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Hollywood’s Global Crop

What does the current crop of Oscar-nominated movies say about Hollywood and globalization?

February 20, 2007

What does the current crop of Oscar-nominated movies say about Hollywood and globalization?

After decades of U.S. culture shaping the world, globalization is finally shaping U.S. culture as well. Consider the selection of 2006 films up for Oscars on February 25, 2007.

There is Borat, The Queen, Letters from Iwo Jima, The Last King of Scotland, Babel, Volver, The Good Shepherd, Blood Diamond, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Good German, Apocalypto and An Inconvenient Truth.

Has there ever been a time when Hollywood witnessed a longer line-up of films for these coveted awards with a decidedly global flavor to them?
Pan’s Labyrinth, The Queen and Letters from Iwo Jima will compete with the quintessentially American films United 93 and The Departed for Best Film of the Year.

Forest Whitaker is up for Best Actor as the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland — along with Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays a South African mercenary in Blood Diamond.

British actress Helen Mirren could get Best Actress for her role as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen, while Best Documentary may go to An Inconvenient Truth, about the global impact of climate change due to the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

What is going on? Is the outside world finally making inroads into Hollywood? If the Golden Globes and the Broadcast Film Critics Association's choices for 2006 are any indication, the United States may well be witnessing a foreign invasion of sorts.

At this year's Golden Globes, Forest Whitaker took home the award for Best Actor, and Britain's Helen Mirren won Best Actress. Babel, a complex tale in which director Alejandro González Iñárritu explores the difficulty of human communication within four families in different parts of the world, received the award for Best Motion Picture — and Letters from Iwo Jima the award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Similarly, the Broadcast Film Critics Association's named Forest Whitaker Best Actor and Helen Mirren Best Actress for 2006. Borat, the story of a Kazakh reporter who exposes U.S. biases, won Best Comedy, while An Inconvenient Truth was selected Best Documentary and Letters from Iwo Jima Best Foreign Language Film.

Equally significant, does this flurry of films about the world outside the United States and its relationship to it mean that the United States is becoming a nation of globalists? The answer is maybe.

Certainly, some of the U.S.’s best actors and actresses have developed an interest in the world outside U.S. borders, including Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Forest Whitaker and Leonardo DiCaprio.

In addition to their choice of roles, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have adopted children from Cambodia and Ethiopia. While filming Blood Diamond, DiCaprio met a little girl in South Africa whom he is now supporting financially.

Likewise, there are a number of foreign actors who have broken into the U.S. mainstream, as demonstrated this year by Spanish actress Penelope Cruz in Volver and the Australian actress Cate Blanchett, who played a U.S. tourist accidentally shot while vacationing in Morocco (Babel) — and a German woman turned prostitute in post-World War II Berlin (The Good German).

On the other hand, it might be argued that at least some of these films reflect the U.S. tendency to project its own image on the outside world — and therefore to only see itself wherever it looks.

At first blush, it does seem odd that Hollywood would give the Best Foreign Film Award to a film made by an American, Clint Eastwood, about the war in the Pacific as told from the Japanese point of view.

Nonetheless, the judges for the Golden Globe Awards are foreign journalists, and they evidently thought Eastwood succeeded in achieving his goal.

What about the content of these films? Is there a global message? Certainly An Incovenient Truth has one, but so does Blood Diamond and Pan’s Labyrinth.

Set against the backdrop of civil war and chaos in Sierra Leone, Blood Diamond highlights the disparity between rich and poor countries through the global diamond trade's fueling of the civil war there. It also gives a very telling account of how child soldiers need help overcoming the trauma of what they have seen and done in the context of war.

Likewise, Pan’s Labyrinth is a fairytale set in Franco-era Spain that contemplates the cost and limits of totalitarianism.

Interestingly enough, even Robert De Niro's spy movie about the early years of the CIA (The Good Shepherd) has a global dimension in that it outlines how the CIA came into being in a post-World War II world where Europe was losing power while the U.S. gained influence.

The film also has a global message in that it underscores how complicated the world is and how prone even the most well-trained spies are to misunderstanding it. This will also likely be the theme of a recently announced movie about poisoned Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, which will be produced by Johnny Depp’s production company — with Depp himself possibly playing the main role.

Taken together, these films suggest that addressing some of the major 21st century threats facing the world today — transnational terrorism, human exploitation, global warming, large-scale refugee flows and war — is not the responsibility of any one nation, but of all of us.

That Hollywood seems to have gone global in 2006 does not mean that it will continue to move in this direction. After all, fear of globalization can easily give rise to protectionism and isolationism.

De-globalization, in other words, is always a possibility — and if this were to occur in Hollywood, one could imagine derivatives of Spiderman, Mission Impossible or Pirates of the Carribbean up for Oscars next year.

On the other hand, if Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie can go global, maybe Tobey Maguire and Tom Cruise can too.