Lock and Load: The Oscars in the Era of Social Network Mobilization

sacheen_littlefeather

Did you hear the one about the guy who won his second term as president with a bad economy? If you were online this past election season you no doubt felt the pulse of people power as shot through Twitter, Facebook and various other media streams.  If Congressman Paul Ryan was caught faking a photo op at a soup kitchen, or Mitt Romney caught handing out checks to people who were supposedly donating food to Hurricane Sandy victims, or if you were Karl Rove and others trying to suppress the vote in Pennsylvania that shit didn’t happen in the dark. It was outed within minutes and spread around the web like wildfire. Many of us, even those of us who are supposed to be in the business of entertainment, took to our various social networks to fight for our causes, kind of like we are trying to do now with gun control.

The 2012 election showed what a well oiled machine social networking has become and let’s face it, when you’re exposed in front of god and everybody perhaps the best elements of human nature win out.  Or we’d like to think so, anyway. Our side (my side) won the election and you could say we’re a bit fired up.

It isn’t just that we take sides, form teams and fight for the films we love – that’s been happening for a while now, and probably is human nature now that Twitter and Facebook have enabled us to gather together in one crowded pool.  Now, though, we have become a powerful movement for change.

It should come as no surprise, then, that once the Oscar race kicked into high gear, those same issues, and that same activism, has suddenly found its way into the world of film criticism. The Oscar race has always been political, to my mind anyway. But I lived through those Oscar ceremonies where there were protesters outside the Shrine Auditorium, and Marlon Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather up to refuse the award  on his behalf, too boos.

Kim Basinger also protested the lack of a Best Picture nomination for Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and Michael Moore protested George Bush and the Iraq war in one of the best moments in Oscar and American history.   But public opinion seemed to shift in the 1980s and 1990s, mostly, which carries through to today – this idea that the Oscars are supposed to be about rewarding entertainment, not used a political platform to get the messages out to millions of viewers.

For all of the controversies that found their way into the Oscar race over the years, there hasn’t ever been anything like you see today, like you’re seeing right now aimed specifically at Kathryn Bigelow over the torture controversy in Zero Dark Thirty.  She’s been called a sadist, fetishist – I even saw one commenter call her a pig. The hatred and venom directed at Bigelow is, I might say, akin only to words being lobbed at politicians.  But I wonder, can we even tell the difference anymore? When we’re so used to mobilizing our public opinions around an issue we feel is wrong, how can we not then use our various streams of communication to mobilize around an issue like, say, torture in Zero Dark Thirty or racism and the use of the “N” word in Django Unchained? How much people attention pay to these issues depends, of course, on how hot they are to begin with.

During last year’s race, it was difficult, if not impossible, to mobilize anyone around the notion that, to date, only one black actress has ever won a Best Actress Oscar.  It was so much harder to get anyone to care last year. But I wonder how it would have gone over this year, with those pathways so deeply and clearly drawn now, and the rivers flowing in all different directions after the re-election of Barack Obama?  Sure, maybe Meryl Streep still would have won – hers was the bigger part and she was overdue … for her third Oscar.  Had Viola Davis’ part been a big bigger in The Help, as big as, say, Emma Stone’s, she might have had an easier victory.

Nonetheless, changes to the Oscar demographics are small and hard fought.  The pathways of communication have now gotten the word out that Ava DuVernay may be looking at becoming the first African American writer/director/producer ever to be honored at the Oscars.  Word got out that Ann Dowd took out a loan to pay for her own screeners so voters might see her work in Compliance and deem it worthy enough for a nomination.   A few people seemed to care that Richard Gere, after a long and healthy career, has never been nominated for an Oscar.  These are small things, of course, and one never knows whether the Oscar voters will even be aware of them.   Some of us harp on them every year but this year it really does feel like the word can get out faster and broader than ever.

