Zelensky several minutes of airtime, the Academy was not interested. In an added personal touch, Simpson’s son Tommy collaborated on a song for “Superpower” with Ukrainian actress and pop singer Tina Karol.