Banksy vs. the Academy: Why won't the Oscars let Banksy be Banksy?

exit-through-the-gift-shopCorporations like to control things (it’s in their nature), and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a way of thinking, and acting, just like a corporation: as the once-a-year organizing police force of Hollywood pageantry and taste. Nevertheless, it still came as a bit of a shock when the Academy laid down the law to Banksy. He’s the super-secretive and mysterious outlaw wizard of street art, the infamous British graffiti prankster — and now filmmaker — who sets off pop images as if they were cartoon bombs. A big part of Banksy’s allure is that no one knows who he is. A guerrilla practical joker, he’s an underground superstar who lives and works in the shadows. When he finally shows up in Exit Through the Gift Shop, the great, exhilarating jape of a documentary that he directed last year, he’s seen in silhouette, like some hooded killer on America’s Most Wanted. At the very least, he may be the most wanted man in show business.

But the Academy doesn’t want him. Not really. Exit Through the Gift Shop is one of the five pictures nominated for an Oscar this year in the Best Documentary category, and a couple of weeks ago, Banksy’s representatives put out a simple request to the Academy. They said that if Exit Through the Gift Shop won, Banksy would like to accept the award without having to reveal his identity. That might mean that he would wear a disguise — like, say, the monkey mask that he has sometimes been rumored to wear in public (it’s sitting to his right in that shot above). Or, of course, he might do something a lot weirder.

The Oscars turned him down flat. Said the Academy’s executive director, Bruce Davis: “The fun but disquieting scenario is that if the film wins and five guys in monkey masks come to the stage all saying, ‘I’m Banksy,’ who the hell do we give it to?”

Who the hell indeed? What would the gods of the gold statuette do? How could the evening possibly go on?!! The giveaway word in Bruce Davis’s rationalizing sentence is disquieting. Yes, it’s true that if Banksy wins for Exit Through the Gift Shop and five guys in monkey masks come up on stage to accept the award, it will be an odd, and slightly confused, and probably delightful next-day water cooler moment. But disquieting? I suspect that what’s really disquieting the Academy is the fear that if Banksy wins an Oscar and suddenly has the entire global television stage as his electronic performance-art canvas, he might do something a lot more provocative and adventurous than show up on stage in a monkey mask. In one of the more subversively funny moments of Exit Through the Gift Shop, he visits Disneyland and climbs over fences to deposit orange-jumpsuited Guantanamo Bay prisoner mannequins with black torture hoods in several strategic locations. The look on the faces of the spectators as they stare at those abused-detainee bodies, while the fantasy-kingdom choo-choo train goes by, is priceless. It’s vintage Banksy: an outrage with a message, one that you almost can’t help but chuckle at. (He treats his didacticism like a toy.)

Yet that’s just the sort of thing that turns zillion-dollar TV sponsors to jelly. The producers of the Academy Awards telecast probably think that when a potential Oscar winner is, by nature, so freewheeling and unpredictable that no one even has any idea who he is, that means one and only one thing: He’s uncontrollable. And a lack of control means…what? Maybe another Janet Jackson-at-the-Super-Bowl moment. (Are they scared that Banksy will show his nipple?) They’re not going to take that chance, and so Banksy, even if he wins, will not be accepting his Academy Award. The current arrangement is for Jamie D’Cruz, the producer of Exit Through the Gift Shop, to accept it for him.

You might say, and I would, that the Academy is being churlish and not very sportsmanlike to Banksy. After all, on the off-chance that Exit Through the Gift Shop actually wins (I predict that the award will go to the less deserving, but politically righteous, Inside Job), he simply wants to preserve the anonymity that’s central to his mystique as an artist — or, to put it in Hollywood-friendly terms, to his brand. Yet what strikes me most about this decision is how shortsighted and unfair the Academy is being…to itself. The organization’s executives think that they’re doing preemptive damage control, but what they’re really doing is blowing a rare opportunity. Because a little dose of Banksy is exactly what Hollywood, and the Academy Awards, need. It’s just what the doctor ordered to wake up a notoriously too-staid ceremony.

