For the past year, Volodymyr Zelensky has been greeted with open arms by awards shows, film festivals and even the New York Stock Exchange. But when it comes to landing airtime on the most coveted telecast of all — the Oscars — the Ukrainian leader is being met with a cold shoulder.
For the second year in a row, the Academy has snubbed Zelensky, who was hoping to follow up his Berlin Film Festival (remote) appearance last month with a virtual spot on Sunday’s Oscar telecast on ABC. Sources say WME power agent Mike Simpson made a plea to the Academy to include the comedic actor-turned-politician but was shut down. The Academy declined comment.
Zelensky’s overtures to the Oscars comes as polls show Americans’ support for providing assistance to Ukraine has weakened.
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Zelensky has popped up via satellite at both the Cannes and Venice film festivals as well as the Grammy Awards and virtually rang the Opening Bell of the New York Stock Exchange in September. At the Golden Globes in January, Sean Penn introduced Zelensky, who reiterated his message of the past 12-plus months that that Ukraine will win the war against Russia and applauded “the free people of the free world — those who united around the support of the free Ukrainian people.”
Simpson became involved because he represents Aaron Kaufman, who co-directed with Penn the Zelensky documentary “Superpower,” which debuted at the Berlin Film Festival in February. During various press events for the film, Penn called for the U.S. government to step up its military support for Ukraine including “the delivery and supply of long-range precision missiles.” In December, Zelensky visited the U.S. to meet with President Biden and urge Congress to send more military aid to Ukraine.
But not everyone is onboard with giving Zelensky more airtime. Last year, Oscars producer Will Packer nixed a Zelensky appearance. Sources say Packer expressed concerns that Hollywood was only showering Ukraine with attention because those affected by the conflict are white. By contrast, Hollywood has ignored wars around the globe that impact people of color, he argued. Packer did not respond to a request for comment. It is unclear what the rationale is for this year’s Oscars rejection, however, the Academy traditionally prefers to focus on the contributions of the filmmaking community and steer clear of anything political.
Meanwhile, the Academy isn’t the only group to refuse Zelensky. In September, Zelensky’s team reached out to the Toronto Film Festival about the leader appearing via satellite, but they were denied. A TIFF spokesperson said at the time that the festival “does not comment on discussions with dignitaries, government officials or international embassies.” The spokesperson added that the festival “stands in solidarity with Ukranians both here at home and abroad and is proud to showcase the depth and creativity of Ukrainian filmmakers at this year’s festival.”
In recent months, Zelensky’s team enlisted Simpson, who reps such heavyweights as Quentin Tarantino and Bong Joon Ho, to make overtures to the Globes and re-engage the Academy after last year’s rejections. While the Globes embraced the idea and gave Zelensky several minutes of airtime, the Academy wasn’t interested. In an added personal twist, Simpson’s son Tommy collaborated on a song for “Superpower” with Ukrainian actress-pop singer Tina Karol.
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