Oscars: Harvey Weinstein Discourages Boycott, Predicts Chris Rock Will 'Annihilate' Hollywood

Harvey Weinstein Cannes Arrivals 2012 - H 2014
AP Photo/Joel Ryan

Harvey Weinstein Cannes Arrivals 2012 - H 2014

"I just can imagine Chris Rock's opening remarks," Harvey Weinstein, the co-chief of The Weinstein Co., says as we sit down to record an episode of the Awards Chatter podcast days ahead of Sunday's Rock-hosted 88th Academy Awards. (You can listen to the entire conversation below.) "If anybody's [planning on] boycotting the Oscars, don't, because Chris Rock is gonna annihilate every one of us [leaders of Hollywood studios/distribution companies] in the first 20 minutes of the show, and it will be well worth watching. It will be an Oscars to remember."

(Click below to listen to this episode now or click here to access all of our episodes via iTunes. Past guests include Steven Spielberg, Lady Gaga, Will Smith, Amy Schumer, Samuel L. Jackson, Kristen Stewart, J.J. Abrams, Brie Larson, Ridley Scott, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellen, Sarah Silverman, Michael Moore, Benicio Del Toro and Lily Tomlin.)

This year, for the first time since 2008 and one of the few times in the last 25 years, none of Weinstein's films are nominated for best picture — Carol and The Hateful Eight came up short — but he's still going to the show, hoping for a best original score win for Hateful composer Ennio Morricone, among others associated with Weinstein Co. films, as well as a best actor win for "my buddy Leo [DiCaprio]" for The Revenant. That film, like the last two best picture Oscar winners, 12 Years a Slave and Birdman, was guided to fruition by New Regency president/CEO Brad Weston, who used to be co-president of The Weinstein Co.'s Dimension Films division.

Weinstein says he understands, from experience, the frustrations of the people calling for a boycott of the Oscars over the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, and feels they have made a difference — but he does not support their ultimate objective. "It's that voice, actually, that gets people motivated," he says, "because you don't want the boycott. That's how people use their personal power to force change. So I look at that and go, 'Great,' because everybody's thinking about that now. I thought about it a couple of years ago because it had bugged me over the years that the films that I did about ethnic diversity never got anything. So I said, 'I'm gonna stack the deck for myself: I'm gonna put out The Butler, Mandela and Fruitvale Station in the same year,' OK? We got one nomination — for U2 — out of three movies." Was race the driving consideration? "I have no idea," he says, "but it has to make you think." He continues, "And then, that year, there was 12 Years a Slave, and I said, 'What is it, only one?'"

Even so, he disapproves of the way the Academy has sought to correct the problem. "I believe that Cheryl [Boone Issacs, the Academy's president] and Dawn [Hudson, the Academy's CEO] and the people who are currently on the Academy [board] have their hearts in the right places," he says, but he opposes the revocation of voting privileges from "inactive" members — "people who've worked so hard all their lives and prize that Academy card and have reached that zenith and then go on to retirement," as he describes them.

Furthermore, he believes that industry pioneers like Jesse Lasky or Samuel Goldwyn would have been thrown out later in their lives under these rules: "Basically, under the rules, you would say to Jesse Lasky, 'I know you founded the business, I know you made the first narrative feature, I know you founded Paramount with Adolph Zukor, I know you did all this, Jesse, but I'm sorry, you've been inactive for X amount of years and you can't vote anymore."

Weinstein faults studios and distributors, more than Academy members, for the lack of diversity at the Oscars, suggesting that members can only pick from a limited number of diverse options each awards season. "If we do one a year, let's try to do one and a half a year at our size," he says of independent companies. "If the studios would look at their slates and say, 'You know what, we're gonna do one each,' then there are eight, nine choices, and in that situation the odds are overwhelmingly in favor [of producing nominees of color]. It's up to us, the people who produce." He adds, "I just don't think it's fair that people who are in the Academy are penalized. There's another way to get there."