When you’re president of the United States, literally everything you do or don’t do has political ramifications — even the movies you watch. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the White House will curtail official movie screenings so as not to impact the Oscars race. Some industry heavyweights are sensitive to the fact that Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom was welcomed at the White House with a special screening, while a movie like 12 Years a Slave has not been invited. Since Mandela is a Weinstein Company film, critics implied that the film received such a warm embrace because Harvey Weinstein is a high-profile Obama backer. “If you look at the films they do invite for the big event screenings, it’s obvious you can buy your way into the White House,” a 12 Years exec told the Reporter. “We were not big donors to Obama. Do we wish they would have us? Of course. But it’s not that important.”
UPDATE: Nov. 21, 10:45 p.m. ET. A White House spokeswoman declined to respond to the accusation reportedly made by an anonymous 12 Years a Slave executive, but said in an e-mail, “The White House enjoys the opportunity to screen movies and will continue that tradition. Any reports to the contrary are not accurate.”
The White House is often called upon to host special screenings for movies that aspire to have social or historical significance. In recent years, the Obamas have hosted high-profile gala events for Lincoln, 42, the documentary Bully, and Silver Linings Playbook, which touched upon mental illness. Though the latter two films were Weinstein productions, Fox Searchlight has also enjoyed the Obama bump, if such a thing even exists. In February, Michelle Obama invited Quvenzhané Wallis, director Benh Zietlin, and other cast from Beasts of the Southern Wild to a special screening and workshop at the White House.
It’s unclear if the Obamas or the prestige of a White House screening has any real effect on the Oscar race. Last year, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln was showered with Washington, D.C., love, in part because it depicted a beloved leader and his team of rivals working toward noble intentions with members of both political parties. Its Oscar rival, Zero Dark Thirty, was not invited to the White House, despite Obama’s real-life role in those events, perhaps because of the film’s controversial depiction of CIA waterboarding and torture. Both films eventually lost Best Picture to Argo, a film that played the D.C. screening circuit but never received an official White House invite. Ironically, Michelle Obama appeared on video at the Oscars to announce Argo‘s Best Picture victory.
TWC did not respond immediately to EW’s request for comment. Fox Searchlight declined to comment.