The emails by Nicolas Chartier, one of four nominated producers for The Hurt Locker and who put up the financing to make the front-running film, violated the academy's rule against sending mailings that "attempt to promote any film or achievement by casting a negative light on a competing film or achievement," according to academy spokeswoman Leslie Unger.
The initial email was sent Feb. 19 and obtained by The Associated Press. Subsequent emails, posted by the Los Angeles Times, showed Chartier giving more specific instructions, asking Oscar voters to rank The Hurt Locker at No. 1 and "Avatar" at No. 10 on this year's preferential ballot for the newly expanded best-picture category.
Hurt Locker distributor Summit Pictures said in a statement it was "completely unaware of any emails that were sent until we were alerted by the academy earlier this week."
Chartier, after being confronted by Summit executives, worked with the studio and the academy to craft an apology for his actions, said Summit spokesman Paul Pflug.
"My naivete, ignorance of the rules and plain stupidity as a first-time nominee is not an excuse for this behaviour and I strongly regret it," Chartier wrote in an email obtained by The Associated Press. "Being nominated for an academy Award is the ultimate honour and I should have taken the time to read the rules."
Avatar's distributor, 20th Century Fox, declined comment on the emails, as did director James Cameron or anyone connected with the 3-D sci-fi sensation -- Hollywood's biggest modern blockbuster. Hurt Lockers's director Kathryn Bigelow is the ex-wife of Cameron.
Possible disciplinary measures by AMPAS® include public censure, taking away Chartier's Oscar tickets, and the unlikely option of removing "The Hurt Locker" -- the season's top award-winner so far -- from best picture consideration, according to several academy members familiar with the situation.
It's also possible that if The Hurt Locker wins, the academy won't extend membership to Chartier, like it does to most newly minted Oscar winners, the members said.
With Oscar ballots due Tuesday, the controversy surrounding Chartier's actions may have little effect on the March 7 Academy Awards® because most voters have already mailed in their ballots, said one of the academy members.
In addition to Chartier's emails, The Hurt Locker is also facing complaints -- just now surfacing, though the movie was released last June -- from veterans and active soldiers over the accuracy of its combat scenes.
Nothing like tooting your own horn but one must play by the rules of the road.
Will David or Goliath win Best Picture Oscar® next weekend? Tune into the 82nd Annual Academy Awards® on ABC Television Network beginning at 5 p.m. PT/ 8 p.m. ET to find out.