Mechtild (mechtild) wrote,

A solid, well-reasoned article on BBM's Best Picture loss, by Michael Jensen.....

~ Jack and Ennis, standing before the campfire, on Brokeback Mountain.

In my most previous Brokeback Mountain-related entry, I was complaining that there weren’t any pro-BBM articles questioning the Oscar decision that didn’t sound reactionary, like the lashings-out of people whose film lost, people who were furious, hurt, and bitter. I said I could understand the feeling, since I was pretty shocked and disappointed myself, but that I didn’t think the nasty, aggrieved tone would sway any hearts except those of the already-converted.

Well, halleluia, casey28 sent me a link to a post-Oscar BBM article written in a manner sure to please [me]. In fact, it won me over. I still maintain that there were other reasons why persons did not prefer BBM than that it was “the gay movie,” but this article convinces me that for the deciding majority, that actually was the reason the film did not win. The article’s argument is clearly presented, and reasonably argued. There is no whining and no inflammatory language. I love that.

No one has to read this, of course. In fact, I am posting it mostly for myself, just so I won't lose it. Links are so unreliable over time.

For those who haven't read it and are interested, here it is:

The Brokeback Mountain Oscar Snub, by Michael Jensen

~ Posted in, March 7, 2006

Sunday night, Hollywood spent over three hours congratulating itself for its tolerance and progressiveness. But when it came to awarding the Best Picture, Hollywood's cowardly actions proved louder than its pretty words.

Two days after Crash's history-making upset over Brokeback,
a debate rages over why the upset happened. Was it homophobia? Was Crash simply a better movie? Did the far right's attack on Hollywood's morals frighten the voters? Or did Brokeback simply peak too soon?
First, the facts.

During the awards' season leading up to Sunday night's Oscars, Brokeback Mountain became the most honored movie in cinematic history. It had more Best Picture and Director wins than previous Oscar winners Schindler's List and Titanic combined. Just to name a few, Brokeback won various awards at the Golden Globes, the BAFTA's, Venice Film Festival, NY Film Critic's Circle, LA Film Critics, National Board of Review, and the Independent Spirit Awards. (Click here for a complete list.)

Meanwhile, of the major awards, Crash managed to win only the SAG Award, the Chicago Critics award, and an Image Award. And Crash won the Chicago honor mostly because Chicago-area film critic Roger Ebert relentlessly pushed it. Even then, Brokeback was the runner-up. How did Crash fare in all of the awards Brokeback won? It mostly didn't, rarely even showing up as a nominee. In fact, before the SAG awards, Crash barely merited mention as an Oscar contender.

Before Sunday night's upset, no film that had won the Writer's Guild, Director's Guild, and Producer's Guild awards did not go on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Additionally, the film with the most total Oscar nominations almost always wins the top prize; only four times in the past twenty-five years has the Best Picture winner not also been the film with the most nominations. This year Brokeback had the most nominations

Along with all these awards, Brokeback had also won the Golden Globe, all but assuring that it would win at the Oscars too. Only once, in 1973, did a film not even nominated for the Golden Globe's Best Picture go on to win the Academy Award (that movie was The Sting, and it wasn't nominated because of a mix-up at the Golden Globes). Crash did not receive a Golden Globe nomination.

Like most eventual Best Picture winners, Brokeback Mountain was by far the highest grossing film of the five nominees. It has earned $120 million worldwide, while Crash has taken in less than half that. Box-office performance has always been a factor in how the Academy votes.

One other fact: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a conservative institution. It is not necessarily conservative in the political or religious sense of the word, but rather in that its members are firm believers in tradition and precedence. By every measure of previous Oscar winners, Brokeback should have been the movie announced by Jack Nicholson. Since it wasn't, there must be a very compelling reason for Crash to have won instead.

Was it Crash's critical acclaim? To be fair, Crash did come out quite some time ago and it is common knowledge that Oscar favors, or at least remembers, movies released late in the year. Was it possible that Crash's earlier critical acclaim had been overlooked by virtually every others arts organization that dispenses awards? Perhaps once Academy voters were reminded of Crash's critical acclaim, they felt compelled to give it the Best Picture.

Turns out that can't be the case. Here again, Brokeback was clearly the frontrunner. Every year, both Premiere Magazine and Entertainment Weekly rank the year's movies according to the reviews they received. Brokeback came in first on both lists. Three other Best Picture nominees—Good Night, and Good Luck, Capote, and Munich —also placed in the Top Ten on both lists. Meanwhile, Crash ranked number thirty-six on Premiere's list, and down in the fifties on EW's. A half-dozen critics even gave it outright pans, saying it was a movie to be avoided.

Not exactly a critical darling, eh?

