While I like this theory for the fact that it explains the otherwise unexplainable (that being, how the hell Crash, a contrived piece of overwrought garbage won the academy award for best picture) there’s a huge flaw in its logic: history has shown that the academy, rather than shying away from depictions of homosexuality, has generally reveled in the opportunity to heap awards on depictions of gays, lesbians, and cross-dressers. In fact, it seems that for over a decade, homosexuality ranked second only to elaborate period movies as the surest way to get a ton of Oscar nominations. First, there was Tom Hanks winning best actor for Philadelphia (the third most undeserving win in recent history (and by recent I mean since I’ve been old enough to remember) of the award – the second being Tom Hanks for Forest Gump, and the first being Russell Crowe for Gladiator – how that sweaty turd of a movie won any awards is beyond me). Then, there were multiple nominations for The Crying Game. Gwyneth Paltrow won for playing a cross-dresser in Shakespeare in Love, and, more recently, Charlize Theron won for playing a lesbian in Monster. I’m probably forgetting a few other examples but, regardless, I think my point is clear – for the past fifteen years or so, playing a gay, lesbian, or cross-dressing character has equaled Oscar gold (and yet, the many gay and lesbian actors and actresses who play heterosexual roles never seem to get any attention).
Which brings us back to the whole Crash fiasco. My theory is that rather than shying away from Brokeback Mountain for fear that it would be too controversial, the voters shied away from it because it was too conventional. I can just imagine the voters thinking to themselves “Haven’t we done the gay thing enough by now? At least Tom Hanks spiced it up by having AIDS and Charlize Theron was a serial killer, but these guys were just cowboys. Yawn.” So, finally bored of one liberal cause, the voters fell back on an old classic – race – and, in the process, gave the award to a totally undeserving movie.
Which brings us to this year. With homosexuality no longer working, I can just imagine film-makers sitting around a conference table trying to figure out what the new Oscar formula will be. I like to imagine that the conversation went something like this:
Director A: Okay guys, we need to come up with something new that will generate controversy and let people show their acting “range” so that we can keep collecting phallic gold statues. Gayness isn’t cutting it anymore.
Director B: Well, there’s always period movies with elaborate sets and costumes. Any actor or actress worth anything can fake a period accent and get the nomination.
Director A: Yeah, but those things are expensive! We can only make one of those a year, otherwise they end up competing with each other and that just doesn’t make financial sense. No, we’ll have our yearly period epic, but we need to fill the other nominations in with something else.
Director C: Well, what about race – that always seems to work.
Director A: Well, of course, that’s always a good default, but we don’t want to spoil our trusty fall back. We’re already getting dangerously close to abusing that one, what with giving Halle Berry and Denzel Washington* the award in the same year, and then giving the award to Crash this year. Racial problems in this country aren’t going away any time soon, so let’s pace ourselves.
Director B: Well then what are we going to do?
Director C: We could shoot our films in black and white.
Director A: That's only good about once every five years.
Director C: Good point.
Director D: I’ve got it! Dead kids!
Directors B & C: What?! Are you crazy?
Director A: Let him talk, he might be on to something.
Director D: Okay, so showing violence to children always runs the risk of getting an NC-17 rating instead of an R, so we’ve basically steered clear of it for a while now. But that’s exactly what we need – something fresh, something new, something edgy.
Director A: Brilliant! Why didn’t we think of this before? Who needs gays when we can just ride dead children to the Oscar promised land?
Director C: [slowly starting to realize the brilliance of the plan] And you know what, people love it when kids get nominations for best actor/actress. Remember how Anna Pacquin and Halley Joel Osmet launched crappy movies like The Piano and the The Sixth Sense into the Oscar stratosphere? And they didn’t even die!
Director D: Right! And then, when we’re all washed up in twenty years we can still make a living with made for TV movies about all these child actors’ eventual battle with drug addiction and depression. We’ll be set for life!
Director A: Great work Director D. I think you’re really onto something. And it’s so elegantly simple. Dead kids!
Director B: And what if one of the dead kids was black!
Awkward silence with occasional whispers of “Too far, man, too far.”
Director C: How about middle-eastern?
Director A: Okay, okay, so that’s settled it. Dead kids are the new gay. Director D, since this was your idea, you get to be the most aggressive with it – start your movie with a dead kid and let the plot unfold from there.
Director D: Excellent! I’ll start it with a dead kid, end it with a dead kid, and put that kid in all kinds of horrible, creepy situations in the middle. I’ll call it Pan’s Labrynth.
Director A: Good work. Director C, you take the middle-eastern dead kid idea.
Director C: Thanks. Since it involves race, I’ll make it kind of like Crash, only it’ll be transnational. Better stick to the one word title, though. How does Babel sound?
Director A: Fair enough. Meanwhile, I’ll do something a little more subtle. Maybe something where there are no kids whatsoever. And I’ll have a pregnant woman. Hmmm, this will take some thought, but I’ll figure it out. Children of Men will be the working title.
Director B: What about me? Don’t I get one.
Director A: Well, we don’t want to overdo it.
Another awkward pause.
Director A: I tell you what. Just sit tight for the year and we’ll let you make next year’s period epic.
Director B: [Somewhat disappointed but already starting to mull over whether he wants his actors and actresses to win for their fake 18th century British, Russian, or French accents.] Okay.
Director A: Okay gentlemen, I’ll see you at the Oscars!
Cheers and applause.
So we’ve been treated to a year of violence towards children. Personally, I’m glad. I think they’ve had it coming for a while. For years we’ve known that the annoying character in most action movies was clearly headed for a gruesome death, so I was happy to see that the annoying kid in Babel got what was coming to him. When the kid died in Pan’s Labryth I couldn’t help but think “That’s right, shoot that bitch in the stomach!” In fact, I’d like this to escalate to the point that dead kids, rather than becoming the new means to Oscar nominations, become the new means to big summer blockbusters. Imagine Die Hard only at a daycare. Or Speed with a school bus. What if in the climactic moment of Spiderman, when he had to chose between saving a train full of kids or Mary Jane Watson, rather than figuring out a way to save both he had just chosen Mary Jane and the kids plummeted to their deaths? The possibilities that this opens are endless!
Now, I want to make one thing very clear. I do not advocate violence towards actual children. I don’t advocate actual violence, period. But within the fictional world of the moving picture show, I say everyone should be fair game. We’ve all known for years that the token black guy in a horror movie was going to die a horrible death, and for years I’ve had to watch in horror as the sensitive best friend to the heroine in serial killer movies inevitably becomes a victim (on a tangential note, does anyone remember the weird stretch in the mid-nineties when said best friend almost always seemed to be played by Dennis Miller? It’s one of those weird Hollywood phenomena that defies explanation), and yet, whenever a child was on screen we all knew that he or she would still be around when the film was over. Oscar manipulations aside, I’m glad to see that this is no more.
*As a quick side note, I want to emphasize that regardless of the motives of the voters, I think Halle Berry was absolutely deserving of her award (though she maybe should have given it back after Catwoman) and, while I don’t think Denzel Washington’s performance in Training Day was all that great, the fact that he hasn’t won multiple awards for some of his other roles just goes to show how much racism still exists in Hollywood, so I don’t begrudge him the award he did get.