Still, it is perhaps the way of things that Bigelow is being called a fetishist when her film really does show the ugliness of torture and asks you to decide whether you think it’s “worth it” or not. Her film has caused much debate all over the web. Sure, the activists have mobilized and taken a side, and it is very much the liberal side.  The headlines are fanning the flames that somehow Kathryn Bigelow got off on those scenes of torture – the venom directed at her feels personal. Why does it bother people more with Bigelow and not with Tarantino, who shows a slave being torn apart by wild dogs, a woman being shot just for being white and a room so splattered with blood it drips from the walls?  Is it because Bigelow’s is all too real?

Here is a sampling of some comments from this Guardian piece:

Guaitaquinscollons Recommend 126
Hollywood has totally surrendered to the charms of this dimestore Leni Riefenstahl. At least the real one made her films before the war and was more of an artistic pioneer.

That said, I’ll keep enjoying KB’s films even if they require some suspension of morality before being watched.

sentience Recommend 202
Bigelow is indeed a sadist and a fetishist. it needed to be said.

Briar Recommend 137
@sentience – And so are all those who support torture and enjoy contemplating it. That needs to be said too – given how many people are secretly fascinated by and approving of the atrocities committed in their name.

IgAIgEIgG Recommend 369
@sentience -
She is a pig.

I simply cannot express enough disgust for those who would use the might of Hollywood propaganda to build approval and support for the torture (a war crime) committed by the American government, the CIA, and the US military.
Torture is cancer, and therefore death, for any state or entity which uses it, including the CIA and the American military.
The stupid pig is either so selfish she does not care or she is so dumb she does not understand.
Anyway, when you peddle support for war crimes, you set karma in action, don’t you?

twopennorth Recommend 171
Leni Riefenstahl
Spot on. Hollywood is the propaganda arm of neocon fascism.

Tamron Recommend 55

@twopennorth -
Given that most of us haven’t seen the film, perhaps we should hold back back from calling Bigelow a pig and a nazi. My understanding from reviews is that the film doesn’t really assert that torture produced useful intel, but rather it simply acknowledges that torture was part of the process used by the CIA . That is to say, there are no ‘heroes’ in the story of killing obl because the whole operation was morally compromised. I think a fiction film is a good way to explore these issues precisely because it doesn’t need to exactly hew to every detail of the story, and it’s important to remember that no one perhaps knows the full truth of these events.

Pete Rowe Recommend 28
@IgAIgEIgG – war crime my arse. war against an invisible enemy like muslim terrorism must be fought using every available tool.

Chewtoy Recommend 24
@Tamron – Go back and read the article, especially this bit:

It certainly isn’t that this is just mere suspension of disbelief and that, when the lights go on, we go back to known reality. In fact, Zero Dark Thirty, wrapped in the great praise that invariably accompanies middle-brow claptrap claiming to cope with the big issues of the day, will compete as a true narrative for how al-Qaida was dealt with and Osama dispatched. (Similarly, The Social Network, an almost entirely made-up version of the founding of Facebook, has pretty much become the rosetta stone of social-media history.)

Perhaps the worm will turn and more people will start standing up not for the politics but for the art. Will that start this year with Zero Dark Thirty? It’s hard to say. But there is no mistaking the content of the film as controversial. It is that. When you decide to make a movie about a controversial topic you have to expect there to be blowback.  Mark Boal has said in interviews that he didn’t make the movie the White House would have wanted him to make.  But I guess that can be followed by the idea that the White House just won re-election.  A lot of people are on its side right about now.  Thus, the people will continue to mobilize against a movie because they are already primed and ready to mobilize against the political issue, be it gun control or torture.

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22 Comments

  1. December 31, 2012

    Comments like those are a window into another world. Intelligence may not be a virtue – you’re kind of born with it, and it’s hard to cultivate if you don’t have it – but taciturnity is. It’s easy to look down from one’s ivory tower and criticise these idiots, although maybe it’s easy because it’s right.