That means that in order for the Academy voters to have chosen Crash over Brokeback, they had to overlook the fact that Brokeback was the favorite by almost every measure the Academy has used for seventy eight years. And they had to be willing to overturn decades of Academy tradition as well. Let's be clear about something else: this disregard for tradition and precedence didn't happen because of a changing of the guard. It's not a case of new, fresh blood forcing the Academy to change their old, tired ways. Indeed, it is the old guard that upended their traditions in order to propel Crash past Brokeback.

Nor is this a discussion about the merits of Brokeback Mountain versus Crash. Art is subjective, and a Crash fan's opinion is every bit as valid as someone who loved Brokeback. What isn't subjective are the facts stated above.

The question remaining then is why did they Academy pass over Brokeback for Crash? Given the facts, there seems to be only one answer: good old-fashioned homophobia, or at least Hollywood 's fear of being perceived by Middle America as too tolerant of gay people, which is another kind of homophobia. Or perhaps it was some combination of the two things. But nothing else seems to fit the facts.

If rank homophobia was the reason, it seems Tony Curtis apparently spoke for many voters when he said he had no intention of seeing the movie and that it offered nothing “unique.” Since he hadn't seen it, it's hard to know on what basis Mr. Curtis made his claim. But clearly many Academy voters did not see anything particularly unique about it either.

Everyone watching knew this was a chance for the Academy to take a stand on what is arguably one of the most controversial issues of our time. Battles are being fought at ballot boxes, in courtrooms, schools and homes all around the country. Sunday night offered a chance for Hollywood to weigh in with their support.

Up until Jack Nicholson opened that envelope virtually everyone -- even the Las Vegas odds-makers, felt it a near certainty Hollywood do just that.

But at the last second, the Oscar voters blinked. Or perhaps like a white person publicly professing their support for a black candidate, only to then vote for their white opponent in the privacy of the voting booth, Academy voters never intended to vote for Brokeback.

Some Crash supporters have argued the Academy had to choose between honoring two very worthwhile movies, one confronting racism, one homophobia, both subjects the Oscars have overlooked in the past. And while it was a difficult choice, they argue, it was a fair decision.

Hogwash. Hollywood has already honored numerous movies that confront racism. In the Heat of the Night won back in 1967, nearly forty years ago. Schindler's List won in 1993. Other previous winners depicting racism have included Gandhi, Driving Miss Daisy, and Westside Story. And Halle Berry's Best Actress win was supposed to be the final nail in Hollywood's racist past. The point isn't to argue that racism is no longer worthy subject-matter, only that it is not groundbreaking, especially not nearly enough to overcome Brokeback's reasons for winning.

Indeed, a gay story, much less a love story, has never even been in serious contention for an Oscar. Hell, there hasn't even been a mainstream movie about a gay love story. Given just how groundbreaking Brokeback is, its being passed over for Crash -- a movie few cared about until six weeks ago -- only heightens the fact that homophobia is one of the obvious reasons for the Academy having done so.

Professional awards analyst Tom O'Neil thought he saw something unusual brewing in Hollywood over the past several weeks. “Something weird is going on among Oscar Voters,” O'Neil wrote in The Envelope, an online site run by the Los Angeles Times. "Crash and Good Night, and Good Luck have their passionate supporters who gush their honest love of those best-picture nominees, but most non-Brokeback votes I hear from Oscar voters are really anti-Brokeback." And that translates to anti-gay.

Kenneth Turan, also of the Los Angeles Times, sees something similar in the aftermath of Crash's upset. “So for people who were discomfited by Brokeback Mountain but wanted to be able to look themselves in the mirror and feel like they were good, productive liberals, Crash provided the perfect safe harbor.”

In retrospect, it's hard not to feel a little stupid for hoping that Brokeback would emerge victorious. America truly seemed to be changing on the issue of homosexuality. For every joke that ridiculed the “gay cowboy” movie, there was a joke mocking the guys who wouldn't see it. Only things haven't progressed as much as thought.

Some argue Hollywood can't be antigay since the top acting prize went to Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote. But I put that right up there with Tom Hanks' wins for Philadelphia (as a dying gay man) and William Hurts' win for Kiss of the Spiderwoman (arguably not even gay, since Hurt's character says he wants to be a woman). This is not meant to take anything away from Hoffman, but nonetheless it sure appears that Hollywood, like America, has a much easier time accepting gays when they confirm all their stereotypes of effete, lisping, asexual men. But a movie about two masculine guys in love? That's apparently a different story.

Some might even argue that not giving Hoffman the Oscar would have been a travesty, given that he had won virtually every other Best Actor award leading up to the Oscars. How could the award be denied to the man who was so clearly the frontrunner?

But that certainly didn't stop Academy voters when it came to selecting the Best Picture.

