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Oscar swag bag causes controversy

The 2016 Oscars are once again being tainted with charges of bias and racism.

In January, when this year's nominees were announced, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite began trending (again) on social media in protest of the lack of African-American nominees. A-list actors pledged a boycott of the ceremony and much debate on the topic followed.

Then came the swag bag controversy.

This year's gift bags, created by Distinctive Assets, include such outre gifts as plastic surgery (a "vampire" breast lift), a sex toy and a marijuana vaporizer. But the most expensive gift, a $55,000 all-expense paid trip to Israel funded by the Israeli government, resulted in the latest charges of bias. Palestinian activists denounced the gift as propaganda and urged nominees to "give your Israeli swag bag to a Palestinian refugee."

Now the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is distancing themselves from the swag bag supplier. On Feb. 16, the Academy filed a lawsuit against Distinctive Assets for using the Academy's trademark to promote its swag bags for nominees.

The swag bags go to each of the nominees in the main acting and directing categories. Distinctive Assets curates the bags, which offer great promotional opportunities for the companies included, but the organization is not affiliated with the Academy.

The Academy does not hire, consult with, or help distribute the gift bags from Distinctive Assets,  said a spokesperson in Variety magazine .

"By distancing itself from the company marketing Israel's propaganda trip to Oscar nominees, the Academy is taking a step in the right direction," said  Omar Barghouti from the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC). "The Academy needs to do much more, clearly, to address the serious charges of bias and racism raised by the #OscarsSoWhite campaign as well as Palestinian human rights campaigners, among many others."

Members of the  Palestinian Performing Arts Network have urged nominees to reject the trip calling it an "attempt of the Israeli government to use influential cultural figures to whitewash its persistent human rights abuses and denial of freedom to Palestinians."

In addition, the group said they viewed the offering as an extension of the Academy's "discrimination against black artists and their deep-rooted exclusion from the Academy and wider discrimination in society" and pledged solidarity with their partners in the #OscarsSoWhite campaign.

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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.