Was it all stage-managed from the start? The "will he, won't he?" battle over Sacha Baron Cohen's appearance at today's Oscars ceremony has ended with victory for the comic actor, who will now be a focus of attention for this year's awards.

For some, however, the last-minute change allowing the actor to attend in character as his latest alter ego has all the signs of a slick marketing exercise.

Cohen had been barred from appearing in character as the outlandish Admiral General Shabazz Aladeen, from his film The Dictator, about the leader of a fictional Middle Eastern country called Wadiya.

Oscars organisers relented when a producer of the show revealed Cohen would now be showing up in Hollywood in costume. He would not only walk on the red carpet wearing a full beard, wig and elaborate dress uniform but would attend the show, raising the prospect of some sort of stunt during the ceremony.


Cohen - or rather Aladeen - reacted in triumph. "Victory is ours! Today the Mighty Nation of Wadiya triumphed over the Zionist snakes of Hollywood," he said on a fake Wadiya website set up to promote the film.

"What I am trying to say here is that the Academy has surrendered and sent over two tickets and a parking pass!

"Today Oscar, tomorrow Obama!"

The details of the Oscars ceremony require months of planning and it is unlikely that last-minute changes would be made to it. Some insiders have wondered whether the argument over Cohen's participation was just a way to generate press coverage.

"Was he ever truly prohibited from attending?" asked one Reuters story about the controversy.

Certainly, both sides are set to benefit from Baron Cohen's appearance. For Oscars organisers, the argument over Cohen's role might just persuade extra viewers to tune in hoping that the actor's latest character does something bizarre and unexpected.

Meanwhile, The Dictator's backers get the sort of exposure a Hollywood publicist usually only dreams of.