In an Oscars ceremony that seemed languid at times and straight up bizarre at others (interpretive breakdancing?!), one moment stood out as one of the more dramatic of the evening. If you were watching, you know what I’m talking about: the woman who pulled a Kanye. Well, it turns out — doesn’t it always — that there is a Jewish connection, and a pretty funny one given the circumstances.
The winner for best documentary short went to “Music By Prudence,” a film about a group of Zimbabwean musicians. Its director, Roger Ross Williams, stepped up to the microphone to make his acceptance speech, got about 10 seconds into it, and was then, almost literally, shoved aside by a woman in a purple gown, saying “Let a woman talk!” Williams then stood there stunned, as the woman indeed talked until those telltale strains of orchestral music sounded and the show moved on.
The name of the woman, Elinor Burkett, didn’t register last night, but this morning I suddenly remembered where I had heard it before. Burkett is also an author, and last year I reviewed in the Forward a biography of Golda Meir that she wrote. The book, titled “Golda” was published in 2008 and — to quote myself — it is a “sympathetic but unapologetic” look at Israel’s first woman premier. I estimated at the time that Burkett had done a pretty good job giving us a more complex picture of Golda, one I described as presenting “a tragic, lonely, sickly figure, a terrible mother who cuckolded and neglected her husband, alienated her loved ones and often terrorized her closest friends.”
I certainly remember Burkett’s Golda coming off as an extraordinarily strong-willed woman who could more than hold her own as she climbed the ranks of the Zionist leadership, pushing aside friends and lovers who got in her way.
Now we don’t know the backstory of what happened in those few seconds last night — and it sounds pretty tangled — but there was definitely a strong will on display and certainly shoving.
Salon actually interviewed both Burkett and Williams after the show and got a mouthful of post mortem from both. The feud between them is now new. Here’s what Burkett had to say:
What happened was 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.
But she did get up there eventually. As for Williams’ reaction, it basically boiled down to this: “She just ambushed me. I was sort of in shock.”
Forget Kanye. Williams should have known better than to mess with anyone familiar in the ways of Golda.
Watch the moment here:
At the Oscars, Golda's Biographer Pulls a Kanye West
Gal Beckerman was a staff writer and then the Forward’s opinion editor until 2014. He was previously an assistant editor at the Columbia Journalism Review where he wrote essays and media criticism. His book reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review and Bookforum. His first book, “When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry,” won the 2010 National Jewish Book Award and the 2012 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, as well as being named a best book of the year by The New Yorker and The Washington Post. Follow Gal on Twitter at @galbeckerman