Tom Daley
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The last word on
Brokeback vs. Crash 

The last word on
            Brokeback vs. Crash 

By now even
people who were afraid to be seen going into a movie theater
to watch it have caught up with Brokeback Mountain,
thanks to Netflix, which delivers everything from Wes
Craven to Sister Wendy in a plain red wrapper. This
means a lot of people have spent a lot of time
scratching their heads, wondering how a simple and profound
story about the human condition could lose the big
Oscar to a movie in which a lot of patented L.A. types
go around speaking in bumper sticker, that language
where everything you say is witty and cogent and fraught
with significance.

Believe me, no
one was more surprised to hear Jack Nicholson announce
Crash as the winner than the people in the Kodak
Theatre that night. I was one of them. But when I
thought about it, it all made perfect sense.
Crash is a movie about middle-class Angelenos
(that’s what the media out here call people who live
in this area, which they inexplicably call the
Southland, as if Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit were
fixing up a cabbage patch in Bel-Air). In Crash
everyone has a big problem with making human
connections and with race. The Academy of Motion
Picture Arts and Sciences is composed of several thousand
middle-class people, most of them Angelenos, who have a big
problem with making human connections and with race.
No movie in recent memory (except Grand Canyon,
which it closely resembles) has played so directly to
the hopes, fears, and daily terrors of this group of people.

I have a feeling
that any picture might have had a tough time beating
Crash because it spoke so directly to an audience
that, let’s face it, is not famous for
not being self-absorbed. But Brokeback
Mountain,
the first expressly gay love story to cross
over to $80 million worth of box office, might have
been the one. Except the Oscars are voted on by a
relatively small group of people, so exact ties are
possible. True, the last one happened almost 40 years ago,
when Barbra Streisand and Katharine Hepburn shared
Best Actress honors, but it could theoretically happen
any year in any category. Accountants who have worked
on the Oscar show with me for years tell me that it is not
infrequent for someone to win by just a handful of votes.
Most people vote for the same two or three nominees,
leaving numbers 4 and 5 in the category with precious
few votes at all.

This may explain
some of the startling nominations in some categories,
where perhaps number 5 got one more vote than number 6 but
made the cut nonetheless (and neither one was
particularly noteworthy). This year’s Original
Pimp category—pardon me, Original Song—only
had three nominees because the rest of the eligible
songs couldn’t even muster up enough votes from
the musicians branch to get nominated. So an Oscar often can
be awarded because a couple of people voted one way or the
other.

Crash’s victory does not mean the industry
rejected Brokeback—it probably just
means a few more people voted for it. And the reason
this is significant is that, without question, some of
those votes had to have come from right-wing members of the
academy, some of whom had actually gone public with
their intention not to even look at Brokeback
Mountain
because of its subject matter. An industry that
has room for a movie about men in love also has room for
people who loathe the notion of a movie about men in
love. That’s America, I guess. And
that’s why people continue to pay attention to the
Oscars. In their own odd way, they are emblematic of
the social upheavals that grip the nation.

This
shouldn’t shake our resolve that we are moving
forward. But it should remind us, even those of us who
get to live and work in the creative fields, that
we’re still in a struggle. It would have been nice
to see Brokeback Mountain get validated as the best
picture of the year, which I believe it is. But I
suspect the film didn’t have as many enemies as
some gay activists would lead you to believe. And I’m
kinda delighted that the Academy denied the Right Wing
the chance to claim Hollywood is Out of Touch with the
Red States. This will come in handy when show business
types campaign in the mid-term elections this fall.
The Republicans will just have to go back to claiming
they’re all thespians.

Tags: World, World

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