Oscar Looks Inward
Do the 2007 Oscar nominations present a skewed image of the United States?
February 22, 2008
In 2007, Hollywood went global. Academy Awards went to an abundance of films that focused on the world outside the United States.
The awards ceremony included The Queen, Blood Diamonds, Letters from Iwo Jima, Last King of Scotland, Pan’s Labyrinth — as well as An Inconvenient Truth, Babel, Volver, and The Good German.
However, the Academy award nominations for 2007 are out — and soul-searching films are in.
With this year’s picks, Hollywood appears to be turning homeward, asking its followers to consider what defines the United States.
No Country for Old Men is a dark, edgy film about the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong. In the interplay between fate, circumstance and free will, three men chase each other and their destinies across the West Texas desert.
There Will be Blood is an equally dark if not as outwardly violent film about a turn of the century oil man in California and the corrupting nature of money and power.
No Country for Old Men is based on Cormack McCarthy’s book of the same title and There Will be Blood on Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel, Oil.
Michael Clayton is a legal thriller about corruption, madness and murder in America’s top corporate law firms.
If Hollywood had wanted to continue last year’s global theme, it would have gone beyond giving Oscar nods to the British film Atonement and Julian Schnabel’s film about French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly to include The Kite Runner and A Mighty Heart in the mix.
The Kite Runner is the story of the friendship between two Afghan boys, as told in the context of the fall of the monarchy in Afghanistan, the Soviet invasion and the mass exodus of refugees to Pakistan and the United States when the Taliban took over.
In A Mighty Heart, Angelina Jolie plays the wife of kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The story is about her search for him through the streets of Karachi, Pakistan prior to his beheading in 2002.
As it was, however, Hollywood chose not to give either film a single Oscar nomination in any category.
Alternatively, Hollywood might have given more attention to Charlie Wilson’s War — the story of a U.S. congressman’s crusade to defeat the Russians in Afghanistan — or Eastern Promises, which examines the Russian mob.
So what is up? According to veteran producer Scott Rudin, this year’s choices reflect the uneasiness many Americans feel about the world around them. Rudin is probably right.
After all, the films were chosen in an election year when the U.S. military is still stuck in Iraq with no easy way out and Wall Street is in the most severe financial crisis since the 1980s.
In this environment, it is only natural for Americans to do a little soul-searching and the movie theater is as good a place as any to do it. While this might make sense to Tinsel town, however, what will the outside world think of the United States as reflected in these films? The overall picture is not a pretty one.
From No Country for Old Men, it is possible to get the impression that America is an overwhelmingly violent place that has so far failed to come to grip with itself.
Towards the end of the film, sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) tells his uncle Ellis, an ex-lawman, that he is too weary with the violence of the changing times to continue in the job. Ellis responds that the region has always been violent and that he is vain to think things are different now.
From There Will Be Blood, filmgoers in Europe, Asia and elsewhere will learn that California at least was founded by some truly ruthless, greedy people who would basically stop at nothing to get ahead as defined by making more money.
And from Michael Clayton, they will learn that America is still a cruel, ruthless and greedy place when seen from the vantage point of the corporate board room and their legal fixers.
All true? Yes and no. There is an element of truth in each, but they all lean toward the excessive to drive home their points.
What is missing from the montage is the sense that there are and always have been furrows of other cultures running to and through American culture that affect who we are, what we do and where we are going.
An Oscar nod to The Kite Runner or A Mighty Heart would have helped fix the problem. On second thought, maybe an Oscar win for Julie Christie as a Canadian woman with Alzheimers in Away from Her or for Marion Cotillard as French singer Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose will do the trick.
Hollywood appears to be turning homeward, asking its followers to consider what defines the United States.
What is missing is the sense that there are and have always been influences of other cultures running through American culture.
In this environment, it is only natural for Americans to do a little soul-searching and the movie theater is as good a place as any to do it.
This year's choices reflect the uneasiness many Americans feel about the world around them.
Senior Policy Advisor, Office of Global Women's Issues, State Department Susan Braden is a senior policy advisor in the U.S. State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues. She has over 20 years of experience working for the U.S. government, the NGO community and the private sector on U.S. security issues, the Middle East, Latin America […]