    And I rather liked The Guardian. Michael Wolff opens his piece by comparing Zero Dark Thirty to Homeland. Some people see the female CIA protagonists and fail to see any significant differences. Both women, both working in the CIA, I suppose Zero Dark Thirty must be a COPY! A factual story copying a fictional one. And, sure, there only is one woman working in the CIA.

  2. Keil S.
    December 31, 2012

    Yawn.

  3. December 31, 2012

    And by that, I mean that I rather liked The Guardian until I read that article.

  4. December 31, 2012

    Last post…for now…

    Consider that Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow are telling the truth in Zero Dark Thirty. Can you imagine how they’re feeling, getting beat up on from all sides by people who know much less yet are making much more noise? And getting beat up on just for telling the truth.

  5. December 31, 2012

    She isn’t a fetishist. She may be too locked into a rather cold view of a genre … more documentary than movie. What people are probably reacting to isn’t the images of torture but rather the realization that the United States did “that”. Whether or not it was effective, it was definitely a betrayal of everything the US is supposed to represent. Remember when we actually conducted the Nuremberg Trials and hung or at least jailed for life people who did such things?

  6. Antoinette
    December 31, 2012

    The thing about Tarantino is that he generally doesn’t show the actual violent act you just think you see it. You didn’t see that slave being ripped apart by dogs. You think you did. But watch it again and stare at the screen . You’ll find that you’re mainly seeing the reactions of Waltz and a staredown between Foxx and DiCaprio.

  7. Keil S.
    December 31, 2012

    Oh, I didn’t realize this article eventually found its way to a point beyond Sasha’s predictably biased political ramblings. Might want to consider your rhetoric’s detrimental effect on your website when making your New Year’s resolutions.

  8. Jerry
    December 31, 2012

    I think the ZD30 torture controvesy was a “thing” for a couple of weeks but most people have moved on or don’t care. It’s selling like hotcakes at the box-office and keeps getting crown by critics groups. The AMPAS voters don’t give two shits what a few remaining articles on the web or on social media are saying.

    Same with Django. People are seeing the movie and walking out to tell their friends to go see it. Much ado about nada. Noise from the interwebs is usually not as influential as people would like to believe.

  9. Reno
    December 31, 2012

    “Suspension of morality” — A prerequisite to watching a Tarantino film. Just saw Django Unchained last night. Please tell me there’s a deeper meaning to all the blood and gore and the omnipresent N word. And then why even take on the Django trademark when the film is disparate from the original? Surely not every bounty hunting movie needs to bear the title Django. To think I hold Django (1966) with Franco Nero in such high regard. That scene where Franco Nero asks Jamie Foxx to spell Django (with a silent D) was so cheesy I began to wonder whether Tarantino took this film seriously. Is it just me or does it seem like Django Unchained is Inglourious Basterds reincarnated? And are we to expect a third or fourth fantasy revenge flick? It is wildly entertaining I have to admit, but, dare I say, ultimately senseless.

  10. Christophe
    December 31, 2012

    These comments are so incredibly stupid! Just because her movie is depicting torture doesn’t mean she approves of it, on the contrary, she’s just trying to make it look as realistic as possible without sugarcoating anything (because that would indeed be propaganda), everyone can then draw their own conclusions.

    And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t even like Bigelow’s movies, but these ad hominem attacks are absolutely revolting, she has every right to make the movies she likes, the way she likes it.

  11. Bob Burns
    December 31, 2012

    ZD30 is not currently under discussion on the sites (liberal) that I follow, but that will probably change when the noms come out.

    Bigelow made a horrendous mistake. Torture is morally reprehensible AND does not work, did not work. Just because she did the first part very well, she is not entitled to get the second part disastrously wrong.

    Morally reprehensible AND ineffective. balancing the two for dramatic effect is, well, evil.

    ZD30 colludes with evil and real humans will suffer because of her decision . She should disown that part of her film – and do it within the Oscar campaign, not later. It should be withdrawn and re-edited.

