The Political Battleground of the 2015 Academy Awards

In 1978, Vanessa Redgrave won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for the film Julia, about a woman who is murdered by the Nazis for her anti-fascist activism. That same year, Redgrave also produced and narrated a documentary called The Palestinian about the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). In protest of her nomination, the Jewish Defense League picketed the Academy Awards and burned effigies of the actress. When Redgrave took the stage to accept her Oscar, she used the opportunity to take a political stand.

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She thanked her co-star Jane Fonda and Julia‘s director Fred Zinnemann, and then went on to express gratitude to the millions who sacrificed in the struggle against fascism and the Nazis. Redgrave then thanked the Academy for resisting intimidation from “Zionist hoodlums whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world and their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression.” But she didn’t stop there. She continued, “I salute all of you for having stood firm and dealt a final blow against that period when [Richard] Nixon and [Joseph] McCarthy launched a worldwide witch-hunt against those who tried to express in their lives and their work the truth that they believe in. I salute you and I thank you and I pledge to you that I will continue to fight against antisemitism and fascism.”

Two hours later during that Academy Awards ceremony in 1978, Paddy Chayefsky took the stage to present the awards for Best Writing, and he fired back at Redgrave, “I would like to say, personal opinion, of course, that I’m sick and tired of people exploiting the occasion of the Academy Awards for the propagation of their own personal political propaganda. I would like to suggest to Miss Redgrave that her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation, and a simple ‘thank you’ would have sufficed.”

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The Oscars in 1978 provided a clear example of how conflicting political attitudes and ideologies compete on stage in front of millions. Under the surface, the Academy Awards always reflect the prevailing politics of Hollywood at a given moment in time, but sometimes these ideological struggles bubble over for all to see when participants in the ceremony seize the opportunity to speak out, or to condemn those who do.

Like the Oscars in 1978, last night’s 87th Academy Awards were also defined by politics, starting long before the ceremony even took place. Immediately following the announcement of the nominees on January 15th, a Twitter hashtag was created (#OscarsSoWhite) to mock and protest the Academy for failing to consider a single non-white actor or actress in any of the four acting categories. All 20 nominees were white for the first time since 1995. Many were also outraged that Ava DuVernay, the black, female director of Selma was also not nominated in the Best Director category. After the diverse Oscar ceremony from the previous year, it was clear the Academy was taking a step backwards, and controversy swirled leading up to the Awards, amplified by the context of recent events in Ferguson, MO and the social awakening in the wake of a rash of cases of police brutality.

When the Academy Awards broadcast began last night, race was an obvious elephant in the room. In an apparent attempt to compensate for the lack of black nominees, host Neil Patrick Harris conspicuously incorporated black people into the show, as if to say, “See, we’re not racist!” He enlisted Oscar winner Octavia Spencer to participate in a gag that ran throughout the broadcast, and she was also an award presenter. Harris also interviewed David Oyelowo from his seat in the crowd, and later on, when Oyelowo and Jennifer Aniston appeared on stage to present an award, Harris announced them as people “who absolutely deserve to be here,” in a not so subtle reference to their snubs by Oscar.

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But despite a drastically less diverse field of nominees this year, several of the winners rose to the occasion and spoke out on relevant and important progressive political issues, just like Vanessa Redgrave did in 1978. Patricia Arquette made the first bold statement of the night. On the issue of women’s equality she said, “It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America,” she demanded from the stage, which got the audience fired up. Most notably, Meryl Streep jumped out of her seat, cheering and pointing at the stage in approval. Arquette won Best Supporting Actress for the film Boyhood, which depicts a single-mother struggling to raise two children over the course of 12 years, while suffering from a pattern of domestic abuse and financial difficulties.

The ceremony was also marked by a pointed political conflict in the style of Redgrave and Chayefsky, with a progressive speaking out on an issue, followed by the voice of the establishment responding. Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour won for Best Documentary Feature, a film about how she and Glenn Greenwald worked with Edward Snowden when he came forward to leak classified documents about the NSA spying program. During her acceptance speech she said, “The disclosures that Edward Snowden reveals don’t only expose a threat to our privacy, but to our democracy itself. When the most important decisions being made that affect all of us are being made in secrecy, we lose our ability to check the powers in control. Thank you to Edward Snowden for his courage, and for the many other whistle-blowers. I share this with Glenn Greenwald and the other journalists who are exposing truth. Thank you.”

