Politics and Revisionist History at the Oscars


It's no secret that in the past, the Oscars have been made an occasion to showcase various social issues. We all remember, or at least can Youtube the 1973 Awards in which Marlon Brando refused his Oscar for The Godfather, citing the misrepresentation of Native Americans in film. Likewise, Michael Moore’s acceptance speech in 2002 for Bowling for Columbine evoked shouts and boos when he criticized the war in Iraq. Although these individual outbursts and protests are rare, the Oscars in general make known Hollywood’s position on social and political issues simply by the films they choose to recognize.

The most deliciously smug speech in the history of the Oscars.

After a couple year's of declining ratings and successive lackluster hosts, (the junior tag-team were a nice idea but too vapid, while last year's return of Billy Crystal a little long in the tooth) we haven`t had a politically-heavy list of nominees like we have this year.

Three of the Best Picture nominees have a juicy mix of controversy, revisionist history, and politically-conscious directors behind the lens. Between Argo, Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln, we've had three major Hollywood films that have stirred up plenty of debate and even resulted in one US state ratifying the abolishing of slavery. Yes slavery, in 2013.

Ben Affleck's Argo, depicting the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, ruffled feathers when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film minimized the role played by the Canadian government and in particular Ambassador Ken Taylor. Watching the film, you're led to believe that it's one of the greatest, most successful CIA-led missions in history when in reality the plan and players were, to quote Jimmy Carter "90% Canadian" contribution.

Meanwhile Kathryn Bigelow, who took home the Oscar for The Hurt Locker in 2010, has taken heat from people who argue that Zero Dark Thirty falsely emphasizes the role that torture, specifically water-boarding, played in providing intelligence that led to the raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound. Chief critic of this point, or at least the most vocal was a guy who knows a thing or two about torture, Senator John McCain:

McCain makes it clear that torture is, at its best, useless, and its worst, a legitimate crime that the international community would be moved to act upon. In response to the embellishment of the role of torture as depicted in Zero Dark Thirty, McCain did what any elderly man would do, he wrote an angry letter to the studio. It may work, after all, Ken Taylor received acknowledgement from Ben Affleck for Argo's slight.

In my opinion, water-boarding may not be the most effective way of getting information, but it makes a great party game:

It sure made my Halloween party a gas.

Lastly, and strangest of all, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln bio-pic which depicts a reverent, romantic vision of the civil war and the emancipation of African-Americans from legalized slavery, actually led to a startling realization. At some point over the last century and a half, the Mississippi State legislature never got around to ratifying the 13th Amendment to the Constitution to formally abolish slavery in the state.

Better late than never, and we're all guilty of dragging our feet on some tedious paperwork, but it's always nice when art can have such an impact on real-life, in this case Secretary of State Delbert Horsemann picked up where they left off in the 19th Century and got the business done.

We'll see how events unfold this year between the Best Picture nominees. Maybe the Academy will opt for the spiritual over the political and bestow accolades on Life of Pi, although the the results of the Golden Globes are usually a better predictor for the Oscars and they seem just as infatuated with Ben Affleck as Gorgeous George...

Look into his eyes, Ben...he will make you a king.

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