Obama Doesn't Want in on the Oscar Race

Michelle Obama at the 2013 Oscar ceremony. Associated Press

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President Obama apparently has enough on his plate without the White House being a campaign stop for films working their way toward Oscar. 

The White House has plans to cut back on "official" movie screenings, Tina Daunt and Tatiana Siegel of The Hollywood Reporter reported. Such screenings might make it seem as if Obama is picking a horse in the Oscar race. (UpdateFriday: According to Entertainment Weekly, a White House spokeswoman denied the report: "The White House enjoys the opportunity to screen movies and will continue that tradition. Any reports to the contrary are not accurate.") 

Presidential politics inserted itself rather directly into the Oscars last year, even before Michelle Obama appeared via satellite to announce the winner for Best Picture. An early screening of Steven Spielberg's Lincoln led certain Oscar hysterics to complain that the Obama administration was endorsing that particular film's Oscar campaign. Not that it did that film much good, since Argo took home the top prize. 

As for this year, The Weinstein Company movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom has gained a lot of attention in Washington, with a White House screening earlier this month and another scheduled tonight at the Kennedy Center, to be co-hosted by Hillary Clinton and Colin Powell.

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What hasn't gotten an official screening? Perceived Oscar frontrunner 12 Years a Slave, causing one exec to grumble to THR about perceived Weinstein favoritism. "If you look at the films they do invite for the big event screenings, it's obvious you can buy your way into the White House," the exec said, eventually downplaying what might be construed as a snub. "We were not big donors to Obama. Do we wish they would have us? Of course. But it's not that important." The White House did request a print of 12 Years a Slave, which is a way for the first family to view movies privately.

Certainly not all recent screenings have been Weinstein movies—Lincoln was a DreamWorks enterprise, for instance—but Weinstein does have a certain touch. During last year's race, Bradley Cooper and David O. Russell discussed mental health with Joe Biden because of Silver Linings Playbook, and, this month, shortly after the first Mandela screening, Weinstein brought Fruitvale Station's Ryan Coogler and Mandela's Naomie Harris to a Michelle Obama-hosted Careers In Film panel. Weinstein did, however, arrange Mrs. Obama's Oscar appearance.

Does the White House really make a difference in the Oscar race? Maybe not exactly, but for now, with the White House putting the kibosh on screenings, awards season seems to be getting less political. At least in the D.C. sense of the word. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.