Politics at the Oscars

Hollywood — like the Democratic Party or the New York Times — is alleged to be liberal. When it comes to questions such as gay marriage or abortion, this is indeed the case. When it comes to the American relationship with the rest of the world it is about as liberal as the Democratic Party or the New York Times. That is to say, it subscribes to the notion of American Exceptionalism, and accepts prima facie a messianic view of the US role in the world. It is jingoistic, militaristic, and frequently racist. This failure to see the contradiction between its domestic liberalism and its aggressive and patronizing attitude toward the rest of the world has been a staple of its politics since the days when the legendary Hollywood director, producer, novelist, and Academy Award-winning screenwriter, Ben Hecht was able to combine his advocacy for progressive causes in the United States with his outspoken support for Zionist terrorism in Palestine (Indeed, he wrote an open letter praising the ‘terrorists of Palestine’, the Irgun Zvei Leumi). Likewise, Marlon Brando could combine his support for American Indian rights with his vocal defense of Zionist crimes (although toward the end of his life he decried the ‘Jewish Hollywood’s’ inability to show to other ethnicities the same sensitivity that it demanded for itself). When Lebanon was being ravaged by Israel’s Nintendo bombers, 50 Hollywood A-listers took out a full page ad in the Los Angeles Times blaming the victims. True radicals have always been few and far between. When Vanessa Redgrave denounced the ‘Zionist hoodlums’ heckling her at the Oscars, she was booed. So was Michael Moore when he spoke out against the Iraq war. Paul Haggis, Brian de Palma, Robert Redford — they were all given a short shrift when they made statements against the war. Like Moore, de Palma collected his laurels in Europe. Meanwhile Hollywood was producing Top Gun, Rambo, and Rules of Engagement. And more recently, The Hurt Locker. Like the Democratic Party or the New York Times, Hollywood has always gone out of its way to balance its liberal reputation with its need to project an image of toughness and realism. It is not surprising therefore to find out that in a year that James Cameron produced perhaps the greatest visual spectacle of all times — a film exceptional for its conceptual daring, its unabashed radicalism, its antiwar politics, its sensitivity to deep ecology, its respect for foreign cultures, and its humility in representing its own — the best picture award should go to The Hurt Locker, a film that is pro-war, racist, unrealistic, trite, and terribly acted. As the late George Carlin would say, the Academy has a manhood problem — and honouring crude war propaganda won’t prove otherwise. It merely attests to its suspect judgment.


Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

5 thoughts on “Politics at the Oscars”

  1. Avatar only respects foreign culture in as much as it essentialises this culture as a stereotype of indigenous culture. In that way it is very much a conditional respect that reinforces the other as Other and it makes the distance between us and them an unbridgeable gap. It is a very liberal view and completely misses the fact that throughout the whole movie an exception is made to the neoliberal imperialist order in the figures of Jake and the scientists, an exception that salvages the need of the audience for some sort of salvation through identification with Jake Sully as a messianic agent. In this way it offers a way out and is it an ideological bandaid. In the world as we live it today, scientists (social, geological, etc.) are involved in the classification of what is ‘other’ and would be more likely to form the knowledge-part of the knowledgepower-complex than form part of an armed indigenous vanguard against the powers that be. They prepare the Other for intervention and domination by rendering them governable throug scientific classification.

  2. Good article, but I question the author’s own judgment in commenting on the bad acting in Hurt Locker without acknowledging the much, much worse acting in Avatar. And the assessment of the quality of Avatar’s visual spectacle is simply a matter of taste. Lots of technology, yes. But aesthetically pleasing? Not so much in my opinion. To my tastes, Inglourious Basterds was far more visually sumptuous than Avatar which, more often than not, left me feeling cold. And while Avatar’s politics pretend to be radical, the film is also the very best example to date of Hollywood’s massive excess. Hurt Locker is a far more humble exercise in that respect. It may seem pro-war on the surface, but the thinking viewer might question the morals of a man who abdicates his very own slice of the bona fide American dream for a death wish in the desert. Just because he’s macho doesn’t mean he’s a role model. This is what critics have so often failed to recognize in movies that supposedly glorify violence. Meanwhile Avatar is far and away more celebratory of violence than Hurt Locker, with the majority of its budget dedicated to visualizing hi-tech warfare. And let’s not forget the film’s final message: that the only solution to problems of environmental colonialism lies in answering the dominant powers with superior military force. In this way, I think Avatar is far more likely to work as a recruitment film than Hurt Locker, regardless of the stated politics of Cameron or Bigelow.

  3. I agree with much of what this article has to say and I thought Avatar was sort of snubbed for some reason? Although it was never in the running for Best Actor, Best Actress etc I think it should have received more than it did! I believe the Oscars are very political and this year was no different! You knew Jeff Bridges was going to get Best Actor just as you knew when John Wayne was given his as he faded in years. You also new that given the chance they would give Best Director to a woman for the first time? I found it interesting that Avatar won best picture and best director at the Golden Globe Awards?

    It is fairly apparent that a lot of people all over the world from various cultures and political persuasions also found something worthy in Avatar and they voted with their wallets!
    Many people have seen Avatar more than once, I wonder how many went to see Hurt Locker multiple times? I wonder how many people have told their friends, “oh you have to see “Hurt Locker” or “Inglorious Bastards” and then went with them to see it again?

    The pundits mostly bashed Cameron the whole time he was working on Avatar but had to recant after it was released! Years from now, Avatar will be remembered long after the names of every other nominee and winner from this year have faded from memory!

    It had a very important and timeless message that was delivered in the most visually stunning movie I have ever seen! As for the “indigenous stereotypes”? It was done out of necessity as Cameron himself explained because it was important that the audience be able to identify with and like the Na’Vi right from the start or the movie just would not work! A truly unique and unknown alien culture would not have been familiar enough to evoke the empathy needed to tell the story!

  4. While “Hurt Locker” and “Avatar” are two different genres of films, the fact that a propaganda film about good coalition soldiers gun slinging those nasty terrorists winning Oscar acclaim over a movie about the triumph of indigenous people over invading industrialist-military forces doesn’t escape peoples’ notice. Oscars are influenced by politics like the article says. I kept an open mind for both movies. I found “Hurt Locker” to be thrown together almost last minute like. “Avatar” was epic on the level of “Star Wars”. The Oscar award choices made no sense on a purely artistic level between these two films. Through patriotism in and suddenly it makes sense. Good article.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s