April 03, 2006

Maybe the Academy Does Know Better Than Us

I saw an interview with "Brokeback Mountain" writer Annie Proulx recently wherein she went off on the Academy for choosing "Crash" as the year's best picture. She was pretty angry and at the time, I thought she was more than justified given the outrage BM has endured from bigoted groups. Then I started to watch "Crash" last night.

I was wrong.

To be honest, I had to stop watching "Crash" because its racist themes and misogyny made me feel uncomfortable in my own skin. Seriously uncomfortable. My guess is that's how the Academy viewers felt too. And that's probably why they voted the way they did.

"Brokeback" didn't make me uncomfortable. Sure it had a couple of fudgepacking sheep herders and a bit of violence and adultery, but those are pretty easy themes for Progressives like me to deal with. Racism is different. We're so use to the civil rights movement and accept it as it is. We see how different today is from segregationist's times and think our work is done. It's quite the opposite. It's even harder now to recognize and fight racism because it has gone underground. The fight against fag bashers is a pretty obvious one and makes it easier to rally behind the cause.

For me, that's the difference in a winner and a runner-up- making the hard distinction between one open and obvious hatred and another which is so ingrained in our culture we fail to recognize it until it rears its ugly head in a very public way like the Robert Byrd torture and murder. We forget that institutional racism exists in our courts, in our death penalty system, in our corporate structures and even in high school sports. When I hear people say they don't recognize color, I want to vomit. It's admirable they want to appear anti-racist, but the very fact they say something so stoooopid indicates they do recognize color as a divisive issue. Saying otherwise is plain lying.

"Crash" didn't lie. It exposed the lie. It exposed it in a city known for its liberal agenda and permissive social views. It exposed its own hypocrisy in a sense. It was also the first time in a long time that I saw more than one black actor in a movie that didn't include cutting hair, family reunions or BBQ's, rappers or Compton, CA gang bangers. How sad is that? Even uber-liberal Hollywood has racist tendencies.

George Clooney was excoriated last week on South Park, a show which he had an instrumental part in its discovery and subsequent success. They took shots at him for his Oscar acceptance speech wherein he lauded Hollywood's liberal credentials. I think Matt and Trey were a bit too glib. They should have recognized that George's only mistake (besides not being naked when he gave it) was in not attacking Hollywood's own hypocrisy. Sure he recognized Hattie McDaniel's 1939 Oscar, but did he point out black actors receive less money? Or that there are fewer leading roles for them? Or that when there are roles available, they're stereotypical roles like Hattie McDaniel's was as a slave?

Simply- no.

"Brokeback" was a marvelous film. A stellar piece of acting and directing, but at its heart it was a universal love story examining the ritual of love, longing and loss albeit with two hunky guys instead of Eastwood and Streep or Grant and Kerr or Bogie and Bacall. "Crash" goes further and examines an issue that everyone now ignores and points out our flaws in not doing more to examine our internalized beliefs and biases. Sorry, but that's a bigger burden and a harder task to accomplish so successfully.

"Brokeback" had wonderful cinematography and music and will one day be recognized as one of the best love stories in movie history. It was technically and artistically fantastic in a way "Crash" wasn't. But "Crash" may be recognized one day as more than just another movie as more and more of the movie watching public sees it. It may be recognized as a real watershed moment in cinematic history. It may one day recognized(hopefully) for pushing race relations further from its currently stalled position of false accomplishment.

Maybe Hollywood and the Academy got it right after all.


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