An Oscar-winning producer wants the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to consider removing Michael Moore from the documentary branch of its board of governors because he says the Fahrenheit 9/11 filmmaker is overly partisan.
Gerald Molen, who co-produced Schindler’s List with Steven Spielberg in 1993, also co-produced 2016: Obama’s America last year, a documentary starring Dinesh D’Souza that he says the Academy ignored because of the film's politically conservative bent. In a letter he wrote to Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Hawk Koch, Molen blames Moore for the alleged snub, along with the other two governors on the Academy’s documentary branch, Rob Epstein and Michael Apted, whom he also infers are politically biased against conservative films.
In the letter, dated April 16 and obtained by The Hollywood Reporter Friday, Molen notes that 2016 was the most popular documentary of 2012. While acknowledging that commercial success and artistic merit are not one in the same, he writes: “Like many who enjoyed and commented on the film, I find myself wondering if it was excluded for ‘other’ reasons.”
Molen also mentions his next documentary, called America, which he is co-producing with D’Souza and others from the 2016 team, and writes he worries that the Academy will ignore it due to politics, as he alleges might have been the case with 2016.
Molen also sent the letter to Moore, Apted and Epstein.
“I have tremendous respect for Michael Apted as a creative and talented filmmaker but putting him with Rob Epstein and Michael Moore as the gatekeepers in charge of which films get nominated in the documentary category seems patently absurd,” writes Molen, whose producer credits also include Jurassic Park, Minority Report and other blockbusters.
The three men, though, might not have as much sway over the nomination process as Molen’s letter suggests, because the Academy recently opened up first-round voting to the entire documentary branch of more than 160 members, ditching the previous system that allowed a shortlist of eligible films to be determined by a small committee.
Under the new rules, a vote of the full branch produces a shortlist of 15 films, then a second round of balloting narrows it down to the five nominees.
On Saturday, The Academy said that Koch has sent a response letter to Molen, a portion of which reads as follows:
"We’ve discussed your letter and the concerns you raise. First of all, I want to assure you that 2016: Obama’s America was treated the same as all the other 125 films that were submitted in the Feature Documentary category for the most recent Academy Awards. Your film definitely received consideration and it was not ignored. It merely didn’t get the votes it needed to move onto the short list.
"It’s up to each one of the 172 members of the Documentary branch to evaluate th entries and make their own, independent judgments about which ones reflect the strongest achievements of the year. Inevitably, every year there are strong films that do not advance to the short list and a nomination.
"While box office success is most assuredly an important measure of a film’s success in our industry, in my opinion it shouldn’t factor into our thinking as individual Academy members when we evaluate films for Oscar consideration."
But Molen argues in his letter that making Moore and two other liberal filmmakers governors of -- and therefore the faces of -- the documentary branch, gives the appearance of a system that is rigged against movies that offer an alternative political viewpoint, even if the group of three have no power – or even the inclination -- to blackball a film.
“While Mr. Moore is a distinguished filmmaker, he holds a strong partisan view representing what Gallup tells us is only 21 percent of the population,” Molen writes. “Even if he were able to keep his personal philosophy out of the equation, you can certainly understand why the larger American constituency (pegged at 40 percent) would question the exclusion of a well-made and popular film that fails to reflect his views. Even if only in perception, this assumed bias will serve (in my opinion) only to injure the Academy.”
He even likens the situation of Moore, Epstein and Apted governing the documentary branch to the blacklist era decades earlier when alleged Communists were drummed out of Hollywood.
“All up and coming filmmakers deserve to be recognized for their creative sensibilities and should not be punished because the messages of their films fail to fit the dogma of what some believe is politically correct,” Molen writes. “We’ve already experienced a time in Hollywood where an atmosphere of oppression and fear were prevalent and people were punished for their political views. Let us make sure that never happens again.”
Koch and the Academy didn’t respond to a request for comment.