The main point of contention is whether the central figure in the movie, John Forbes Nash Jr., was -- on top of being a math genius who overcame schizophrenia and won a Nobel Prize -- anti-Semitic and homosexual. The controversy over anti-Semitism is rooted, of course, in Nash's actual words and behaviors, as described in Sylvia Nasar's book, "A Beautiful Mind," which became the basis for the movie.
Conspiracy theorists in Hollywood -- including the head of Universal Pictures, which produced the movie -- point an accusatory finger at rival studios, and fret that new publicity about old revelations will translate into lost Oscar votes for the movie, and possibly for director Ron Howard and co-stars Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly.
Talk of a conspiracy by rival studios does not seem to be supported by any facts on the public record.
It is possible that the other studios with best picture nominees -- USA Studios ("Gosford Park"), Miramax ("In the Bedroom") New Line ("The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring") or 20th Century Fox ("Moulin Rouge") -- have cooked something up to sabotage "A Beautiful Mind's" Oscar hopes. But if that is the case, it prompts any number of questions.
Which studio -- or studios, if more than one is involved -- cooked up the alleged scheme?
Why single out one nominee for this kind of trashing?
Why run the risk of provoking a sympathy vote, or a contrarian vote, among those who might be more offended by dirty tricks than by anything Nash might have said at a time when his mind -- beautiful as it may have been -- was not his own.
Why wait to start the "campaign" until after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences already mailed Oscars ballots to voting members, and run the risk that it would be too late to influence votes of those who had already returned their ballots?
Nash and his wife Alicia -- played in the movie by Oscar nominees Crowe and Connelly -- went on "60 Minutes" Sunday.
Nash told interviewer Mike Wallace he did make anti-Semitic remarks, but he is not anti-Semitic.
"I did have strange ideas during certain periods of time," he said. "It's really my subconscious talking. It was really that. I know that now."
Nash denied that he is homosexual, and his wife backed him up.
"I've known him since I was 20 and that's just not true," she said. "I should know."
Nasar wrote in an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times that Nash's anti-Semitic remarks were motivated by his illness, not by bigotry. She said there is no evidence that Nash ever had sex with a man.
If the accusations are not true, and if they were already on the table after the book was published, why did they gain sufficient currency in the past week to become a topic of national conversation?
When the story first crossed this desk two weeks ago, in a column by UPI Hollywood Reporter Vernon Scott, I was skeptical about its merit. After all, the only thing we had was a very crudely written e-mail.
We decided that, since the e-mail was being circulated, it was worth a column and went with it. We knew from years of experience that regardless of what we decided, the story would get some play in other media outlets -- and we would have to do something with it sooner or later.
Whether it was orchestrated by Hollywood professionals, or arose organically in cyberspace, the controversy about "A Beautiful Mind" is an ugly episode in the history of the Academy Awards.
With the stakes rising and the competition intensifying annually for Oscar gold, and with cyberspace getting wilder and woollier all the time, we can probably count on seeing more of these kinds of nasty deals in the future.
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