Monday, March 8, 2010

And the Oscar goes to: Sympathy for the Aggressor; Don't Count the million+ dead Iraqis (but who's counting right?)

That is the first message behind the awarding of an Oscar to Hurt Locker for Best Picture. The second message: Women directors can win an award too if they just hitch their wagon to the same tired cliche: America the Victim.

Mamoon Alabbasi, an Iraqi journalist, has this interesting piece in which he compares this award-winning trash to Avatar. I quote him:

"In the 'The Hurt Locker,' where we follow an adventurous U.S. bomb squad in Iraq, the Iraqis in the movie appear to serve just as a background that shows how heroic the film's stars are.

Almost faceless and voiceless, they are - like in the world of politics - robbed of their humanity.

It would be more accurate to say that 'The Hurt Locker' is an action movie that uses Iraq as a background than to brand it as an 'Iraq war movie,', and less so as the 'Iraq war drama.'

The film does not really address the Iraq war, the reasons for the presence of the U.S. squad or even the bombs they are supposed to defuse, and most importantly it ignores the views and feelings of Iraqis.

Contrary to the claim made by some film critics arguing that the film is non-ideological, the very fact that the war context is left out makes the movie very political.

It sells war as a heroic adventure, hiding the true toll on all sides involved and brushes aside the suggestion of accountability. This seems very ideological."

He then goes on to say:

"But for a lot of Iraqis, 'Avatar' is the film of the underdog. For many of them who feel de-humanised by some parts of the media, the positive depiction of blue non-humans is welcome.

If some humans can relate to the 'humanity' of non-humans in fiction, then surely they would find it easier to identify with the true humanity of de-humanised humans in real life?

Or would that be too much to expect?"

You can read the full article here:
http://www.consortiumnews.com/2010/022610a.html

Though I have problems with Avatar too -- it is, after all, as always, the white guy who saves the "natives" -- at least the "natives" are seen and heard in all their blue glory. That is hugely generous for Hollywood. Hurt Locker, on the other hand, has done same same even worse, choosing to invisibilize Iraqis and turn them into extras. Yeah, like real life.

3 comments:

Víctor said...

I understand the apprehension that the international filmgoing community has developed towards "The Hurt Locker". It is, as you mention, an apolitical film whose plotline is enmershed within a current, nonsensical and devastating conflict. I also understand that "not taking a position" is, in this case, akin to actually taking a position, a compliant one at that. However, I think that a lot of misunderstandings have risen from the labeling of this film as a "war drama", meaning that it's primary concern is the war itself, when it's actually a "personal drama/action movie" that just happens to use the war as a backdrop. Taken in these terms, it is an exceptional film. It's actual, main objective is to dissect the testosterone-drenched, gung-ho, "can-do" attitude that drives people the world over to pursue a career in the military. Do these people follow a sad, stupid, useless pursuit? I'd actually agree there (after all, I hail from a certain Central American country that just relapsed into the good-ole' coup habit) but what "the Hurt Locker" does is show you why some people (and especially us, as viewers) find warfare so appealing, and it does so in a rational, intelligent manner. Can this be used for political means? Absolutely, and that is the only lamentable aspect of the film. However, as an examination of a certain kind of mentality, the Hurt Locker is exemplary.

What I'm actually troubled about is the international community's embrace of Avatar as the "underdog" in this case. I'm not talking about the "financial juggernaut" aspect of it. I'm talking about how cruelly manipulative and subtly racist it actually is. This is a film that manipulates audiences into identifying with the blue smurf-like beings, painting everything in black-or-white and spoonfeeding the audience cheap, recycled sentiment. Am I saying that colonialism/intervention is beneficiary sometimes? Absolutely not. Not at all. But that's the true, hidden sentiment behind Avatar. This is a film that seems to posit "yeah, these cute lil' guys don't deserve to be enslaved and slaughtered, but that's because they're noble and "beautiful" and love nature and communicate with it and are one-of-a-kind" and after that, it's just a skip and a hop to "unlike those dirty-ass (insert racial/religious slur of choice) oh no, those guys deserve whatever they get". That's why I far preferred District 9, another Best Picture Nominee, which showed us an imperfect alien race being exploited, one that mirrored the human race's imperfections in a movie that seemed to say that we are ALL equal in EVERYTHING, down to our imperfections and impish hungers (and then delivers disturbingly cathartic payback, but that's another story for another day). Avatar just seems to show us how the US thinks us dirty people down south (and east) should behave so that we are finally worthy of the tears shed by their "women and pansy liberals" as they trod over us with the heels of their militaristic, self-righteous boots. Whew, I'm getting a little winded up...

Víctor said...

Oh, by the way, I didn't mean to say that all the people in the military are there because they want to be "strong" and "heroes"; most cases (in countries where there aren't any drafts that is) probably have to do with people having no other options to improve their lives...but the subset of the population I mentioned in my previous post is there, so...

P.S: I also understand that the whitewashing that Avatar utilizes is the prevailing mentality behind 95% of the Hollywood films out there that deal with "America and her enemies", except utilized for more "pacifist" purposes. I'm just a bit mad to see that Avatar seems to be getting a lot of love for being pretty patronizing.

Uzma Aslam Khan said...

Victor,

Thanks for writing, and in such detail.

I agree with some things you said, disagree with others.

I agree about Avatar. I was actually pretty disturbed by that film and have been surprised by the positive response its gotten. It IS racist in its underlying message that "you sometimes have to interfere in what those cute natives do because they don't know so much." Much of the film seemed like a pretty thinly-veiled justification of colonialism. However, what it did do was show the land and the people (blue and smurf-like as they might be). And I think it's worth thinking about why some folks who are hardly ever represented in the international press, such as Iraqis (and Palestinians) have embraced it. There is an element of desperation in this embrace, which is saddening. It shows the degree to which "the other" is ENTIRELY invisible in the media.

I also agree with you about District 9, in part, though I won't go into that here.

Where I disagree is about Hurt Locker. Its TOTAL refusal to show a single Iraqi other than as some side-kick background is disgusting. If it were simply a personal drama, it could have been shot anywhere, say in Maine, or Utah. But it used the background to its very political advantage -- using a country that has been beaten, bullied, murdered and destroyed for the past seven years -- without any attempt to examine or understand the Iraqi response to this incessant battering. And the fact that it was awarded the same month that the invasion took place, seven years ago, stinks of an attempt at closure. A way to rid America of its blood-lust past and present, a way to confess the baggage with no thought to those who are still bleeding -- and it is Iraqis who are bleeding, not Americans. The position is typically Orientalist; those who come from colonized countries know very well that the west too often "interacts" with a colonized land only to benefit itself, economically, politically, intellectually and culturally. After all, that's why it went in, in the first place, and that is the spirit in which the film was made, and awarded: as economic, political, cultural, and intellectual opportunism. It should have gotten the Predator Award.

Finally, it was the first time a woman got the best director award, which also made me cringe. On the eve of International Women's Day? Iraqi women are of course not women -- let's leave them out of movies set on their stolen land.

Uzma