Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Blowback on Brokeback

I've hesitated for several days in posting about this, in an attempt to gather my thoughts. I hope they're all here.

Typically, a film's stock goes up after it wins Best Picture at the Oscars. In the case of Crash, however, I am amazed at how this film went from a "strong contender" in what had to be the most solid group of films nominated in a long time, to simply being the warmest pile of crap served up in quite a while.

The reason? The Academy "snubbed" Brokeback Mountain by not awarding it the Best Picture Oscar.

The Acdemy was "homophobic" and "heterosexist" toward gay culture in America by not giving the Best Picture Award to Brokeback Mountain.

Does homophobia still exist in America? Absolutely.

Do I believe that the feelings of those who feel slighted by Brokeback's loss are legitimate? Of course.

But this is NOT a case of homophobia or heterosexism. Those who compare the loss of Brokeback Mountain to the death of Matthew Shepard need to seriously get their priorities back in order. Those who assert that this loss relegates the film into the annals of obscurity need to step back for a moment and breathe. Let's look at a couple of facts.

Brokeback Mountain was not the victim of a conspiracy. It was the victim of burnout, and a marketing campaign that peaked too early. Another example would be the 1998 Oscars, where Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture. While I personally liked both films, and emotionally was drawn more to Shakespeare in Love (my career is in the theatre, after all), I knew that Saving Private Ryan was probably the better film. It had the momentum going into that year's Oscar race. It lost.

Let's look at the accusation of the Academy being homophobic. If the Academy were truly homophobic, would it have made TWENTY-ONE nominations to films with LGBT themes? Four of the major Oscar wins went to these LGBT-themed nominations.

And it's not as though Brokeback Mountain was snubbed. Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay are not small awards. Maybe they're not the crowning award you might like to see Brokeback Mountain win, but they are not minor awards. Better to be The Gangs of New York, walk into Oscar night with 10 nominations, and walk away empty-handed? THAT'S a snub. How about The Color Purple, walking in with 11 nominations, and walking away with zero? THAT'S a snub.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Brokeback Mountain was a story and a film created by heterosexuals, including Ang Lee, Jake and Heath, Annie Proulx, and many, many others.

Certainly one might argue that Brokeback had the "awards momentum" behind it, but one can point to as many times where the Academy broke ranks with the other major awards and voted in a different direction. Brokeback Mountain broke no new ground here in this regard.

Others argue that Brokeback had the box office momentum going into the Oscars. Let's be clear, here. The most telling statistic I can give you with regard to the Oscars and box office in general is this - there are FOUR movies this year that did better box office than ALL FIVE OSCAR-NOMINATED FILMS TOGETHER (Box Office Total of all five films as of March 9, 2006 - $236,270,501). More people went to see friggin' War of the Worlds (B.O. Total $237,280,354) than ANY of the Oscar-nominated films. More people went to see The Dukes of Hazzard and Cheaper By The Dozen II than those who saw Brokeback Mountain.

Clearly, box office numbers are not indicitive of anything. If one wants to draw some assumption about people staying AWAY from Brokeback Mountain because of its gay themes, I'd be more than willing to listen to that argument. The fact is that the Academy nominated Brokeback Mountain DESPITE it's box office numbers, as it did for ALL the films that were nominated.

So, lack of an Oscar relegates Brokeback Mountain to the annals of obscurity? Tell that to films like High Noon, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Graduate, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, M*A*S*H, A Clockwork Orange, Cabaret, Dog Day Afternoon, All The President's Men, Apocalypse Now, Norma Rae... the list goes on and on.

Ever heard of any of them? None won a Best Picture Oscar. Some are films deeply entrenched in social politics of their time. Others are just good films. None are forgotten.

Coincidentally, I could also argue that there are many films that HAVE won the Best Picture Oscar that might have you scratching your head to remember.

The individual and communal experience of a film are what set it aside and mark its place in history - not a gold statuette. I would think that Brokeback's legacy is safe for quite some time to come.

So, it's not about Brokeback Mountain losing the Best Picture Oscar, in my opinion. Why do people feel such a sense of loss over this, then? I would assert that the loss picks at the scab of a much larger wound - the continuing struggle to overcome homophobia and heterosexism in our country. It's easy to say that we've come a long way since the days of Stonewall, but one only has to look at the political hotbutton issues of gay adoption, referendums on gay marriage and gay marriage bans, or events as recent as GOP leaders removing hate crime language from a child safety bill.

Heterosexism exists in our culture and our society, and it must be fought. Using Brokeback Mountain's Oscar loss, however, cheapens the importance of the struggle, in my estimation.

For all of my heterosexual friends who may read this and say "well, I'm not homophobic, but what can I do...," please know that there is plenty. First and foremost, perhaps you can visit GLAAD's resources or perhaps lend your support to the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

But most important, the thing we can all do is to stamp out the casual, "joking" examples of homophobia that we see in our every day lives. Don't let it go, or swallow your comments for fear of making a "big deal out of nothing." I'll admit, I posted my share of Brokeback Mountain spoofs on this blog, and I have many gay friends who were doing the same thing on thier blogs, as well. It seemed innocent enough at the time.

But until we ALL make a bigger deal out of it, the language of our society will not change, and more importantly, neither will the thoughts, or the discrimination, nor the injustices.

So, let's be sad for Brokeback Mountain for a moment. Sure... it was a disappointment. But then, let's get over it and move on. There are bigger issues to tackle.

Am I wrong? Let me know what you think.

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Posted by FleshPresser at 4:53 PM /


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