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Immediately following Poitras’ speech, cameras cut back to host Neil Patrick Harris, who right before a commercial break said, “The subject of Citizenfour couldn’t be here for some treason.” The pun was not funny and the crowd did not laugh. There was an uncomfortable silence in the room, perceptible even on TV, for a few moments before ABC faded out for commercials. The “joke” was reprehensible, especially after the meaningful speech by Poitras to raise awareness about the crimes of the government and the vital importance of both whistle-blowers and independent journalists. Even if Harris’ rebuttal was simply a poor attempt to improvise a joke while under the enormous pressure of live TV being watched by millions (which is giving him a tremendous benefit of the doubt), there can be no doubt that what he did, in a single sentence, was defend the establishment and mock the bravery of people like Edward Snowden while endangering future whistle-blowers by publicly floating the idea that what they’re doing amounts to treason, which is one of the most serious charges that one can have leveled against them.

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Later on, Graham Moore took the stage to accept the Best Adapted Screenplay award for The Imitation Game, about Alan Turing, a gay man who helped develop methods to crack Nazi codes during World War 2. Turing was later prosecuted for “Homosexual Acts” which were illegal in the UK at the time. He was chemically castrated, and not long afterward in what was a possible suicide Turing died from cyanide poisoning. Graham Moore used his moment in the spotlight as an opportunity to speak about those who are made to feel different in society being driven to suicide. “I tried to commit suicide at 16 and now I’m standing here. I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere. You do. Stay weird. Stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage please pass the same message along.”

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However, given the controversy surrounding the all white slate of acting nominees, perhaps the most cathartic moment of the night came during the performance of “Glory” by John Legend and Common, the nominated song from Selma. The crowd was flooded by an emotional release in which many in attendance were reduced to tears, culminating in a standing ovation. Shortly following the performance, “Glory” won the award for Best Original Song. During his acceptance speech Legend said, “We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now! Because the struggle for justice is right now. We know that the voting rights that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised in this country today.” He continued, “We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were in slavery in 1850.”

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Of course the ceremony also had its negative moments, such as when Sean Penn yelled “Who gave this SOB his green card?” before announcing Alejandro G. Iñárritu the winner of the Best Director award, but at least in that instance Iñárritu had the opportunity to get the last word, using his time on stage to shine a light on immigration policy. First, in direct response to Penn’s “joke”, Iñárritu said, “Maybe next year the government will inflict some immigration rules to the Academy. Two Mexicans in a row, that’s suspicious, I guess.” He was referring to Alfonso Cuarón winning Best Director the year before for Gravity. He then concluded by saying, “Finally, I just want to, I want to take one second, I just want to take the opportunity, I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico. I pray that we can find and build government that we deserve. And the ones that live in this country who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect of the ones who came before and build this incredible immigrant nation. Thank you very much.”

The 87th Academy Awards will be remembered for the way winner after winner used the stage to bravely take a progressive stand on one of many important political issues. There will likely be detractors who come forward to denounce this type of acceptance speech activism. They’ll say things like Paddy Chayefsky said in 1978, the essence of which is that people shouldn’t “abuse the platform” to drag whatever their “pet political cause” may be into the spotlight; that they shouldn’t “bring politics into it.” But when detractors make arguments like this, what they’re really saying is that they don’t want progressive politics brought up, because of course the dominant ideology in this society is the reactionary default of the ruling elite class, and that default isn’t considered “political” by the same standard. So, given this, that’s actually all the more reason why it’s important for progressive people to step forward and make their voices heard, both through their art, as well as on stage at the Academy Awards.

Juan Pablo Reveals the True Nature of ‘The Bachelor’

Another season of ABC’s The Bachelor has ended, and while every year the network promotes its “reality” show as the “most dramatic” or the “most emotional” season yet, without a doubt, this season was the most honest. It’s not clear if ABC knew exactly what it was getting into when they cast Juan Pablo Galavis in the role of ‘The Bachelor,’ but what is clear is that this season exposed the ugly, backward nature of the show.

