Trashing Crash

They said it was the most boring Oscars ever, but there’s still plenty of talk about Crash winning the Best Picture award. This week Annie Proulx, author of the original Brokeback Mountain short story, wrote a scathing editorial about the loss in The Guardian.

The people connected with Brokeback Mountain, including me, hoped that… it would get Best Picture… We should have known conservative heffalump academy voters would have rather different ideas of what was stirring contemporary culture. Roughly 6,000 film industry voters, most in the Los Angeles area, many living cloistered lives behind wrought-iron gates or in deluxe rest-homes, out of touch not only with the shifting larger culture and the yeasty ferment that is America these days, but also out of touch with their own segregated city, decide which films are good… Rumour has it that Lions Gate inundated the academy voters with DVD copies of Trash – excuse me – Crash a few weeks before the ballot deadline.

I can understand her anger, but her argument seems self-defeating. She seems angry that L.A. is a “segregated city” and yet criticizes Hollywood for awarding a film that does acknowledge this. In the wake of the devastation of the Katrina hurricanes, I have to think that people as concerned with racial disparities as they are with gay rights. I can’t help but wonder if Brokeback got support from writers and critics, yet lost the Best Picture because actors (many of whom were once working class citizens) identified more with Crash. Incidentally, I enjoyed Proulx’s story even more than the movie. I can’t agree with her editorial though. I agree that Brokeback is an important movie, but I (and many in Hollywood) felt Crash was the better film.

All the complaining reminds me of an Oscar snub of the past. In 1989 Spike Lee’s racial drama Do the Right Thing didn’t even get a Best Picture nomination. Roger Ebert recalls with irony the fact that Driving Miss Daisy ultimately won that award.

Do the Right Thing was the finest, the most controversial, most discussed and most important film of 1989. Of course, it was not nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture (that award went to Driving Miss Daisy, which has a view of race in America that is rotated just 180 degrees from Lee’s). To an extent, I think some viewers have trouble seeing the film; it is blurred by their deep-seated ideas and emotions about race in America, which they project onto Lee, assuming he is angry or bitter. On the basis of this film it would be more accurate to call him sad, observant, realistic-or empathetic.

Do the Right Thing is one of my all-time favorites and there are many similarities between it and Crash. Both movies address race as a much more complicated issue than black and white, and neither offer easy answers. So perhaps the Academy is making up for a mistake 17 years ago. For the Brokeback supporters out there, you can take some solace in the fact that the Hollywood is moving in the direction of progress, abiet very slowly.

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