It is with great respect that I must disagree with part of the article by John Pilger in DA#20, “Why the Oscars are a con”, in particular his dismissive critiques of Invictus, Avatar and The Hurt Locker. Given the title of the article, it might have been more productive if he had focused on the fact that the “prestigious” awards are often given out on the basis of successful studio lobbying and less so on the merits of the film itself.
For a body that pats itself on its back for being a bastion of progressivism, the motion picture academy’s statistics reflect a different story. Only four women have ever been nominated for best director. Representations by people of colour have similarly paltry numbers. These are all fair points to make in an article critiquing the Oscars and it’s a shame Pilger neglected to highlight this.
He opens with “Why are so many films so bad?” This is an important question, especially for those on the left who want to engage in movie reviews. But what is a “bad” film? Is it poorly made? Is it a blatant reinforcement of sexism, racism or any of the other forms of oppression that are institutionalised in capitalist society? Or is it because it isn’t a cinematic version of a radical left tract critiquing some feature of capitalist society? These are important distinctions to make.
Throughout the course of reviewing popular films for Direct Action, it has been one of my personal goals to refrain from some of the fervid left-wing denunciation all things in popular culture as many others on the left engage in. I think that by doing so, you end up missing a chance to engage with a larger swath of people through a medium they are more familiar with than some of our tried and true texts on the far left. When a film is an example of appalling stereotyping or a nationalistic flag waving, call them out on it.
But if there is, from the standpoint of what gets presented to the general public, a movie has a socially progressive “message”, then it shouldn’t be rubbished because it doesn’t convey a consistently radical left political “line”. For example, most leftist critiques of District 9 often ignored the film as a whole and focused on the psychopathic and over-the-top Nigerians, who were a small part of an otherwise socially progressive film. (For the review, see DA#16.).
It’s a responsibility of those on the left, particularly those who possess such a high profile as John Pilger does, to critically engage in the world around us and do so in a way that doesn’t turn off otherwise sympathetic people. Pilger does this brilliantly with his own documentary films, but with his article on the Oscars he missed the mark.