Familiar with controversy, ‘Catholic Oscars’ honor their heritage

Martin Sheen stars in a scene from the movie "The Way." (CNS photo/Producers Distribution Agency/ARC)

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (CNS) — At the 19th annual “Catholic Oscars,” it wasn’t only the honorees who were in the spotlight — but the controversy that their selection had generated.

Catholics in Media Associates — which presents the awards each year — is known for having “questionable, even controversial” honorees, said founding member Barbara Gangi, honorary chairwoman of the event. “Even among our own group!” she added.

This year was no exception. The ABC sitcom “Modern Family” was the 2012 recipient for the television series award, the most recent of dozens of awards it has received. Among the cast of characters is a gay male couple who has adopted a baby together. In reaction to this honoree choice, CIMA received volumes of angry letters.

Other honorees were less controversial: “I Am” received the documentary award; Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” won the motion picture award; and “The Way,” written and directed by Emilio Estevez, received the board of directors award.

A crowd of 300 professionals from the entertainment industry filled the Crystal Ballroom at the Beverly Hills Hotel for the April 29 event, joining together in Mass before brunch and the awards ceremony.

Catholics in Media Associates got its start in the wake of the heated controversy surrounding Scorsese’s 1998 film, “The Last Temptation of Christ.” CIMA president Haskell Vaughn Anderson III said the organization’s mission was “not to criticize what we don’t like, but to praise what we do.”

He said the group formed in order to “counter the image of Catholics as people who criticize what they don’t like.”

Scorsese could not attend the awards ceremony to receive the award for “Hugo,” but the film’s visual effects supervisor, Robert Legato, read a statement from him in which he noted that receiving this award from CIMA was particularly meaningful. “I’m indebted to you for rallying around my picture, ‘The Last Temptation of Christ,’ which brought your organization into being,” the statement read.

Martin Sheen, who stars in “The Way,” presented the board of directors award to the film’s senior producer, David Alexanian.

“Without David, there was no ‘Way,'” Sheen said, explaining the challenges the film faced.

“We couldn’t get a studio interested,” he explained. “They didn’t have any concept of what transcendence was about.”

In turn, Alexanian explained why he signed on to the project, which was a buoy in the “sea of negativity” that so often surrounds the film industry.

“It’s very hard to find a film that isn’t anti-something,” he said. “This is one of the few screenplays I’ve had a chance to read that was positive.”

Other award recipients touched on the same theme, noting that they were not only grateful their projects were being honored, but joyful that those projects’ positive outlooks were appreciated.

— By Elisabeth Deffner, Catholic News Service