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After casting Juan Pablo, who was previously a contestant on The Bachelorette, ABC probably thought they would get credit for breaking barriers. Galavis, the single father and American born Venezuelan, is the first non-white person to star in the title role of The Bachelor, or The Bachelorette, for that matter. But what they might not have anticipated is the way Juan Pablo would shatter the illusory “fairy-tale” that the show is based upon through a series of controversies. Though ABC is probably happy to be cashing in the extra publicity surrounding this season’s turmoil, you have to wonder, did anyone bother to vet this guy?

Galavis was selected as ‘The Bachelor’ after becoming a “fan favorite” on the last season of The Bachelorette despite a small amount of screen time. But it wasn’t long after his season of The Bachelor started airing in January that Galavis started chipping away at his likability quotient, making homophobic remarks during an interview where he used the word “pervert” in reference to gay people and said that having a gay ‘Bachelor’ would set a bad example for children. He later apologized to GLAAD while blaming his comments on the fact that English is his second language. But looking at the full context, it’s clear this wasn’t a simple matter of his true feelings being lost in translation.

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Controversy also erupted from the show itself when Juan Pablo apparently had sex with one of the women in his harem well before the designated time producers deem extra-curricular activity socially appropriate. The next day Galavis “slut shamed” the woman, Clare, who ended up a finalist, scolding her for setting a bad example for his young daughter. He brought her to tears as he shifted the blame to her, as if he had nothing to do with their mutual act in the ocean.

Later, another woman on the show, Andi, made waves of another sort when she called out Juan Pablo for failing to take the time to actually get to know his suitors on a personal level. After spending a night in a “fantasy suite” with the ‘Bachelor,’ Andi revealed that Galavis didn’t ask her any personal questions and seemed only interested in name-dropping and telling superficial stories about himself. The next day she confronted him. “Do you have any idea what religion I practice? What are my political views?” she asked. Galavis admitted he had no idea, and at this point in the show Andi was one of only three remaining women after 24 others had already been sent packing. In theory, Juan Pablo should have known her pretty well by then, if only he had bothered to regard the women on the show as actual human beings.

Andi decided not to wait for Juan Pablo to eliminate her in the next ridiculous and degrading “rose ceremony.” She left on her own accord, making sure to explain to Galavis the “difference between being honest and being an asshole” on her way out.

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All this was just a build up to what was one of the most pathetic, yet revealing, nights of television in recent memory, when the ‘Bachelor’ Juan Pablo had to decide between his two remaining suitors, Nikki and Clare, followed by a live hour of analysis in front of a studio audience on March 10th.

Before making his final decision, ‘The Bachelor’ is allowed to go on one last fairy-tale style date with each remaining woman. But while on a helicopter ride with Clare, the same women he shamed and humiliated earlier in the season, when the cameras weren’t rolling, he took the opportunity to tell her he loved having sex with her even though he didn’t really know her very well. Stunned by his open misogyny, Clare fought back tears as she explained what happened during a side-interview.

That night, she demanded an explanation from Galavis, who seemed more concerned with why Clare didn’t give him a kiss the moment he walked through the door. After a lengthy exchange, Juan Pablo was able to appease Clare, convincing her that he respected her for more than just her physical appearance, even if his idea of complimenting her was also condescending in its own way. Given this reassurance in the final hour, she felt confident she would be the one chosen in the end and remained on the show for what she assumed would be a romantic proposal.

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But when she stepped into the designated proposal area and stood before ‘The Bachelor’ he rather casually told her that he “had to say goodbye,” as if she had meant virtually nothing to him, without the slightest regard for her feelings. He moved in for a final hug, but Clare put up both hands and blocked him, and as she stormed off camera, humiliated yet again, she told Juan Pablo that she wouldn’t want her children to have a father like him. A few moments later, Galavis callously muttered to himself, “I’m glad I didn’t pick her.” A woman demanding respect was simply too much for him to comprehend.

