Sunday, February 5, 2012

That woman who interupted the Oscar speech


Yes, I know---this happened in 2010 and I'm just talking about it now

I try not to watch the Oscars. I don't care who wins, I feel sorry for all the ones who lose, and it makes me nervous watching a live broadcast where there's such a tremendous potential for public humiliation.

So I missed the thing in 2010. Roger Ross Williams won an Oscar for best documentary short. He happily trotted down to the podium. He began to give a pleasant, cheerful acceptance speech when a loud, abrasive woman shoved him aside.

"LET THE WOMAN TALK. LET THE WOMAN TALK. ISN'T THAT THE CLASSIC THING," she said. Then she delivered a speech that wasn't nearly as inspiring as she thought it was, gesturing with one hand as she spoke, stretching it out with pauses:

"YOU KNOW, IN A WORLD IN WHICH MOST OF US ARE TOLD-----AND TELL OURSELVES-----THAT WE CAN'T------WE HONOR THE BAND BEHIND THIS FILM----TEACHES US THAT WE'RE WRONG----AGAINST ALL ODDS----THEY DID----SO WE CAN.---- SO THE BOTTOM LINE IS-----TO ME-----MY ROLE MODELS AND MY HEROES----" she names some band members, "-----THE WHOLE REST OF THE BAND AND ESPECIALLY PRUDENCE----"

"Who is here---who is back here tonight," Williams said.

They cut to a shot of Prudence, the singer in the band in the documentary, the people applaud, then the music starts and the people on stage who are supposed to help manage things step forward to politely hustle the two off stage.

You can watch it all here.

William's speech was much better, more inspiring, how he never thought when he started the film that he would end up getting an Oscar. He said the same thing she did, about doing something he didn't think he could, but he said it quickly and got to the point.

The woman was Elinor Burkett. She had been a co-producer on the film, but she had walked away from the project a year earlier, sued Williams over a creative difference. She got screen credit as producer as part of the out-of-court settlement, but she had nothing more to do with it.

Only one person was supposed to speak at the Oscars (at least in this catagory). The Academy picked Williams and it was a pretty obvious choice. I think Burkett later admitted that she knew this. She could have sat back and collected her Oscar. She would have been an Oscar-winning producer. Now, after this, she's an Oscar-winning producer who no one in their right mind would ever have anything to do with.

Burkett appeared on a couple of talk shows justifying her actions. I'm sure she still thinks she had behaved in a perfectly rational, dignified manner. She said she had to rush down there because she just knew that Williams would "only talk about himself" and she thought he should only talk about the band. Which is stupid.

But notice what happened. Williams came in at the end and introduced Prudence, the disabled singer from the film who had come there from Zimbabwe for the ceremony. He allowed Burkett to steal the moment from him, but he wouldn't allow her to steal it from Prudence, the singer who Burkett pretended to be so concerned about.

Anyway, I started wondering what ever happened to these two. I googled them. Williams made a documentary for the series Independent Lens and is in post production for another documentary about Uganda.

I can't find anything for Burkett. She had only one other film credit anyway, and that was from several years ago, so that may not mean anything. She had been a writer before this and I can't see that she's written anything since then, either.

She appeared on talk shows after the Oscar incident, justifying her action in her loud, rasping voice. She said she missed most of the Oscar ceremony because she was outside smoking cigarettes.

Maybe she was right after all

Maybe she was right to go up to the podium. She was a co-winner and should have been down there at the podium, too. You can see in the background of the video the Oscar presenter is moving out of the picture holding Burkett's Oscar as Williams starts speaking.

He should have waited for her.

Williams interpreted the rule that one one person could speak to mean that only one person would go down to accept the Oscar, but that wasn't right. But then she shoved her fellow producer aside. When she said "LET THE WOMAN TALK," she meant that only she should be allowed talk.

In fact, I read the comments of people who had seen appearances and interviews that Williams and Burkett gave together before she pulled out of the project. The same thing happened. She was a loud and abrasive and would take over every discussion whether she had anything worth saying or not. She would steamroll him.

I remembered the incident at the Oscars. I wasn't that curious about it at the time. I just started wondering now what happened to those people, what they've done since and I started reading about the incident for the first time. Articles and comments about it, other than a couple of interviews with her, are almost all anti-Burkett. The one article I saw which supported her completely turned out to be sarcastic.

Be careful who you form partnerships with. Make a movie with someone and you'll be bound to them for a long time to come.

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