In the midst of an Oscar ceremony Sunday night that presented little in the way of you'll-be-talking-about-this-tomorrow spontaneity came the dustup between the filmmakers of Best Documentary Short winner "Music by Prudence." Director Roger Ross Williams had just begun his acceptance speech when Elinor Burkett, a producer of the short, went and pulled a Kanye West, interrupting Williams mid-sentence.
"The man never lets the woman talk," she said. "Isn't that just the classic thing?"
So what exactly brought about this awards show wackiness? Salon.com spoke separately to both Burkett and Williams following the ceremony to get the inside word. Turns out that the two had a falling-out over the direction of the short, which focuses on disabled musicians in Zimbabwe. Burkett was removed as a producer almost a year ago yet still qualified as an official nominee according to Academy rules. Burkett said the disagreement resulted in a lawsuit and an out-of-court settlement. Only one person is allowed to accept the award and they did not discuss any arrangements before the ceremony.
"[H]e's not speaking to me," Burkett said. "So we weren't even able to discuss ahead of the time who would be the one person allowed to speak if we won. And then, as I'm sure you saw, when we won, he raced up there to accept the award. And his mother took her cane and blocked me. So I couldn't get up there very fast."
Williams said that he never expected Burkett to pull such a move. "I was the director, and she was removed from the project nearly a year ago," he said. "I own the film. She has no claim whatsoever. She has nothing to do with the movie. She just ambushed me. I was sort of in shock."
The dispute originated over the focus of the short. Williams concentrated on 21-year-old Prudence Mabhena, a disabled Zimbabwean bandleader. Burkett wanted to highlight the efforts of Prudence's entire band, rather than make Mabhena the center of the short. Mabhena was in the audience at the Oscars and cracked a wide smile following Burkett's surprise interruption.
Williams said that the intrusion did not at all diminish his Oscar win and he heartily endorsed the comparison to Kanye's MTV Video Music Awards moment. "She pulled a Kanye," he said. "And it's a shame, because this is such a positive, happy film."
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