charlieImage Credit: woostercollective.comBanksy, in fact, has already been warming up for Oscar night. It’s rumored that he is presently in Los Angeles, and that he has left his mark on several outdoor settings, including this Charlie Brown-meets-a-cigarette-and-gas-canister cartoon that’s painted onto an abandoned, fire-damaged building on Sunset Boulevard. I’m not sure if this qualifies as a “disquieting” image, but I would certainly call it inspired showbiz. And that’s the thing about Banksy. He may be a naughty boy, but come on! — he’s all play, all winking mischief and nose-thumbing glee. Those Academy Awards promos that feature the evening’s two hosts, James Franco and Anne Hathaway, clowning around in a semi-improvised, post-articulate-generation, ya want a respectable evening? fuhggedaboudit! way, promise an Oscar telecast that is looser, more spontaneous and fun, than the ones we’re used to. But if the show’s producers, and the Academy, were truly committed to that spirit of spontaneity, they would take a chance on letting Banksy be Banksy. Who knows, he might just set the night on fire.


Comments (108 total) Add your comment
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  • orville

    They’re on what, a 3-5 second delay anyway? How much damage could he do when they already have the power to cut to commercial with no warning? And how could it be any worse than letting some winning actors and actresses publicize their political agendas on live tv?

    • Francois

      To be honest, one of the MAIN reasons why I’m tuning in to this year’s Oscars is for Banksy, and to see if he shows up should he win the award.
      However, I doubt the film will even win. ‘Inside Job’ is predicted to win by almost every critic. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Inside Job’ is an insightful and powerful documentary, but the artistic approach of ‘Gift Shop’ crushes it, IMO.
      So in case he does win, I hope that the Academy is yanking our chains and will let him on stage with a mask or any cover-up. Its guaranteed ratings and water-cooler talks next mourning.
      If they don’t bring him, then they are a bunch of…(fill in the rest)

      • BlackIrish4094

        You must be an idiot if that’s one of your main reasons for tuning in.

      • topazbean

        Why, what’s a better reason? The frocks? The tears? It can’t be to find out who wins – you could do that by just reading the headlines the next day. The Oscars is supposed to be entertaining, and you can guarantee that whatever Banksy would have brought to the show would be better than anything the fun-scared producers of the Oscars would bring.

      • Idiot

        You must be an idiot if that’s not one of your main reasons for tuning in.

  • Kat

    Couldn’t agree more that the presence of Banksy in disguise might make things way more interesting than in previous years, and therefore might attract way more eyes. Really, really dumb move by the Academy.

    • Strepsi

      ACADEMY FAIL.
      Unbelievable — I love the Oscars, but for a telecast that gets criticized every year for being pompous, and boring, the Academy should PRAY five people in monkey masks show up to accept any award!

      • The Truth

        The Academy would like to keep what ever dignity it has left with some proper decorum. Its their show and their awards if they want to enforce a dress code or give awards to those they can verify is actually the proper person it is their right to do so. If he does not like it, don’t accept the award and don’t show up, that is his right to do so.

  • Luca

    There is also the issue of security. That kind of event with that number of high profile people is just waiting for someone to do something nasty. That’s part of why they are so anal about tickets etc. Remember that guy last year that raised the fuss because he said he was supposed to be allowed in, but he didn’t have the tickets he should have received.
    If they don’t know who Banksy is then anyone could walk up and claim to be him and get in. That has to make their security crazy.

    I say, let him accept via a pre-filmed video (to ensure that he doesn’t do anything improper for tv for the time period etc). But if he wants to attend he has to play by the same rules as everyone else and that means giving up his name etc.

    • Lois

      Your comment makes a lot of sense.

  • anikes

    knowing banksy, he’s going to pull something anyways.

    • Eagle

      This article ahiceved exactly what I wanted it to achieve.

  • Sue Sylvester

    Television isn’t real. Give Banksy a gun and shoot Hathaway live in the head, then move on down the line, like they do in Arizona.

    • A FAN

      Sue… You are totally discrediting your moniker.

    • Grubi

      Seek help. Seriously.

    • Charlie Brown

      My God woman. You are mocking an incident where several innocent people, one of which was a 9 year old girl, were murdered. Think about what you say next time.

      • John

        Who cares!