In the wake of Season 18 of The Bachelor, it seems clear that Juan Pablo Galavis is not only homophobic, he harbors a hatred of women, too. Throughout the season he treated the women on the show as disposable objects. Every time he had a private conversation with one of his suitors he would condescendingly speak in tone one might use to address a small child or a pet, while constantly touching their faces and tucking their hair behind their ears; a misogynist acting in a way he thinks women will interpret as romantic. But in reality, the thoughts, ideas, and opinions of women were insignificant to him, and the women who in any way challenged his assumed right as a man to walk all over them with impunity were either sent home or realized who they were dealing with and walked out. Justifiably so, Juan Pablo has been unofficially labeled the “most hated” ‘Bachelor’ in the show’s history by the fans.

But while it’s obvious that he is a homophobic, misogynistic pig, what’s important to recognize after all the controversy of this season is that Juan Pablo actually personifies the backward values The Bachelor has always embraced. The show is inherently misogynistic and promotes a truly unhealthy, unrealistic, and thoroughly reactionary view of romantic relationships and sex. Galavis might have been more crude and transparent, or, as he would say, “honest,” about what was going on than previous ‘Bachelors’, but his actions were right in line with what the show inherently is at its core.

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Take his homophobic comments, for example. Juan Pablo’s hate for homosexuals made headlines, and ABC was forced to issue a statement distancing the network from its ‘Bachelor,’ but Chris Harrison, the host of the show, actually agrees with Galavis. Though Harrison claims that he supports gay rights in principle, he doesn’t think having a gay ‘Bachelor’ would be a good marketing decision. To paraphrase, why mess with a profitable formula? It’s safe to assume that Harrison’s position is closely matched by his employer. The point here is that Juan Pablo’s widely condemned homophobia is just (to use his own word) a more “honest” version of the same core values upheld by The Bachelor‘s network, ABC.

Also, take a look at Juan Pablo’s apparent inability or unwillingness to see women as actual human beings with worthwhile thoughts and feelings. While not every ‘Bachelor’ has nakedly displayed this type of misogyny, The Bachelor is a “reality” show that’s as unrealistic as can be. The basic scenario is condescending and degrading, giving one man the licence to wade through a sea of women, narrowing down his potential mates during designated “rose ceremonies”. And instead of structuring the show so that each contestant has a fair and equal chance to build a relationship with the ‘Bachelor,’ the show intentionally forces the women to fight each other for “their time” with the show’s star. If the goal of the show is truly to develop a meaningful romantic relationship, why set it up in such a way that encourages petty in-fighting rather than allowing the potential couples the time to get to know each other as human beings?

And there’s the rub. The real objective is to reel in viewers with the contrived “drama,” even if that means undermining the supposed central purpose of the show. So again, while Galavis might have been more openly indifferent to the women selected to seduce him than most previous ‘Bachelor’s, in actuality, he was simply acting out the mentality encouraged by the inherently debasing structure of the show, like everyone else has throughout all 17 previous seasons. ABC might have cast Juan Pablo as “the villain,” but the show’s audience should realize that he was simply a personification of the values The Bachelor has always upheld and encouraged from the beginning. The only difference is that Galavis doesn’t bother to mask those reactionary values. He simply embodies them openly.

Now, critics of this analysis will undoubtedly point to ABC’s female-centered spin-off The Bachelorette as proof of the network’s innocence on the question of misogyny. But that show is also inherently problematic. While it’s about a woman deciding the fate of a pool of men on The Bachelorette, the men competing for the lone woman still reap this society’s benefits of manhood. Invariably for the ‘Bachelorette’ it’s a process of weeding out the men who aren’t there for the “right reasons,” discovering who’s attempting to cash in on quick fame rather than actually trying to develop a real relationship. On The Bachelor it’s always about a man with total power deciding which woman can fit into his already established identity, while The Bachelorette is always about the woman carefully deciding which man to concede her power to.

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Both versions of the show are sick and reinforce unhealthy gender stereotypes and relationship models. So while there might be a temptation to point to Juan Pablo as nothing more than a bad apple, an anomaly who somehow got his homophobia and misogyny past the show’s casting directors, if you look closely you can see that he is actually the perfect ambassador for the warped values The Bachelor has always stood for.

