The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Will having Michael Moore on the academy board wreak havoc for the Oscars?

July 7, 2010 |  4:53 pm

Michael_moore I don't know exactly what they're smoking over at the once staid motion picture academy, but, boy, have they been shedding their image as Hollywood's most resistant-to-change institution.

First they actually hired a TV producer to produce a TV show. Then word filtered out that the academy was considering moving the Oscars up as early as January, which would mercifully cut more than a month from the shamelessly superficial Oscar campaign season. And now they've gone and put Michael Moore on the august academy board of governors.

I mean, what's next? Will they let presenters wear baseball caps and sneakers to the show?

The election of Moore, who was chosen by the members of the documentary film division,  is something of a shocker, since the always-opinionated, always self-promotional documentary filmmaker seemed to be exactly the kind of guy who, a la Groucho Marx, would never want to be a member of a club that would have him as a member. And when it comes to clubs, nothing is more exclusive than the academy board, even though another newly elected member is Oscar- winning "Hurt Locker" director Kathryn Bigelow, who seems like something of a true free spirit.

You could hear the outcry in conservative quarters from a million miles away, with Libertas Film Magazine's Jason Apuzzo reacting with predictable outrage and scorn. As he put it: "Forgive me, but the election of this Riefenstahl-in-a-fat-suit is repulsive. Utterly contemptible, divisive -- and richly evocative of the climate of fear that currently pervades an industry in which dissent from the left-liberal line is not tolerated. I could not be more disgusted by this."

Inside the industry, reaction was more muted, with one screenwriter musing: "If the academy has any brains at all, they'd better frisk Moore before every meeting to make sure he doesn't try to bring a hidden camera. If you thought Wall Street and General Motors were fat targets for muckraking, that's nothing compared to the academy."

The election of Moore certainly gives the academy board a strong liberal wing, with the Man from Flint joining Ed Zwick, Tom Hanks, Ed Begley Jr., and Phil Alden Robinson as staunch lefty activists. But after talking to a couple of board members, I'm not so sure that Moore is going to have much of an impact steering the academy into taking a position on giving Hugo Chavez an honorary Oscar, since things get done on the board through quiet alliance building, not exactly Moore's strong suit.

Moore is also one of the few board members who doesn't live in Los Angeles, so it's still an open question as to how often he'll actually attend board meetings. But who knows, maybe Moore can do some good, working from the inside out. One of the great scandals in the movie business is the fact that, in this day and age, there isn't one African American who's currently a member of the academy board. If Moore can do something to fix that, then I'd say he's earned the right to wear his baseball caps where ever he wants. 

Photo: Michael Moore in March at opening night of the Broadway play "A Behanding in Spokane." Credit: Charles Sykes / Associated Press