By CARLOS MARTÍN GAEBLER
March 8th, 2006
The Academy’s refusal to award Brokeback Mountain the Oscar for Best Picture has triggered an understandable controversy worldwide. From the moment the final vote was cast, the decision has taken many in the Western world by surprise and some of us are still in a state of shock three days after the ceremony.
First of all, it goes without saying that I do not question the excellence of a film as honest as Paul Haggis’ Crash, which I loved when I had the chance to see it in English not long ago, and which I have recommended ever since. But having said that, a number of considerations seem pertinent.
Let me get straight to the point. There is sufficient evidence to maintain that this has been a biased vote from a majority of members of the American Film Academy. Many of these members have publicly said in the last few weeks that they hadn’t seen Ang Lee’s film and they had no intention to do so, an attitude which speaks for itself. It is also common knowledge that some high-profile Hollywood actors, namely Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, refused the roles of the two gay cowboys in the film for fear it might “blemish” their careers. Another prominent Hollywood male star, Colin Farrell, has unashamedly stated that he felt disgusted when he had had to “kiss” other male actors in films in which he had taken part. Also, Will Smith refused to kiss another man on the set before signing on for a film.
In light of these data, which bring into perspective the hidden homophobia among many conservative American actors, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many found it too progressive a move to award a love story between two men, and cowboys at that, the Oscar for best American Picture of the year. Never before had Hollywood gone that far (there was no love story in The Kiss of the Spider Woman, for which William Hurt was awarded Best Actor) and this year was no different.
Hollywood’s shunning of such a powerful, taboo-breaking, necessary film as Brokeback Mountain, is particularly surprising in a year when America has produced some of its most committed, politically-daring films on record. Other equally discomforting American films in this year’s amazing crop have dealt with state terrorism (Munich), press censorship (Good Night, and Good Luck), corporate corruption (The Constant Gardener), transgender lifestyle (Transamerica) and racial and social tensions in LA and elsewhere (Crash). But many in the Academy felt that awarding two all-American cowboys making out in the mountains of Wyoming with Best Film was a bit too much for their petty liberal minds. They failed to see that Brokeback Mountain is a universal tale of timeless homophobia that had never been filmed before! Unlike Crash, which owes its conception and inner structure to other celebrated films such as Magnolia, Short Cuts or Traffic, Brokeback Mountain represents a true major achievement in the world of cinema and will remain etched on people’s memory. Heath Ledger’s chilling portrayal of tormented Ennis del Mar hidden behind his cowboy hat will be remembered for generations to come. The New York Times has compared his performance to that of young Marlon Brando. In short, Crash gave conservative America the alibi to outvote Brokeback Mountain in the privacy of the voting booth. As a Spanish newspaper put it, “Oscar stays in the closet”.
From what we have been reading in the press and on the internet these days, many feel that, along with Brokeback Mountain, gay visibility on the big screen has been punished. And the message that voters have sent the entertainment industry is this: We don’t want to be asked to play openly-gay characters in American films. That’s for European actors in European films. After all, Brokeback Mountain was awarded the Golden Lion for Best Film in Venice only last October. Well, if mainstream America feel that Hollywood films are too liberal, too out of touch with reality (to quote George Clooney), I believe it is quite the opposite, and, if I were American, I wouldn’t be proud of that. Take that skeleton out of the closet.