One positive that came through during this train wreck of a television season is that in several key moments the women on the show stood up for themselves, powerfully asserting the idea that they aren’t just sex objects to be tossed aside when a man decides he’s done with them. They turned the tables on Juan Pablo by reclaiming their power and dignity, openly rejecting his misogyny and demanding respect. Each time this happened Galavis did his best to play off the moment as if it was no big deal. But under that casual dismissal was a palpable anger that a woman dared to challenge his authority. By the end, the audience, too, had completely turned on their former “fan favorite.” Hopefully this will be a moment that illuminates the truth about the nature of The Bachelor and causes the show’s loyal audience to question what they’ve been watching. Or, better yet, to stop watching altogether.

The Wolf of Wall Street “Missed the Boat Entirely”

TheWolfofWallStreet_iTunesPre-sale_1400x2100There is a scene in Martin Scorsese’s new film The Wolf of Wall Street where a Forbes magazine article is published about the story’s central protagonist, Wall Street con-artist Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Belfort is enraged by the “hatchet job” that calls him out for his deceptive practice of selling practically worthless penny stocks for huge commissions by misleading faceless victims on the other end of a phone. He thinks the article will ruin him, but his wife calms him down by saying that all publicity is good publicity. She turns out to be right. Following the article’s publication Belfort’s firm, Stratton Oakmont, is swarmed by people looking for jobs, and his business grows exponentially.

That Forbes article was intended to be a damaging exposé, but it backfired, just as Scorsese and DiCaprio’s film itself is backfiring now. If the tandem, now on their 5th collaboration, are to be believed, they set out to make a film that shines a light on Wall Street corruption and greed. But that’s not the film they actually made. Not by a long shot. And The Wolf of Wall Street, like the Forbes article in the film, appears much more likely to inspire, rather than discourage, another generation of materialistic greed and exploitation.

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In 1987, Oliver Stone’s film Wall Street put the phrase “greed is good” into the cultural lexicon while attempting to skewer the financial sector. Gordon Gekko was the film’s villain, meant to personify everything wrong with 80s-era excess, but to a generation of people looking to get rich quick, Gekko’s catchphrase became a powerful mantra. Jordan Belfort himself was among that wave of young people who flocked to Wall Street in those days. While Belfort never utters the phrase “greed is good” directly, he fully embodies that mentality, openly instructing his subordinates to take money from their investor’s pockets and put it in their own without any regard for the client’s well being, all while indulging in the most hedonistic lifestyle possible.

Belfort innovated a method of selling cheap stocks to unwitting investors, retaining a 50% commission on the trade, manipulating the stock price, and then leaving the investor holding the bag when the bottom falls out of the stock. The brokers cash in while the investor’s go into debt. Belfort champions a ruthless approach of hard selling and pumps up his team with daily profanity laced inspirational tirades before the market’s opening bell.

the_wolf_of_wall_street_trailer_tWatching The Wolf of Wall Street is comparable to being run over by a freight train, in all the worst ways possible. Everything about the film is long, loud, and obnoxious. There is no subtlety or nuance, every performance is paper thin, and virtually every scene is longer than it needs to be. The Wolf clocks in at just under 3 hours of headache inducing parties, sex, drug use, and yelling. Lots of yelling.

What’s important to understand about this is that simply depicting certain behaviors isn’t necessarily the same thing as condemning them. In order to condemn what’s being depicted an artist needs to provide the proper context, and The Wolf of Wall Street is totally lacking the necessary context to condemn the activities of Jordan Belfort and his band of cronies. According to DiCaprio and Scorsese, who are now on the defensive about the intended message of the film, the audience is supposed to witness the reckless greed, misogyny, and debauchery on screen and come away with the idea that those things are wrong, but they never give any context to guide the audience to that view.

Without proper context, showing drug-fueled orgies with prostitutes set to music is a glorification of that behavior. Without proper context, showing ruthless stock market manipulation and fraud for personal gain at the expense of others, which allows for extravagant lifestyles complete with enormous yachts, beautiful women, all driven by a “fuck everyone” mentality, is glorification, not condemnation.

As a side point it should be mentioned that the film puts a huge number of nude women on display, but the only glimpse of a male sexual organ is a half-second shot of Jonah Hill masturbating in public, and the anatomy shown is almost certainly a prosthetic. It says a lot that the film is willing to objectify women so blatantly on screen while preserving the men’s dignity, even as they engage in very public sex acts. Besides looking totally unrealistic, it demonstrates the ongoing double-standard women face in society.

