Report: Some academy voters upset over 'Gangs of New York' opinion column, ad

Friday, March 14th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Citing objections from Oscar voters, Miramax Films has pulled ads featuring an opinion column that called on them to award Martin Scorsese for directing ``Gangs of New York.''

The column written by Oscar-winning director Robert Wise, former president of the Academy Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, was later reprinted in advertisements that appeared in Hollywood trades, the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

Miramax said late Thursday it has pulled the advertisement, which was published six times.

Academy President Frank Pierson said the column breached an academy rule that voters, including Wise, should not reveal to anyone how they will cast their ballots.

``It's an outright violation of academy rules,'' Pierson told the Los Angeles Times. ``It's a corruption of the process.''

Vigorous campaigning during awards season is nothing new for major studios, but some academy members were outraged and said an ethical line has been crossed.

``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,'' Miramax's chief operating officer Rick Sands said in a statement.

Barry Levinson, the Academy Award-winning director of ``Rain Man,'' said he was among those dismayed by the studio's efforts to drum up support.

``There is just something extremely vulgar about the idea of a blatant campaign advertisement like this,'' said Levinson. ``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?''

Pierson said an unspecified number of the 5,800 Oscar voters have asked that completed ballots be returned so they can strike Scorese's name. Despite the backlash from some academy members, mailed ballots will not be sent back, Pierson said.

Ballots are due March 18, five days before the awards ceremony is scheduled to take place.

Wise's column first appeared March 6 in the Daily News of Los Angeles. Wise said in the column that Scorsese deserves the Oscar for best director for his work on ``Gangs of New York.'' He said the column was originally written by an assistant, but that he later revised that draft.

Wise, 88, said his intent behind the article was to help the film at the box office.

Miramax subsequently took out the ads, which declared, ``Two time Academy Award Winner Robert Wise declares Scorsese deserves the Oscar for 'Gangs of New York.' ``

Scorsese's publicist, Lois Smith said the director was also displeased with the ads.

``Marty was very touched by what Bob Wise said. But he never knew it was going to become an advertisement. He was not happy.''

``Gangs'' has been nominated for 10 Oscars, including best picture, and is among the 40 nominations that Miramax has received this year.