Did the Oscars Just Snub Zelenskyy? Are They Nuts?

Co-host Amy Schumer suggested inviting the Ukrainian president to the ceremony. The Academy — insanely — said no.

Voldymyr Zelenskyy
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to the U.S. Congress on March 16 (Getty Images)

Ben Svetkey

Benjamin Svetkey

Veteran entertainment journalist Benjamin Svetkey shoots the breeze, raises a brow and sometimes wags a finger in his ruminations on the latest Hollywood news and controversies.

He’s the most inspirational and respected international figure since Winston Churchill. His speeches have electrified the Israeli Knesset, both the British and Canadian parliaments and the US. House of Representatives. He’s fighting for a cause supported by virtually every freedom-loving country in the world.

So, naturally, the Oscars are snubbing him.

Inviting Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy to appear at the ceremony on Sunday night via satellite — or even in a pre-taped message — was such a terrific idea, co-host Amy Schumer deserves some sort of award for thinking it up. It makes sense for Zelenskyy, giving him an opportunity to directly address the American public and appeal for even more military and economic help. And it makes sense for the Oscars, which, frankly, could use all the star power it can get to boost what’s shaping up to be yet another coma-inducing evening. 

Last year’s was the lowest-rated ceremony ever, with just 10 million viewers tuning in to watch “Nomadland” win best picture. This year it’s hard to imagine a whole lot more people showing up to watch “Power of the Dog” or “Drive My Car” or even “CODA” take the top prize. As with so many Oscar ceremonies in the recent past, there just aren’t many crowd-pleasers in the running, so there’s no reason to expect much of a crowd.

But even in this age of fractured audiences and smaller-than-life movie stars, there happens to be one public figure who’s captured the imagination of pretty much the entire population of Earth. A global celebrity who could create the sort of water-cooler moment that once defined the Oscars. And who, by the way, would probably jump at the chance of appearing at the podium, even if only virtually. After all, Zelenskyy is a former actor. He’s likely been practicing in the mirror for an opportunity like this his whole life.

But, according to Schumer, the Academy nixed the idea. Exactly why is unknown; the Academy isn’t saying. It can’t because Zelenskyy is now a political figure. The Oscars have long had an open-door policy towards politics and politicians; Franklin D. Roosevelt kicked off the 13th Academy Awards in 1941, Ronald Reagan taped a video message for the 1981 ceremony, Laura Bush made an appearance in 2002 and Michelle Obama even announced the best picture winner in 2013 (that’d be “Argo”).

It can’t be because the Academy is afraid of offending Russian viewers, either; the show hasn’t been broadcast in Russia for years.  It’s theoretically possible Oscar producers are concerned that broadcasting a speech by a charismatic freedom fighter in the middle of a raging war zone — you know, what’s sometimes called drama — might in some quarters be considered bad taste. But honestly, when has that ever stopped the Oscars? Two words: Snow White (and, if you need two more, Rob Lowe).

No, there’s no good reason why Zelenskyy shouldn’t have been invited to speak. The Academy should have taken Amy Schumer’s advice. But then, there’s one thing you can always count on from the folks who put on the Oscars — they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.