News Column

Oscar Contenders Show Political Edge

February 19, 2013

Andy Goldberg

For much of the past year, Americans have been pounded by an incessant political drumbeat that accompanied the run up to the November elections and their aftermath.

This year's Oscar nominees reflect that rhythm with four of the nine best picture hopefuls and one of the foreign film nominees taking on political subjects.

The most obvious political contender for the top Oscar prize is Lincoln, Steven Spielberg's detailed look at the battle of legendary US President Abraham Lincoln to eradicate slavery.

While Spielberg's fans may have expected the movie to focus on the drama of civil war clashes, battlefield action is almost non-existent in the opus. Instead the movie functions as a constitutional drama, focusing on the intricate political maneuvering orchestrated by Lincoln to get Congress to pass a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery.

Django Unchained also deals with the political legacy of slavery, and has been criticized by some in the African-American community for disrespecting the millions who suffered from the racist economic system that built much of America.

Lincoln was regarded as a hot Oscar favourite until a late run by Argo, a political thriller that focuses on a CIA ruse to get American hostages out of Iran. It examines the politics of the Islamic revolution but also the political infighting inside the CIA and White House as top officials struggled to deal with the embarrassing situation.

Another top political contender is Zero Dark Thirty, which from the moment it was announced has been touching off political firestorms. Among the controversies it has provoked are Republican allegations that the White House leaked secret information about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden to the filmmakers.

Numerous politicians, including former GOP presidential candidate John McCain have also criticized its depiction of torture, saying that the film falsely gives the impression that the use of torture was a key factor in gleaning the information that led to locating the al-Qaeda leader.

The political buzz is also coursing through the foreign film section where the Chilean film No is arousing controversy with its tale of a Mexican advertising executive who played a pivotal role in the 1988 referendum that signaled the end of the 15-year dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

This popularity of political movies perplexes many, including Chris Jansing, a host of a TV news show on the 24 hour cable news channel MSNBC.

"It has been a very political year at the box office and that's interesting to me because politicians are so unpopular," she said recently.

But Robert Thompson a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, is not surprised that there should be so many political films in a year dominated by politics.

"It's not a coincidence," he told dpa. "There's a conflation of the 24 hour news cycle and all the political information has become part of the political culture," he said.

The political Oscar contenders share themes of bipartisanship, and a challenge to the nature of American identity, he said.

"These historic films have a sense of resonance and relevance." Lincoln, for instance, "demonstrates the familiarity of the need to compromise," he argued.

Ted Johnson, the political editor of the trade newspaper Variety, notes that the political focus makes sense from a commercial standpoint.

"It's easier to market movies when you can say they are based on a true story," he told Jansing. The political filmmakers were also astute in picking their storylines, he added. "They all end in a pretty good way," he said. "Yes, they're complicated. But they all very much have a Hollywood ending."

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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