Celebrated film actors have it tough. After all, only two men and two women can take home a “Best” or “Best Supporting” acting Oscar each year. The lucky winners of 2016 will be announced this coming Sunday, February 28, during the 88th awards ceremony presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, commonly referred to as the Academy. The Academy Awards are the culmination of a jam-packed film awards season that includes the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the BAFTAs, and even the Razzies.
Winning an Oscar can have a tremendous impact on an actor’s career – so the sense of anticipation for those nominated this year must be as great as their relief in knowing that Meryl Streep and Daniel Day-Lewis were not. But even with all the conjecture in the air over who will win, two things do seem certain this year: (1) Brie Larson will take home a Best Actress statue for her star-making role in Room, a drama about a woman who escapes her kidnapper with the son she bore while being kept in captivity (she has won every major acting award so far); and (2) eight nominated actors are going to go to Elton John’s Oscar party after the ceremony with some sorrows fit for drowning.
In case you are apt to weep for the losers, however, be assured that they will not be going home completely empty handed. This year they will each be gifted with a “swag” bag worth over $200,000. This high-end consolation prize is compiled by Distinctive Assets, a Los Angeles-based niche marketing company, and includes a $55,000 trip to Israel, cosmetic procedures, a high-end sex toy and, for good measure, some $275 luxury Swiss toilet paper. These celebrity gift bags have become ubiquitous at events where the rich and famous congregate and now are almost synonymous with awards ceremonies. This is troubling for the Academy, though, which actually has no affiliation with the gift bags. In fact, the Academy recently filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Distinctive Assets in a California federal court, alleging that the marketing company is deliberately creating a false impression that it is affiliated with the Oscars.
The complaint alleges that Distinctive Assets refers to its promotion as “Everyone Wins at the Oscars®! Nominee Gift Bags,” and that this is evidence of deliberate, unauthorized use of the Academy’s registered trademark. The Academy also contends that Distinctive Assets has sent out press releases causing media outlets, including The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, and TMZ.com, to publish stories, some critical of over-the-top celebrity pampering, that imply that the Academy plays a hand in delivering the goodie bags. The Academy further alleges that it warned Distinctive Assets in 2015 about its conduct, and that Distinctive Assets agreed to change its ways, but Distinctive Assets hasn’t yet done so. Therefore, while the Academy states that it “regrets having to bring this suit to compel Distinctive Assets to stop its false, misleading, confusing, infringing, and diluting actions . . . Distinctive Assets’ persistent unlawful behavior and disregard for its own agreement to stop its false associations leaves the Academy no choice.” Distinctive Assets has not yet answered the complaint, so it is not yet clear what defenses it may offer in light of the Academy’s allegations.
This year’s gift bags are all but packed at this point, so the 2016 nominees probably don’t have to worry about the lawsuit getting between them and their personalized M&M’s (yep that’s in there, too). That doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t at least some piper to be paid. Those of us who will never be invited to the celebrity gift room at a posh event can at least take some consolation in knowing that the IRS will be taxing the Oscar nominees on their swell-gotten gains.