There is a second, more nuanced explanation for the Brokeback snub. As the presenters made clear during the telecast, Hollywood is feeling defensive about declining box-office revenue. And since the nominations were announced in January, much has been made about Hollywood supposedly being “out of touch” with mainstream America. Indeed, the day of the Oscars, CNN ran a piece called “Out of Touch” wherein a reporter visited a small town in rural America to ask if anyone had seen, or would see, Brokeback. The answer for most, of course, was an indignant, “No!”

Folks in Hollywood may fear the competition presented by today's varied entertainment choices. Perhaps they were feeling uncomfortable with being seen as so different from the heartland. Or maybe it is the confluence of the two. Whichever the reason, it was Brokeback and the gay community they sacrificed to “save” themselves.

No doubt, had Brokeback won, the media would be reporting that Hollywood had proven they were wildly out of touch. Now the story is that even Hollywood isn't crazy enough to give an Oscar to “that” movie. For gay men, that makes us damned if we'd won and damned that we didn't.

What's so disappointing about this for so many gay men is that Brokeback was our movie. For years, we've been presented as prancing, mincing stereotypes, pathological killers, or suicidal depressives. Mel Gibson even threw us out of a tower in Braveheart. But with Brokeback, we had finally been given a movie that reflected the real experience and emotions of many of our lives, even if those reflections weren't happy. And we were even led to believe that our movie had crossed over and would be honored as Best Picture.

In retrospect, it's arguable that winning final prize was never really an option, at least not at this time and place in history.

But the story isn't likely to end here. Like the Democrats trying to negotiate the tricky waters of gay rights, Hollywood 's snub of Brokeback is likely to please no one. Fundamentalist Christians are unlikely to suddenly decide Hollywood does share their values. And by selecting Crash, Hollywood alienated legions of fair-minded Americans who know a cop-out when they see it.

Nor is gay America taking this lying down. Indeed, a backlash against the backlash is already brewing. Come back tomorrow and we'll talk about it.

* * *

There are so many points Jensen made I thought were sound, I really can't to speak to all of them. But I particularly appreciated that even when discussing anti-gay reasons for why Academy voters would reject the film as Best Picture, he made arguments that were nuanced, acknowledging the complexity of that opposition.

These were comments that struck me as very perceptive in that regard....

The question remaining then is why did they Academy pass over Brokeback for Crash? Given the facts, there seems to be only one answer: good old-fashioned homophobia, or at least Hollywood 's fear of being perceived by Middle America as too tolerant of gay people, which is another kind of homophobia. Or perhaps it was some combination of the two things. But nothing else seems to fit the facts.

But the story isn't likely to end here. Like the Democrats trying to negotiate the tricky waters of gay rights, Hollywood 's snub of Brokeback is likely to please no one. Fundamentalist Christians are unlikely to suddenly decide Hollywood does share their values. And by selecting Crash, Hollywood alienated legions of fair-minded Americans who know a cop-out when they see it.

For anyone who wants to see the article in its original context, here is the link:


ETA: I am at work at the library and pulled the latest copy of Entertainment Weekly off the shelf, which has articles about the Oscars. For the record, I wanted to quote the following passages from an article assessing the event.

From The Big Night, by Dave Karger, in EW, March 17, 2006:

One hypothesis [for why BBM lost to Crash] suggested that much of the Academy's older constituency was turned of by Brokeback's same-sex love story. As the film's Oscar-winning co-screenwriter Larry McMurtry said backstage after Best Picture was announced, "Perhaps the truth really is: Americans don't want cowboys to be gay." Indeed, asked at Hollywood's old-guard "Night of 100 Stars" party what he thought of Brokeback Mountain, Ernest Borgnine, who won Best Actor 50 years ago for Marty, responded, "I didn't see it and I don't care to see it. I know they say it's a good picture but I don't care to see it. If John Wayne were alive, he'd be rolling over in his grave."

Whether a living John Wayne could be said to be rolling over in his grave is beside the point. Borgnine's response shows what might be the strong emotional reaction of a lot of Academy voters, enough to have made sure BBM did not achieve its widely expected win for Best Picture.

Steven Spielberg, (along with everyone at our house) who must have had a "What the ---?" moment when Shakespeare in Love was pronounced Best Picture over Saving Private Ryan, gave a response that might represent the feelings of those who did not vote for BBM, yet probably not for anti-gay reasons. (As a big fan of several of Spielberg's films, I want to give him the benefit of a doubt.)

Steven Spielberg, whose Munich went 0-for-5, professed pleasure at the outcome. "I predicted it, so I was very happy," he said at the Governor's Ball. "I didn't win any money, but my wife turned to me and said, 'Oh my God, you picked Crash.'"

Well, I'll console myself thinking of co-screenwriter's Diana Ossana's words in the wake of the Oscar ceremony:

"It was bittersweet," she said. "But honestly, the film will always be there. That movie will find its way for months and years to come. I completely and totally believe that."

Me, too.

~ Mechtild

Brokeback Mountain Links Page HERE

Tags: brokeback mountain, film

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