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The last word on
Brokeback vs. Crash 

The last word on
Brokeback vs. Crash 


What was it like to be right there, backstage at the Oscars, when the 2006 Best Picture award went to Crash? Now that Brokeback Mountain is out on DVD, veteran Oscar scribe Bruce Vilanch revisits Oscar night--and the conspiracy theories gay moviegoers have lived with ever since

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.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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Bruce Vilanch