The annual Academy Awards ceremony, to be held this year on March 5, is always an opportunity for Hollywood celebs to congratulate themselves for being, well, celebrities. But at least in years past they honored movies people had actually enjoyed, such as Titanic. This year, the spotlight will be on “controversial” movies that were proven uncontroversial by our lack of interest in them.
Not that our boredom has slowed down the hype machine. “With the exception of Capote, the nominations for Best Picture (Brokeback Mountain, Crash, Good Night, and Good Luck, Munich) can be seen as, oooh, risky,” David Edelstein of New York magazine wrote on Feb. 27. But are they, really “risky”?
Let’s look at the likely “Best Picture” winner, Brokeback Mountain. It’s the gripping tale of a pair of gay shepherds, doing what they do up on a mountain. Stars Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal are hailed for their “groundbreaking” performances. But if either man wants to play a really groundbreaking role, he should play a Danish cartoonist who has drawn pictures of the prophet Mohammad. Do that and he just might find himself breaking ground, literally.
As recently as a week ago, 25,000 Muslims rallied in Pakistan to protest the cartoons. Some chanted, “Punishment for insulting the prophet is death.” They mean that, as Hitoshi Igarashi found out. He’s the man who translated Salman Rushdie’s book “The Satanic Verses” into Japanese. He was murdered in 1991.
Here’s what Hollywood’s missing: There’s real evil in the world, and a real struggle against it. It’s a war we must win, but there are no guarantees, especially since our enemies are making inroads.
Take the recent election victory in the Palestinian territories by the Islamic terrorist group Hamas. Its charter reads, “The purpose of Hamas is to create an Islamic Palestinian state throughout Israel by eliminating the state of Israel through violent jihad.” Well, that’s pretty clear.
With Hamas preparing to take power, Israel took the sensible step of suspending its monthly payments to the Palestinians of tax money Israel collects on its behalf. That seems reasonable: Why should Israelis be required to fund an organization that’s dedicated to their country’s destruction?
At the same time, Iran’s government is enriching uranium, a critical step toward building a nuclear weapon. Iran’s president has also promised to wipe Israel off the map, so we now have a new arms race: Will Iran succeed in nuking Israel before Hamas can eliminate it?
Some, of course, will argue that Hamas and Iran are both blowing smoke -- that neither really wants to reduce Israel to rubble, they’re both just playing to their political base with the hateful rhetoric. But history teaches it’s usually best to take unstable dictators at their word.
Osama bin Laden promised to attack the United States, and throughout the 1990s most of us laughed him off. What could that madman in the Afghan mountains do to the mighty U.S.? We found out on 9/11.
Of course, if Hollywood is ever ready to get serious, plenty of great stories are waiting to be told.
Instead of George Clooney’s silly “Syriana” about a supposedly all-knowing CIA, how about a movie about the real life CIA operatives who went to work in Afghanistan in September 2001? They risked their lives to ensure that our military mission there would succeed. And there’s nothing top secret about the mission -- it’s all described in Gary Schroen’s book “First In.”
Or perhaps the story of Pat Tillman? There’s nothing more all-American than a star football player who quits the NFL to actually fight, and die, for his country.
What’s amazing is that Hollywood hasn’t figured this out yet. More than four years after 9/11 there hasn’t been one major motion picture about the U.S. military’s success in Afghanistan or Iraq. Instead, we’re treated to daily media updates explaining that Iraq is a quagmire. We’ll hear more this weekend about the “bravery” of leading Hollywood figures than we’re heard in half a decade about the bravery of our men and women in uniform.
The entertainment industry can survive anything except indifference. If people don’t care, they won’t buy tickets, and the entire enterprise will collapse. Instead of offering up “controversial” films about unimportant issues, next year Hollywood should offer us a few films about the critical topics that are shaping our lives. Unlike “Brokeback,” such a film just might play, and actually be watched, in Peoria.