Oscars: 'The Imitation Game' Finally Plays the Gay Card
Controversies around race ('Selma') and war ('American Sniper') have dominated the awards debate: Now, in an eleventh-hour strategy to change the conversation, Harvey Weinstein offers to give up his British honors if the U.K. pardons the homosexuals it criminalized.
This story first appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
As if this year's best picture Oscar race weren't already heavily politicized — what with the furor over the Academy's failure to nominate Selma director Ava DuVernay, followed by American Sniper's sudden emergence as the favorite of flag-waving Red State America — a new issue has just been injected into the contest. The Weinstein Co. originally promoted The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, as a period thriller that paid tribute to Alan Turing, the father of modern computing. But on Jan. 19, appearing on CBS This Morning, Harvey Weinstein introduced a new tactic, arguing that though Turing received a royal pardon in 2013 for his 1952 conviction for gross indecency because of his homosexuality, he deserves to be honored by the British government. He added the government also should pardon the thousands of British citizens convicted under laws forbidding homosexuality, which wasn't decriminalized in the U.K. until 1967. Weinstein, who was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2004, said he "was willing to give up my own CBE" to make that happen.
Two days later at a screening for BAFTA members in London, actor Stephen Fry joined the campaign to use The Imitation Game to promote honors for Turing and win pardons for others, saying, "There is a general feeling that perhaps if he should be pardoned, then perhaps so should all those men whose names were ruined in their lifetime." And the following day, the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, which lobbies on behalf of LGBT issues, added its voice. HRC, which had already announced that it would honor The Imitation Game at a Jan. 31 gala dinner in New York, took out full-page ads in The New York Times and Los Angeles Times signed by HRC president Chad Griffin. The ads noted that 49,000 gay men and women were persecuted in England under the same laws that forced Turing to submit to chemical castration or face jail, and the ads exhorted readers to "Honor this movie. Honor this man. And honor the movement to bring justice to the other 49,000." The message to the Academy was clear: If you support gay rights, then vote for The Imitation Game for best picture.
Attaching a movie to a worthy cause has, of course, become de rigueur among modern-day Oscar campaigns. Two years ago, The Weinstein Co. sent the Silver Linings Playbook team to Congress to lobby on behalf of mental health legislation. Such gestures are well intentioned, calculated to use a movie to raise awareness about a social issue, but they're also designed to translate the urge to do something about that issue into Oscar support.
In the case of The Imitation Game, though, asking the Academy to endorse Weinstein's gay agenda may be easier said than done.
Sure, the Academy itself has to be considered gay-friendly — for the second year in a row, an openly gay performer, Neil Patrick Harris, will host the big show Feb. 22. And last year, Matthew McConaughey caught a lot of flack when he failed to acknowledge AIDS activists in his best actor Oscar acceptance.
However, while the Academy has given Oscars to straight actors playing gay (Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, Sean Penn in Milk) and transgender (Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club), it has yet to award best picture to a movie built around a gay protagonist. (It famously opted for Crash over the 2005 gay romance Brokeback Mountain.) And so giving a nod to The Imitation Game would be a first.
But the Academy isn't necessarily looking to single out gay movies. This year, it chose to ignore several other awards-worthy, gay-themed films: Love Is Strange, Ira Sachs' drama about an older gay couple; Pride, the British dramedy about gay activists who lent their support to striking mine workers; and Ben Cotner and Ryan White's The Case Against 8, the documentary about the legal battle to overturn California's ban against same-sex marriage (which made it onto the documentary shortlist of 15 films but not the final five).
And The Imitation Game's gay credentials also have been a matter of debate, with some gay viewers complaining that it's much too discrete about Turing's sexuality. Writing in the National Review, critic Armond White accused the movie of "whitewashing Turing, [turning him into] a hollow statue." And while the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association gave the movie three noms, including best film and best LGBTQ film, when it came to a final vote, the group chose Boyhood and Pride in those two categories.
With Birdman and Boyhood seemingly battling for dominance — after its PGA and SAG wins, Birdman now appears to enjoy an edge — the other six movies in the competition are looking for ways to stake a claim. On its own merits, The Imitation Game is a well-made historical drama, in the tradition of TWC's own Oscar-winning The King's Speech. It shouldn't be easily dismissed, says a rival campaign consultant, explaining, "It's formidable, it got a lot of nominations, and it's easy to watch." So turning it into a rainbow-flag-waving cause celebre is not without its risks. It's one thing for Weinstein to challenge the Queen to do the right thing, it's quite another to put the Academy in the hot seat.