The appeal of the Oscars telecast is the giddy hope that follows any live show or broadcast -- we want a train wreck (figuratively, not literally, unless you're a sicko) to happen. In the 21st century, the Academy Awards have passed by in relatively boring splendor, the days of streakers and Cher gowns forgotten. But this year, shock came in the most unexpected of places: Best Documentary Short. Music by Prudence won, director Roger Ross Williams began to thank everyone, and then a loud lady in a purple dressed jumped on stage. Chaos reigned for 30 seconds and was hastily shooed off for the next category. Watch the whole thing after the jump.
The woman in purple was revealed to be Elinor Burkett, producer of Prudence, and Salon immediately investigated. Burkett was more than happy to reveal why she crashed the stage, and declared it was all Williams' fault. "The director and I had a bad difference over the direction of the film that resulted in a lawsuit that has settled amicably out of court. But there have been all these events around the Oscars, and I wasn't invited to any of them. And he's not speaking to me. 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."
Burkett claims the documentary was supposed to center on all the members of Liyana, not just the band's front woman, Prudence Mabhena. It was her idea (she claims the director "had never even heard of Zimbabwe"), and when the documentary took a different direction, she sued, though she remained credited as producer. According to Burkett, Williams had refused to speak to her or pass on any of the pre-Oscar party and event invitations. "I felt my role in this has been denigrated again and again, and it wasn't going to happen this time."
Williams' story is a bit different. He insists only one person is allowed to accept the award, and that the decision was handled by the Academy's publicist. He claims Burkett had removed herself from the project though she still qualified to receive a producer's credit and an official nomination. "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." He also denies that his mother tried to block Burkett with her cane.
But to Williams' credit, the scuffle over the microphone doesn't diminish the award. "Absolutely not. It's such a career achievement, to win an Academy Award. This is what the business is. There are times when there's disagreement and dispute and you always hope that people will rise up to the occasion. It doesn't diminish it. She disowns it and doesn't want any part of the film. I'm so proud of the movie."
Only those in the know can say whether Burkett was a spoilsport, or someone muscled out of her moment. But Williams certainly acted with a lot of grace, and kept up a smile despite being in shock. Frankly, the real winner is Music By Prudence who is getting a lot more digital ink than most documentary shorts can claim, and the members of Liyana will benefit by extension. Isn't that what winning the gold statuette is really all about?
Watch the scene in question below ...