    • Brad Adien

      Been done.Sid Vicious.”My Way”-1979.

    • HatAttack

      Presumably, this is the ‘Larry David’ who’s been posting provocative BS in a lot of threads on the site?

  • Amanda Kiwinerd

    Waiting For Superman was shut out for bullcrap political reasons. That is the tragedy. Not some silly graffiti artist being barred. Boo hoo!

    • m

      waiting for superman is a smear campaign against america’s teachers. You have to be willfully ignorant of the situation if you believe that film sheds light on anything.

      • Charlie Brown

        Teachers suck. The last three years of High School, not ONE of my teachers would do anything to help me with my grades. And last September my step daughters History Teacher told his whole class on Day One that he didn’t care if any of them did anything with their lives as long as he got a paycheck. I have no problem with a filmmaker exposing the apathy that is in our schools.

      • Lord Taurus

        This is quite a sweeping generalization. Perhaps you should narrow you focus to ‘my teachers sucked.’
        Teachers are not there to ‘help you with your grades.’ They are there to enable you to help yourself. If a student does not take the initiative, the problem is more than likely with the parents.
        As for your daughter’s teacher, it sounds like he should consider a career change.

      • T

        Lord Taurus, that was the point of the movie. The horrible teachers don’t need new jobs because after 2 years they can never lose theirs. And the union made it so all teachers get paid the same, so the really great ones don’t get anything more for their efforts then the really bad ones. You don’t think that makes it a really crummy system?
        PS: The problem being more than likely with the parents, also a sweeping generalization.

      • ryanhoag

        I’m with Charlie, not saying all teachers are, but a majority of those I’ve had literally perpetrated verbal and emotional abuse to their students and probably should have served some jail time if people actually looked at those under 18 as real people rather than just pawns to shovel all our national debt onto.

      • Strepsi

        @ m – there are brilliant teachers, but the hugely unionized protected class status of them makes it nearly impossible to get rid of terrible ones: that’s what the film sheds light on.

        Every teacher I have ever known took EVERY sick day they were promised by the union (usually to travel). No teacher I have ever known actually trained on the so-called unionized “Professional Training” days off.

      • ries

        either you are brainwashed by this doc, or you are unaware of the reality, or both, but t and strepsi are making gross generalizations. you cannot based fact on the few teachers that you may know. teachers are not as protected by unions as you think. if an administration wishes to get rid of a poor teacher, all they have to do is provide the proper documentation or poor evaluations. and it doesn’t matter the amount of years that they have under their belt. not all teachers get paid the same, it is based on the number of years of service. no system is perfect. everyone is so quick to blame the teachers. most of the problems come from funding (or lack of), i.e. the government.

      • noam

        @ries: it is true that teachers get paid by the number of years under their belt, but, at least in the school district i live in, the pay increases the first five years and you reach your maximum at the sixth year. therefore, a sixth-year teacher is making the same amount as a thirty-sixth year teacher. also, it’s not as easy to fire a teacher as you make it sound. again, this is the school district i live in (and grew up going to school in), but after two years, the teacher is off probation and must “grossly neglect their duties” (i’m reading off their website now) in order to be dismissed. first, though, they are transferred to another school and then they are put on a year’s probation. then they are suspended. THEN, if they are still considered to be grossly neglecting their duties, they are fired. but that’s at least a three year process, which means three years worth of students are not receiving the education they deserve. i know not all districts follow these rules, and i know the majority of teachers are good, kind-hearted people who try their best, but the fact that there are many teachers who really don’t care about their students, and the system that’s currently in place protects them.

      • OI2dwrld

        Maybe if people wouldn’t elect officials that just wanted teachers to teach”the test” but instead broaden the minds of America’s youth, teachers wouldn’t be such a burned out, apathetic lot. Or maybe don’t force schools to keep kids, who should be dropouts or in trade schools, on the roster so that they won’t have to cut teachers. College professors are getting burned out because they are expected to teach kids how to think outside the box. In fact, most of the first 2 years of college is just teaching students how to think subjectively. Maybe if we didn’t spend billions of dollars trying to cram kids minds inside a box for 12 years, they wouldn’t be walking out with crippling debt and half an education. You can try to blame teachers, but it is the communities fault for being so restrictive that the teachers are powerless.

