Sacha Baron Cohen
Sacha Baron Cohen Jeff Gross- Getty Images

Sacha Baron Cohen banned from Oscars?

AND the first big winner at this weekend's Academy Awards is... Sacha Baron Cohen.

The British comedian won't be getting within a country mile of a golden statuette, of course, but that hasn't prevented him from already managing to successfully hijack Sunday's event for PR purposes.

The red carpet was still being laid down on Hollywood Boulevard last night as Baron Cohen deftly elevated himself to the event's pre-eminent talking-point, as claim and furious counter-claim swirled over an alleged attempt to "ban" him from attending the ceremony.

Seeds of controversy were first planted earlier this week, when rumours surfaced that, in keeping with his habit of stepping out in character as one of his fictional alter-egos, Baron Cohen intended to show up at this year's Oscars dressed as the protagonist from his upcoming film, The Dictator.

The plan, quietly placed into the public domain by the movie's studio, Paramount, was considered highly controversial by traditionalists.

In the words of The Hollywood Reporter, they argued it might "violate the sanctity" of an event which, rightly or wrongly, regards itself as a demure celebration of the craft of film-making, rather than an exercise in crass commercialism.

Baron Cohen plays a Middle Eastern military leader modelled on Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi in the satirical film, which comes out in May and is directed by Larry Charles, his collaborator on Borat and Brüno.

In a trailer unveiled last month, he wears a voluminous fake beard and sunglasses, along with a chest-full of medals.

Aside from the question of commercialism, some of the more conservative voices within the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences feared that this might be a particularly distasteful comic avenue for one of their guests to pursue in light of recent events in Syria and elsewhere.

The managing director of membership for the organisation, Kimberly Rouch, telephoned Paramount on Wednesday with a stiff warning: that Baron Cohen, who was due to attend as a guest of the Studio, would be unwelcome at the Blue Riband event if he showed up dressed as his character.

"Unless they're assured that nothing entertaining is going to happen on the Red Carpet, the Academy is not admitting Sacha Baron Cohen to the show," a spokesman for Paramount promptly told the Deadline blog.

It, in turn, broke news of the controversy by publishing an item which claimed in its headline that the actor had been unceremoniously "banned" from the occasion.

Amid the ensuing welter of publicity, the organisers of the Oscars yesterday took issue with Deadline's interpretation of events, saying that they had merely reminded the actor's hosts of their stiffly-enforced black-tie dress code.

Whether or not Baron Cohen has indeed been "banned," from the Oscars, he has already achieved his number one aim: of garnering publicity for his summer movie.



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