Oscars 2013: Argo v Zero Dark Thirty & gender politics

First off, a hearty congratulations to Ben Affleck for getting an Oscar for Best Film, with Argo. I found his speech to be inspirational, as a budding screenwriter myself, I hope to shake his hand one day.

What I found interesting with Oscar night and the nominees was that what was once the instant favourite upon release to make a haul of wins, Zero Dark Thirty, ended up not getting any. Well ok, it managed to share one with Skyfall, which is more embarrassing than if it didn’t win any.

I find it interesting because Argo plays fast and loose with its depiction of a real event, such as downplaying Canada’s involvement in the rescue, and going so far as to dress up the climax for tension, whereas ZDT attempts to (so it claims) stick to realism with a blow-by-blow account of the events leading up to the infamous raid on Bin Laden’s compound.

Argo’s climax is brilliantly directed, I was on the edge of my seat, though it does make you wonder whether fictionalising real events to strengthen a script allows you to even use the disclaimer ‘based on a true story’.

A real story will always be edited to strengthen its adapted cinematic telling, but there has to be a point where you cross over into pure fiction. ZDT’s infamous torture sessions may be debated, but the fact is they happened. Argo’s nail biting climax at the airport didn’t.

More importantly, it seems the Academy voters wanted to reward a film for showing the US in a good light, rather than the film that showed the government stumbling from one disaster to another compounded with torture after torture. It essentially rewarded fantasy over reality. We might even be able to say the same with best original screenplay, with Tarantino’s Django Unchained over Mark Boal’s ZDT.

The Academy totally ignored a brilliant filmmaker who deserved a nomination. Reading a humorous account of an anonymous voter’s thought-process recently, I wonder what voters were thinking when they left Kathyrn Bigelow out of the Best Director category. Putting together a film at a scale of ZDT is no easy feat, it requires the hand of a master organiser and storyteller, if it were Steven Soderbergh would they have nominated him? Did they not want to nominate her two films in a row? Did she piss everyone off the last twelve months? How does a film nominated for Best Film not have its director nominated too?

So many political reasons may have been at play, but the overriding feeling I get is as mentioned above. That Hollywood chose a fantasy that showed American ingenuity and perseverance over a foreign enemy, a story presided over by men with barely any substantial female roles.

The film, and screenplay, that featured a more complex tale featuring a strong-willed woman did not get a single win. (unfortunately Django’s female characters didn’t have much to do either)

Yeah I’m harping on about women, but it stuck out to me this year. As an aspiring writer, I want to make sure my stories don’t suck. Part of that is writing characters well, females especially because I’m not one and they usually get the short end of the stick. What I loved about ZDT was that it never dwelled on the gender of the main protagonist. She was a woman in a man’s world but never used her gender or sexuality as a crutch. Maya is an amazing character and brilliantly acted by Chastain.

The Oscars are often dismissed as an irrelevant exercise, and I personally don’t care too much about awards either, but the fact is that they are a good gauge for many things. In this case, the nominations and wins sum up the mind state of the industry these days. I didn’t get up in arms over Seth McFarlane’s boob song, actually it was kind of a clever meta moment as it was portrayed as something he did in an alternate timeline and was lambasted for.

What pissed me off immensely was a random tweet (now deleted) from The Onion calling a nine year old girl, Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), a ‘cunt’ in a failed attempt at attacking the way the media gawps at celebrities on the red carpet and gossips about them. Or as I commented elsewhere on the Net:

The girl spent most of the time on the red carpet correcting douchebag ‘journalists’ how to pronounce her name and telling them her name is not ‘Annie’, Seth makes her a punchline to a joke about Clooney, and her night ends with her being called a cunt on a global platform.

The whole event was just a microcosm of the issues plaguing USA.

To end this rambling post, I will say that I enjoyed all the films that won Oscars, and though I’m happy for the winners, I was really rooting for ZDT screenwriter Mark Boal, and Jessica Chastain. Still, I’m glad Life of Pi was rewarded, it was my favourite film last year, and the petty complaints I saw on Twitter when its cinematographer won shows the current mind state of that social networking site! (Next year Deakins, next year…)

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s