Winning an Oscar is often a fast ticket to admission into the ranks of Academy voters. But to retired NBA star Kobe Bryant, the Academy sent a clear message: you are not welcome.
The animation and shorts branch that nominated Bryant and animator Glen Keane’s animated short “Dear Basketball,” which took home the Oscar last March, had no problem with extending him an invitation to become an Oscar member. He’s a local sports star. At February’s Oscar Nominees lunch, Bryant was given a hero’s welcome amid rousing applause as he joined the annual nominees photo. After all, he’s a retired LA Lakers team captain — and many Oscar watchers instantly perceived that he was in a strong position to take home a statue.
It’s the Academy code of conduct that got in the way here. The Governors of the Academy voted to rescind the Short Films & Animation branch invitation to Bryant. Bill Kroyer, one of three Academy governors representing the Short Films and Animation Branch, sent a letter to his branch letting them know that Bryant would not be invited to join. Although Bryant has expressed a desire to make more shorts, the Academy deemed the athlete to lack experience in the field.
It’s more likely that his tarnished reputation as an alleged sexual assaulter may have tipped the scale. (Bryant’s 2003 19-year-old accuser refused to testify and Bryant settled a later civil case.) The Academy is sensitive to these issues, having just expelled Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski from their membership rolls.
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In the pre-#MeToo era it’s likely that Bryant’s invite would have sailed through. But during Oscar season, more than 17,000 people signed a petition asking the Academy to deny him the Oscar. It didn’t impact his win. But it likely registered with the Board of Governors, the final arbiter of who gets to join.
The Academy will announce the list of new invited members on Monday.