We chatted about
it, joked about it, argued about it, spoofed it.
Brokeback Mountain was everywhere in our popular
culture--yet it lost the big Oscar it was supposed to
win. Was there a "Brokeback Backlash," or was
Crash just the worthy contender that came on
strong in the final Best Picture stretch?
There were as
many theories being offered up Monday as there are
Brokeback parodies on the Internet. One theory
was that, despite the hoopla, the endless late-night
monologues, and the clever imitations, people (Academy
voters, that is) didn't really love the soulful saga
of two gay cowboys--and perhaps even felt
uncomfortable with its themes.
pretend to like movies more than they actually do,"
said Richard Walter, who heads the screenwriting program at
UCLA's film school. "But this film wasn't really that
good. What it tried to do was great, sensational. But
what it actually accomplished wasn't so great. You
can't really buy the love story."
Kenneth Turan, writing in the Los Angeles
Times, said the problem wasn't with the film's quality.
Rather, he said, "you could not take the pulse of the
industry without realizing that this film made people
distinctly uncomfortable.... In the privacy of the
voting booth...people are free to act out the unspoken
fears and unconscious prejudices that they would never
breathe to another soul, or likely, acknowledge to
themselves. And at least this year, that acting out
doomed Brokeback Mountain."
Gay activists did
not necessarily agree. "I don't think it has anything
to do with the subject matter," said Joe Solmonese,
president of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay
rights group. He noted that Brokeback and
Crash both dealt with "tough issues like
indifference and intolerance." "I was certainly
disappointed," Solmonese said. "But I would trade that Oscar
for all the positive conversations that this movie
spurred between parents and their gay children or
between employees and their gay coworkers. That impact
transcends any accolades."
focused on the demographics of the typical Academy voter:
older and city-dwelling. Author and Brokeback
co-screenwriter Larry McMurtry thought that was key to his
film's loss. "Members of the Academy are mostly urban
people," McMurtry, who won the adapted screenplay
prize with Diana Ossana, said backstage at Sunday
night's ceremony. "We are an urban nation. We are not a
rural nation. It's not easy even to get a rural story
have added that not only are Academy voters urban, they
also are from Los Angeles--the city that is the heart
of Crash, a racial drama depicting the intertwining
experiences of an array of characters over 36 hours. The
film, featuring a huge and accomplished cast ("Raise
your hand if you're not in Crash," host
Jon Stewart quipped to the crowd), also won for
original screenplay and film editing.
Brokeback director Ang Lee, who won the
directing prize, said he hadn't a clue why the film didn't
take the best-picture award. "They didn't vote for
it," he said. "I don't know. You asked me one
question, and I don't know the answer." But his
brother had an opinion. Lee Kang, speaking in Tapei, Taiwan,
suggested American bias was involved. "When the locals are
voting, they will have this, whether you call it
nationalism or something else," he said.
Crash writer-director Paul Haggis, for his
part, said he hadn't "for a second" believed the whispers,
which grew louder as Oscar night approached, that
Crash had the momentum to overtake Brokeback.
"I didn't believe any of that nonsense," he said. "In
fact, we were so shocked. I mean, we're still trying
to figure out if we got this."
Crash came out to mixed reviews in May,
considered much too early for a film to stay in voters'
minds. But Lionsgate Films reminded voters and critics
of the movie's potency by flooding them with copies of
the DVD late in 2005. In winning over the heavily
favored Brokeback, the film evoked major upsets
of the past, most recently the 1999 triumph of
Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private
Ryan. Another famous underdog champ was
Chariots of Fire, which in 1982 beat both
Warren Beatty's historical epic Reds and the family
story On Golden Pond.
difference for the Academy: A lot more viewers tuned in to
see those upsets. An estimated 38.8 million people watched
Sunday's telecast on ABC--down 8% from last year
and the second-worst showing in nearly two decades,
according to Nielsen Media Research. Except for the
2003 count of 33 million viewers--when Chicago
took the best-picture award--viewership hadn't dipped
below 40 million since 1987.
So what is to be
learned from Sunday night's upset result? Not much, says
Walter, the film professor. You just really never know what
Academy voters are going to do. "It's just a crap
shoot," Walter said. "You go to Vegas and you put your
money on number 17. There is no lesson to be
learned from all this. It doesn't mean a thing."
(Jocelyn Noveck, AP)