Weinstein Looms as Toronto Fest Talks Oscar Lobbying, Sexism


Susan Sarandon knows what it takes to win an Oscar, but on Friday the veteran US actress blasted Hollywood for only handing out statuettes to stars backed by "the Harvey Weinsteins of this world."

Speaking at the Toronto International Film Festival for the world premiere of "Blackbird," the Academy Award-winning star said Oscars glory is only possible today with vast amounts of money and lobbying.

"Honestly, film now has become so corporate to get an Oscar," she said. "When I got nominated five times and won once, you didn't have to spend."

"That would never happen now," she said, pointing to the six-month-long campaigns for nominations that have become commonplace, including VIP screenings, brunches and other "opinion-maker things."

Sarandon, 72, won an Academy for 1995's "Dead Man Walking," after four previous nominations.

In recent years the Toronto festival has been a key step on the journey to Oscar glory, with recent Best Picture winners including "Green Book" and "The Shape of Water" emerging as frontrunners.

Sarandon admitted she would love to win for "Blackbird," in which she plays a terminally ill mother ending her own life, but said: "I take it with a grain of salt because I know that it's up against, you know, whatever Meryl Streep is doing this year."

But she added that outstanding performers in smaller films do not stand a chance because they don't have the means to "compete with some of these films that the Harvey Weinsteins of the world are pushing." 

Before his spectacular downfall, Weinstein was seen as a master Oscars lobbyist with enormous clout across town.

Tales are legion of the lengths the Miramax mogul would go to in order to earn improbable wins for the likes of "Shakespeare in Love" and "The Artist."

His reign came to an abrupt end when he was accused of harassment and assault by more than 80 women, including stars such as Angelina Jolie and Ashley Judd.

The original accusations against him were a catalyst for America's #MeToo movement. Weinstein has always insisted his sexual relationships were consensual.

- 'Drug the bad guys' -

Elsewhere in Toronto, the makers of "Hustlers" -- a film about New York strippers who turned the tables on wealthy Wall Street executives, also premiering at the festival -- said their jobs still involved "pitching to primarily white men."

"I don't know what's changed yet, to be honest," director Lorene Scafaria told a panel discussion Friday. "I hope some things have gotten better as a result of the #MeToo movement and #TimesUp.

"I certainly hope that some people have adjusted their behavior and their thinking. But we've got thousands of years (of sexism) before this movie was made."

Producer Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas said procuring funding for the female-dominated film, starring Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu and Cardi B, had been problematic, with the end result shot for $20.7 million in just 29 days.

The film, which premieres Saturday, is based on the real-life story of a group of strippers and sex workers who scammed businessmen out of vast sums, including slipping drugs into their drinks before swiping their cards.

Potential financial backers for the film had asked for changes to be made, including presenting the male "victims" as villains by inventing criminal back stories.

"The note they gave us was 'It's great, could they drug the bad guys? Make one of the guys a rapist and drug him?'" said Goldsmith-Thomas.

She said a fellow female producer had asked: "If we were making 'The Wolf of Wall Street' would you have said to Leonardo DiCaprio 'just scam the bad people'?"

TIFF, North America's largest movie festival, runs until September 15.

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