    I am surprised that people on this site are so indifferent to the facts.

    And I say this all as someone in awe of her abilities as a film maker.

    Sadly, they are making money off the controversy…. and everything you guys say defending ZD30 makes it worse. I have always thought this place was better than what I have seen in the discussion of this film.

  12. g
    December 31, 2012

    I know torture is awful, and maybe it works or doesn’t work. I have no idea since I’ve never witnessed it. Yet I have a feeling lots of other countries do it.

    I just can’t understand the hate coming at Bigelow and Boal for this movie. This certainly isn’t the only movie to ever show torture. And I think people passing judgement on a film they haven’t seen is calling the race a bit early isn’t it?

  13. mecid
    December 31, 2012

    Mick LaSalle Top 10

    http://www.sfgate.com/movies/article/Mick-LaSalle-s-top-10-movies-for-2012-4150345.php

    Lincoln: Steven Spielberg’s emotional, uplifting and highly detailed political drama – focusing on five months in the life of Abraham Lincoln – was a gift, and seeing Daniel Day-Lewis’ staggering performance in the title role was like going back in time to meet the real thing. A wonderful cinematic experience.

    Django Unchained: Director Quentin Tarantino has finally hit his stride, first with “Inglourious Basterds,” and now with “Django Unchained,” the story of a freed slave who takes up with a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) and starts taking revenge on slave masters. Funny, tense, imaginative, audacious – it’s everything you hope to find in a Tarantino picture.

    Zero Dark Thirty: An action movie that’s also an actress vehicle, with Jessica Chastain in the lead role as a CIA agent who figures out a way to track bin Laden, despite resistance from supervisors. Chastain is brilliant, and the sequence at bin Laden’s compound is one of the finest of director Kathryn Bigelow’s career.

    The Deep Blue Sea: Director Terence Davies re-created postwar London for this compelling, atmospheric romantic drama, which gave Rachel Weisz the opportunity to give the performance of her life.

    The Waiting Room: Documentarian Peter Nicks had extraordinary access to the people in and around the waiting room of a public hospital in Oakland. But what makes this a classic, and a work of art and not journalism, is his taste, his poetic touches and his talent for understatement.

    Argo: Ben Affleck’s drama about Americans trying to flee Iran in the early 1980s occupies a spot that might have been given to “Bernie,” which was more impressive in terms of tone, or “Cloud Atlas,” which was more ambitious. But “Argo” makes the top 10 on the basis of being extremely entertaining and for the superior sequence, early in the film, in which militants storm the American embassy in Tehran.

    The Details: Jacob Aaron Estes’ film would have been given more respect if it were a bit more obvious, hammering home its moral point instead of trusting the audience’s intelligence. In a way, it’s a moral indictment of how most people live their lives – convinced of their own virtue when they’re merely conflict averse.

    2 Days in New York: Julie Delpy wrote and directed the year’s funniest comedy, a series of uncomfortable encounters, with Delpy herself starring as a woman whose relationship with her boyfriend (Chris Rock) is put to the test when her vulgar French relatives come to visit.

    Farewell My Queen: Director Benoit Jacquot’s drama, about the fall of the monarchy in revolutionary France, is an effective study of an historical event as seen from the inside. But it’s also a more universal film about the ways in which people process life-changing disasters.

    28 Hotel Rooms: One of the best romantic dramas of 2012 – a genre you don’t see much of in the United States – this chamber piece, about a married woman (Marin Ireland) and an engaged man (Chris Messina) who meet and pursue an ongoing sexual relationship in various cities over the course of many months, was a perceptive look at how intimacy can be generated, and how it’s hard to know if something is real or just a product of a particular environment. The film was also a testimony to what can be done on budget, with just two characters in a series of rooms. The film has never been released in this city – it’s time to release it. {sbox}

  14. December 31, 2012

    I am surprised that people on this site are so indifferent to the facts.

