Glitz, glamour and…goody bag controversy!
Yes, it is nearly time for the Academy Awards and as anticipation mounts over who will get their hands on an Oscar, fury over freebies is making headlines in Hollywood.
A “Vampire Breast Lift.”, a laser skin-tightening procedure and a 10-day first-class trip to Israel are just three of the services included in the $200,000 gift bags that one marketing firm has promised for celebrities attending the star-studded ceremony on Feb. 28.
The Israel visit in particular has proved highly controversial with critics claiming the trip, paid for in part by the Israeli government, is aimed at diverting attention from Jewish settlement building and policy towards the Palestinians.
Amid the outcry, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the awards, wants the public to know that it hasn’t approved any of these items.
And last week the Academy filed a federal lawsuit in Los Angeles accusing the marketing firm, Distinctive Assets, of wrongly promoting the gift bags as official Oscars swag.
Gift bags have been a persistent headache over the years for the Academy, which stopped giving gift baskets to presenters and performers in 2007 after the practice came under closer scrutiny by US tax authorities.
Celebrities who receive gifts and free vacations at awards shows are expected to declare them as income and pay the appropriate taxes, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
The latest flap over freebies is the last thing the Oscars need this year.
The build-up to the biggest night in world cinema has already been overshadowed by a ‘diversity row’.
Big names such as director Spike Lee and actress Jada Pinkett Smith are boycotting the ceremony in protest at a lack of diversity, with Oscar acting nominations lacking black performers for a second straight year.
Now tempers are flaring over the $55,000 trip to Israel offered as part of the awards gift bag.
Two US-based groups campaigning for an end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories have urged Oscar-nominated celebrities to turn their backs on the junket.
“There is a serious objection to accepting such a trip and in fact they are playing a very significant role for the Israeli government. They are really trying to sell a fairy tale to the people,” said Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of the US Campaign to End The Israeli Occupation.
“To prove it you will see movie stars here and famous athletes here. You will see the big names from all around the world coming to Israel. Because we are part of the international community.
“So this is coming at a moment when there is a real question about the role of the motion picture industry when it comes to social responsibility. We think it is important at this time that they think about the issue of Palestine as well and not take the bait and not take the trip to act as apartheid lackeys in this casting call by the Israeli government.”
Israel has long sought ways to overcome any misgivings foreign visitors might have about the security situation, given the simmering conflict with the Palestinians.
The Israeli government has confirmed it is funding $15,000 to $18,000 of each 10-day trip as a means of offsetting news coverage of the country’s troubles.
“These are the most senior people in the film industry in Hollywood and leading opinion-formers who we are interested in hosting,” said Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin. “They will experience the country first-hand and not through the media.”
A 10-day first-class trip to Israel worth $55,000 is being offered to celebrities attending the Oscars ceremony More information on http://eurone.ws/YKFsgPosted by euronews on Thursday, February 25, 2016
A free trip to Israel, valued at $55,000, is the most valuable gift in the Oscar “goody bag” that will be given... https://t.co/N65HEylCRS— Israel Tourism (@IsraelTourism) 8 février 2016
The trip is also supported by The Creative Community for Peace, describing itself as “an entertainment industry organization that represents a cross-section of the creative world dedicated to promoting the arts as a means to peace and to countering the cultural boycott of Israel”.
It is unclear which if any of the Oscar nominees will accept the gift bag and its controversial contents.
Among those to be offered the 10-day VIP trip-for-two will be actors Sylvester Stallone, who signed a pro-Israel petition during the 2014 Gaza war, and Leonardo DiCaprio, who sent Israeli paparazzi into a frenzy in 2010 while visiting the country’s top model, Bar Refaeli, his girlfriend at the time.
DiCaprio is among the nominees for best actor this year.
One of Stallone’s rivals for best supporting actor, Mark Rylance, is a pro-Palestinian activist in Britain who might be less inclined to take up the offer.