  • dxfxs

    I really doubt it’s about what Banksy could do on camera. Oscars are a huge production, and disguises make for security risks.

    • Anne

      This.

    • C

      Except that you can work around that. The producer of the film knows who Banksy is and he can vouch for the guy when he shows up to the Academy. Know one else needs to know. But beyond that…if security was such a concern then why not just say that up front instead of hiding behind the concern that he is going to do something “disquieting”.

  • crys142

    the Charlie Brown is the least of his works this week. What about the Billboard on Sunset w/ Mickey and Minnie. Much more risky.

    He won’t give up his disguise, he’ll think of something.

    • bb

      What about copyright enfringement. I don’t think Walt or Charles would be amused.

      • Macy

        1. That’s why he wants to keep his identity secret.
        2. satire is not subject to copyright laws. I think this would count as satire.

      • Shawn

        It’s graffiti…don’t think Banksy is really worrying about the legality of his art.

      • bb

        The 8 foot golden statues on the red carpet had better have security around them. I can see them as Banksy’s next target. Haha.

      • BlackIrish4094

        He’s not an artist.

      • Digitist

        You’re right BlackIrish4094 Banksy is a complete hack, no self respecting artist would ever use walls as a basis for composition! He’s no artist, he’s a criminal! Oh wait, no… you’re an idiot. http://www.banksy.co.uk/outdoors/outusa/horizontal_1.htm

  • Ethan

    A f—ing men. The movie celebrates then questions the type of freedom inherent in Banksy’s art and world. Maybe the Oscars feel like they’re in danger of being the canvas instead of being on the side of the artist (probably correct). Anyone at the Oscars *ask* Banksy what he’d like to do if 10 men in gorilla masks come up? Seems like an easy problem to fix.

    • S1ckS

      I think a group of people in monkey masks is very unlikely. Has anyone even toyed with the idea that he would just wear a hood with a black veil and accept the award as normal with voice manipulation similar to his documentary? I think sometimes people get so caught up in the idea of the rogue banksy they over rationalize. The most likely scenario would be him making a statement about awards and attendees by somehow dressing to make a slight mockery of the whole ordeal. That is what the academy is worried about but he can do that and reveal his identity as well. I think he has more class than to try and pull anything morally unacceptable on such a grand stage as the academy awards but bigots will be bigots.

  • Amy

    Completely agree with everything in this post!

  • LOL

    GOP fears Banksy.

  • Melissa

    I’m hoping Banksy pulls an “I am Spartacus” moment, and people like Johnny Depp and Jack Nicholson end up standing, claiming to be him. :)

    • Bette

      Oh…if only !

    • AltDave

      That would be so effin’ sweet, all over the Kodak Theater, “I am Banksy!”

    • Pittner

      Lame

    • Scott

      It wouldn’t work. In order of most people in the Kodak Theatre, let alone the TV audience, to hear what any of those people would be saying, you’d have to have wired-in microphones all over the place. Since the Academy would have to sign off on that, it would be pretty lame.

      • Luca

        No but when they made the announcement, a dozen different people could stand up and walk to the stage. Same idea. Again, the Academy would have to sign off on it. But so long as they know and can security clear the people, it might not be impossible.

      • Scott

        But, again, anything pre-approved like that would be so lame that there wouldn’t be any point in doing it.

      • Infinity

        Hey, that’s pwoferul. Thanks for the news.

  • DK

    @ Melissa: that would be brilliant

    I have a feeling that the golden statues on the red carpet will not remain pure by the end of the evening

  • AltDave

    Cowardly move on the Academy’s part. It doesn’t seem that Banksy has ever done anything to physically endanger anyone. As for security and ensuring that Banksy is Banksy, there has to be some way to accomplish that to the Academy’s satisfaction. Seems like their position came straight from the legal department as it has CYA written all over it.

  • Sarah El

    While I already wish Exit Through the Gift Shop would win because I think it’s so great, a Banksy appearance would be one of the most anticipatory moments of a rather boring-looking slate of races for this year’s Oscars.

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