    Which facts and where did you learn them?

    I won’t outright believe anything I hear or read on a subject such as this. If Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal say that this was how it happened, fine. I’ll believe that within the film itself. Otherwise, I’ll form my own conclusions. But on the subject of torture, I’m not sure very many more than a few dozen people know exactly what the facts are.

    So, Bob Burns, whom are you to refer to facts?

    balancing the [moral reprehensibility and ineffectiveness in the context of torture] for dramatic effect is, well, evil.

    So it’s evil to depict something morally reprehensible and ineffective for dramatic effect? Fuck’s sake. How is the depiction of anything evil? Unless, of course, said depiction is a ringing endorsement.

  15. steve50
    December 31, 2012

    “Is it just me or does it seem like Django Unchained is Inglorious Basterds reincarnated?”

    That’s what I thought, too, Reno, but without the really strong female characters, Shoshanna (Melanie Laurent) and Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger), that, for me, doubled the wattage of IB.

    QT missed an opportunity here, which is odd because he’s very good writing meaty parts for women that usually pay off bigtime.

    Regarding the attacks on Bigelow and Boal – unbelievable. It’s as though each tries to outdo the previous in absurd – and frighting – statements. “nazi”, “pig”, “when you peddle support for war crimes, you set karma in action, don’t you?”

    C’mon – isn’t that what an editor/moderator is for? It’s The Guardian, for christ’s sake – you can’t get away with that on a hockey blog.

  16. Reno
    December 31, 2012

    @Steve50, yup, even Kerry Anderson’s character just seems like a pretty decor.

  17. steve50
    December 31, 2012

    “How is the depiction of anything evil? Unless, of course, said depiction is a ringing endorsement.”

    EXACTLY!

    Bob Burns – your logic of collusion and commerce condemns every photojournalist, filmmaker, and most artists all the way back to Heironymous Bosch.

  18. December 31, 2012

    Alas, steve, there can be no reasoning with unreasonable people.

  19. Unlikely hood
    December 31, 2012

    Sasha gets it but other people here don’t. She didn’t just lay out the facts. She took a position. Torture in the film is seen as a boon – and laws against it a nuisance – and no American is bothered about it (perhaps Maya in the final shot; that’s very debatable). Since when was everyone around here so naive as to think that there’s only one way to tell a true story?

    That doesn’t mean she should be called a pig, fascist, whatever. She’s a great artist who made a great movie. With a terrible flaw.

    I’ll say it again and hope that someone proves me wrong – there’s no precedent for a film like ZDT. Not because previous films couldn’t lay out the facts. Because they didn’t do it by playing into right wing fantasies. Go ahead and cite the precedent, if you’re so convinced you’re right – paddy and Jamie.

  20. December 31, 2012

    I don’t know what precedent you want me to cite, Unlikely hood. You brought that up. And I don’t know what the dig is for. I haven’t seen the film, but I find nothing to disagree with in your comment, aside from the ‘terrible flaw’ comment. How is portraying torture as effective (which I can imagine it might be, and quite possibly was) a terrible flaw? If it’s true, it’s not a filmmaking flaw. If it’s not, it’s effective filmmaking at least.

    But I haven’t seen the movie. Still, you don’t have to have seen Zero Dark Thirty to be able to call out some of the stupidity evident in some people’s arguments.

  21. Unlikely hood
    December 31, 2012

    Paddy – what I’m hearing from you is “if torture happened that’s what they should show.” and I agree with you that there’s no moral reason a film can’t portray torture. But precedent matters. Let me explain why: imagine a film about the Tuskegee experiments on black people (let’s assume those happened) that never questions their efficacy and ends with the experimenters congratulating themselves for solving some problem. Do you really think such a film would come out without hue and cry?

    We’ll talk again after you see ZDT.

  22. January 1, 2013

    I won’t be able to see this for another week and a half but it sounds like it’s really difficult to take if your politically minded.

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