How Oscar Campaigns Are — or Aren't — Adapting to Twitter Warfare

Tweet Oscar Graphic- H 2019

Have you now or have you ever tweeted anything offensive?

That's the question that Hollywood awards strategists may need to start routinely asking their clients now that a 2015 tweet from Green Book writer-producer Nick Vallelonga — in which he agreed with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump that Muslims in New Jersey cheered the 9/11 attacks — has threatened to derail that movie's Oscar campaign. While shrewd strategists spend months doing everything they can to promote films — from seeking impressive endorsements to throwing seductive soirees — they have yet to take proactive measures to bury any potentially explosive tweets. "Every single company except Netflix is just so understaffed or overworked," says one strategist. "Who has the time to do this?"

Old news stories, reflecting negatively on an awards hopeful, have haunted strategists in the past. And on Jan. 9, the same day Vallelonga's tweet resurfaced — it first was posted by an anonymous commentator calling himself "AlvySinger" on the website — another site, The Cut, published excerpts from a 1998 Newsweek story in which Green Book writer-director Peter Farrelly admitted to flashing his genitals in the past. Farrelly quickly apologized, saying, "I was an idiot. I did this decades ago, and I thought I was being funny, and the truth is I'm embarrassed, and it makes me cringe now. I'm deeply sorry."

News stories sometimes reappear to do damage. Reports of a 2010 sexual harassment suit (settled out of court) against Casey Affleck shadowed his successful Oscar quest for Manchester by the Sea. But Twitter provides an even richer repository of past missteps, with statements often tossed out off-the-cuff and without filters and easily searchable by anyone seeking to do opposition research or by an obsessed fan looking to do mischief.

For some, old tweets have become a veritable land mine. During the past year, politically offensive tweets — some old, some new — cost Roseanne Barr her TV show, James Gunn his Guardians of the Galaxy directing gig and Kevin Hart the job of Oscar host.

Vallelonga also offered an apology, saying, in part, "I spent my life trying to bring this story of overcoming differences and finding common ground to the screen, and I am incredibly sorry to everyone associated with Green Book." He also took down his Twitter account, though by then screenshots of the offending tweet already were in circulation.

But among a number of prominent strategists surveyed, none would admit to regularly doing any kind of forensic searches of the online words left behind by the talent on the films they repped in order to erase any problematic opinions before they saw the light of day.

One source did acknowledge asking a contender who was very outspoken on Facebook and "friends" with many others in the industry to avoid the site until voting ends. Another admits to having once retained to scrub the internet of old web content that could have hurt a high-profile Oscar hopeful — but that person notes that examining social media still hasn't become a matter of course.

That could change, though — if not for the second half of this awards cycle, then by next Oscar season. "If a company did exist to do this, they would probably be hired by everybody," says Perception PR's Lea Yardum. "And I doubt it would cost more than one trade ad."

This story first appeared in the Jan. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.