Look, I’m not Michelle Obama’s biggest fan. I kind of think that if she ever met me, she would probably put me in a choke hold until I was forced to admit that eating your vegetables is a good idea and that Boy. Band of Outsiders is the product of visionary designers who clearly do not hate the female form. But let me put it this way. If I were First Lady, I would totally want to work my Hollywood donors into letting me give out an Oscar. I would also probably give it to myself. Because if I were First Lady, I could do that, because my husband would be President and he could have you killed.
Be that as it may, Michelle Obama has been on something of a publicity tour this week, helping to either soften the White House’s image or distract from the possibility of complete government ineptitude and shutdown as her husband is embroiled in negotiations over the sequestration budget cuts. First, she did a hilarious bit on Jimmy Fallon Saturday, demonstrating the evolution of “mom dancing,” and last night, she put on her sparkliest Naeem Khan, pulled together a bunch of military members (who were Presidential and Vice Presidential aides, based on their uniforms), and delivered the Best Picture Oscar to a bunch of Obama donors.
Flanked by servicemen and women, Mrs. Obama praised the nine Best Picture nominees’ uplifting qualities: “These lessons apply to all of us no matter who we are or what we look like or where we come from or who we love, but they are especially important for our young people . . . I want to thank all of you here tonight for being part of that vitally important work.”
Obama then went back to Nicholson, who awarded the trophy to an emotional Ben Affleck and the entire Argo crew.
The Academy told US Weekly that they approached the First Lady for a part in the annual telecast, but that’s not the whole story. Donor and mega-producer Harvey Weinstein broached the subject with the Oscar producers several weeks ago, and then chartered Disney’s private corporate jet (which they probably get a tax credit for) to fly the producers out to DC, where they met with Weinstein, his daughter and the First Lady’s staff. They then brought Jack Nicholson into the mix and the rest is history.
Weinstein’s motivation was not entirely political, if you can believe it. Weeks ago, he hired the Obama campaign’s public relations “genius” Stephanie Cutter to lobby the Academy to vote for Weinstein’s movie Silver Linings Playbook, apparently unaware of the extraordinary talent Stephanie Cutter repeatedly exhibited during the actual Presidential campaign. Cutter then used her social media influence to push for the movie with the legions of Academy voters who pay strict attention to the Twitter ramblings of their favorite campaign team.
The thought seems to be that if Hollywood is as taken with it’s dreamy choice for President as it seemed to be, then of course they’ll listen to his office when it comes to who to vote for in their own circles. Weinstein followed up Cutter’s hire with a press conference at the Center for American Progress, where the film’s star Bradley Cooper partnered with Sen. Debbie Stabenow and former Rep. Patrick Kennedy in an effort to tie the film, which focuses on Cooper’s character’s recovery from mental illness, into society’s treatment of those diagnosed with mental illness, especially in the wake of the Newtown shootings. And then he arranged for Cooper and the film’s director, David O. Russell, to have a high-profile meeting with Vice President Biden (Jennifer Lawrence, who won the film’s only Oscar, notably declined to attend the meeting) to discuss mental health treatment reform. Weinstein also pulled in perennial Democratic media darlings and Sunday talk-show loudmouths, including Senator Chris Dodd, Senators Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand, to beat the drum of mental health as Cutter made the connections to Silver Linings elsewhere in the press. As buzz for the picture built in Hollywood, Weinstein seems to have tried to orchestrate a full-on Oscar coup, bringing the First Lady in to, presumably, have the winner he paid for announce, well, a second winner he paid for.
Weirdly, it seems most of Hollywood, including the Hollywood Reporter, was well-aware that the tie-in to the Obama campaign and the Newtown shootings was a somewhat cynical measure designed to place more meaning into a romantic dramedy that was competing head to head with political powerhouse movies like Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty, whose plot-lines seamlessly melt into news cycles.They might be stupid when it comes to spending their money, but it appears that the actors, producers, writers, directors and bigwigs who make up the Academy were not so easily swayed by a cheap political campaign as Weinstein imagined they would be. As it turns out, when it’s about their own industry, as opposed to the future of the American economy, they take things more seriously.
Thankfully, of course, for the White House, the Best Picture award at least went to Argo, and not something more embarrassing to their policy positions and recent news foibles like Zero Dark Thirty, which was almost completely shut out from the awards because torture and George W. Bush and whatever. Iran is notably pissed, but that’s also Iran, and their totalitarian dictatorship simply cannot handle the directing success of a man once known for a starring role in the worst film in history.