Zelensky, Roots in Show Business, Pressures for Oscar Appearance

KYIV, Ukraine — He had a video call with two movie stars from the bombed and besieged city of Kyiv.

His aides lobbied the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for an Oscar night support show. In the midst of the war, he re-aired his own television show on Netflix.

The actor, Ukraine’s wartime leader, President Volodymyr Zelensky has devoted most of his public appearances to appealing to Western nations for deadly weapons: tanks, jets and missiles to fight the Russians.

But Mr. Zelensky, who starred in romantic comedies and performed stand-up routines before becoming president, pressured celebrities and artists to raise their voices for his country. advantage over Russia.

“We live in the modern world and we know that opinion leaders and celebrities are important,” said Ekaterine Zguladze, former deputy interior minister, who is involved in the Ukrainian government’s effort to get support from artists, musicians and celebrities. “It’s not just politicians who shape the world.”

Ms. Zguladze added: “There is real solidarity for Ukraine around the world right now. And that solidarity stems not from the heartbreaking images of cities destroyed and human tragedy, but from the values ​​we all share.”

However, Ukraine’s call to the academy, the institution that awards the Oscars, was met with a drama in itself.

Los Angeles-based sitcom writer Brian Keith Etheridge said prior to the show, organizers would note the war and honor human casualties, but said Mr. Zelensky did not commit to a video footage. With the help of Mila Kunis, an actress of Ukrainian descent, and her husband Ashton Kutcher, she helped coordinate the Ukrainian government’s access to academia.

“The concern we have been told is that they do not want to over-politicize the show,” Mr Etheridge said. “If Zelensky just says ‘thank you’, that will remind people and it could raise millions of dollars. It’s just a huge platform for your face to show.”

Sean Penn, who shot a documentary in Ukraine when the war broke out, called for a boycott of the Oscars if Mr. Zelensky was not allowed to appear on video, and promised that he would sniff out his own awards if the academy disparaged the Ukrainian leader. . The award statues are made of gold-plated bronze.

If the Oscar makers don’t allow an appearance “for the leadership who got bullets and bombs for us in Ukraine, as well as the Ukrainian children they’re trying to protect,” then I think about every single one of those people and everything. Mr. Penn said in an interview with CNN that this decision would be the most obscene moment in all of Hollywood history.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, the producers said they intended to commemorate the cost of the war, but did not commit to a video footage of Mr. Zelensky.

“We will be very thoughtful about how we acknowledge where we are in the world,” Will Packer, producer of the Oscars, said at a press conference on Thursday.

On a possible appearance of Mr. Zelensky, he said: “The show is on, so it’s not something we can say definitively at this point or that point. As I mentioned earlier, we want to be fun and festive, but we will definitely do it in a respectful way.”

Comedy actress Wanda Sykes, one of the co-hosts of the ceremony, asked Mr. Zelensky, “Isn’t he busy right now?” she noted.

While Mr. Zelensky’s aides pressed for support by whatever means during the demonstration, seeking any means to gain popular support in the West, the value of celebrity support in an armed war is not universally recognized in Ukraine.

“After all, what happens on the ground matters,” said Oleksandr Danylyuk, former secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council. “Everyone is doing their best. I don’t know if one more speech by Zelensky will make a difference. But it’s good that the initiators want to do it. Everyone wants to help as much as they can.”

But Mr. Danylyuk said that “after all, you need results”, such as the supply of fighter jets, tanks or missiles for the Ukrainian Army.

Mr. Zelensky pressed on all fronts to convey to a broad audience, and especially to the arms suppliers, the moral imperative to support Ukraine in the war.

“In general, Zelensky really follows the news from Hollywood and is looking for support opportunities,” Serhiy Leshchenko, adviser to the president’s chief of staff, said in an interview.

The pressure to support Ukraine during the Oscars began a week ago after Mr. Zelensky video-called Mr. Kutcher and Ms. Kunis from Kiev to thank the couple for raising $35 million for Ukrainian refugees and humanitarian aid. GoFundMe campaign, Mr. Leshchenko said.

Ms. Kunis most recently starred in “Breaking News in Yuba County” and released the Netflix-planned “Luckiest Girl Alive” movie.

“Ukrainians are proud and brave people who deserve our help when they need it,” he wrote in the fundraising call. “This unjust attack on Ukraine and humanity in general is devastating and the Ukrainian people need our support.”

After the video call, Mr. Zelensky’s assistants called the Oscar ceremony last minute.

Mr. Zelensky has always had a keen image and storytelling in politics. Earlier this month, he said he was aware of his repeated televised calls for resistance and his continued presence in the besieged capital, making him a symbol of courage in many countries.

The Oscars also fit naturally with his government’s call for humanitarian aid, as many of its best aides are also film industry veterans.

The head of the presidential administration, Andriy Yermak, was a media lawyer and filmmaker. The head of the domestic intelligence agency, Ivan Bakanov, was the director of the Kvartal 95 studio. Chief consulting adviser Serhiy Shefir was a screenwriter and producer who had the hit romantic comedy film “Eight First Dates” and a television series “The In-laws”.

Before becoming Ukraine’s president, Mr. Zelensky played a president in his own television series “Servant of the People,” which was re-broadcast on Netflix this month. The character, a teacher, is impeached for the presidency after making a tirade against corruption, which was filmed in a video that went viral by his students.

Maria Varenikova contributed news from Kiev and Matt Stevens from New York.

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