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DiCaprio, who was recently quoted in an interview by Hitfix, said that those who accuse the film of glorifying Belfort’s activities and lifestyle have, “missed the boat entirely.” He goes on to say, “I mean ultimately I think if anyone watches this movie, at the end of Wolf of Wall Street, they’re going to see that we’re not at all condoning this behavior.” But this is not the case, and it’s actually DiCaprio and Scorsese who have missed the boat.

Ironically, in the same Hitfix interview, he explains exactly why Scorsese made a film that lacks the context needed to give the story the meaning he claims was intended. “The unique thing about Marty,” DiCaprio says, “is that he doesn’t judge his characters. And that was something that you don’t quite understand while you’re making the movie, but he allows the freedom of this almost hypnotic, drug-infused, wild ride that these characters go on. And he allows you, as an audience — guilty or not — to enjoy in that ride without judging who these people are.”

What is difficult to understand here is how Scorsese and DiCaprio thought they could make a film that condemns the financial activities and hedonistic lifestyle Jordan Belfort exhibits without personally judging him in any way. By making a film free of moral judgement, told exclusively from Belfort’s point of view, which entirely ignores the suffering of his penny stock scam’s victims as well as the larger context of Wall Street corruption, we’re left with a movie that effectively glamorizes everything it shows. The closest thing to a victim shown in the film is the secretary who is paid $10,000 to shave her hair off for the entertainment of the whole office, and even that is within the office’s walls, oblivious or indifferent to the suffering they’re causing outside.

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Granted, a lot of things eventually go wrong in Belfort’s life. He gets divorced twice, he sinks a yacht, almost watches his friend suffocate while high on drugs, loses millions of dollars in a Swiss bank account, and ultimately spends a short time in a country club prison. But no true tragedy befalls him. No real lesson is learned. At the end of the film Belfort isn’t remorseful about the damage he’s done or the lives he’s ruined, and he even starts a lecture series teaching others how to get rich. This positive ending is shown in the film without any irony or judgement, and as the film comes to a close it becomes obvious that The Wolf of Wall Street is a 3 hour love letter to Jordan Belfort. What else could it be without the moral judgement of the film maker and the proper context to show the audience the real damage people like Belfort do to the world?

The saddest part about all this is that as wild and reckless as Stratton Oakmont is shown to be, Scorsese never clearly illustrates that Belfort and his buddies are just small potatoes. Why even bother to tell this particular story without making the point that it’s just a tiny microcosm of a much larger systemic problem? Unless, of course, the real intention is to glamorize and glorify Belfort and people like him.

The fact that he’s not Goldman Sachs and that he has a “fuck you” attitude toward the larger Wall Street firms seems to be something that Scorsese admires, as if Belfort is some sort of noble renegade outsider fighting against the system. It’s easy to get the sense from the film that Scorsese empathizes with the “anti-establishment” mentality and the creative cut-throat business practices Belfort employs. But even if the director doesn’t personally condone Wall Street greed and corruption, there would be no way to know based on his self-admittedly judgement free film that refuses to show the real fallout of Belfort’s actions and the true context of the story.

The audience gets 2 hours and 45 minutes of wild partying, sex, and drug use, 15 minutes of Belfort’s mostly consequence-free “downfall,” and 0 minutes spent on the proper context that would give the story a more meaningful point about the nature of the system, or on the damage Wall Street greed does to other people. All the audience sees is how Belfort is effected, and he comes out pretty well in the end.

Scorsese and DiCaprio created a film which allows everyone to superimpose their own morality to the subject matter and render their own verdict. If you’re someone who thinks Wall Street greed is ugly and wrong, you might imagine you’ve just seen a film that agrees with you, because it depicted all the behavior you already oppose. On the contrary, if you’re someone who thinks it’s okay to make a profit for yourself and live a life of luxury and excess, everyone else be damned, this film is also for you, because it shows just how glamorous that life can be, without judgement.

It’s obvious that Scorsese and DiCaprio wanted to make a big film. It does take some artistic risks, but in most cases they fail, mostly because the film has no positive moral position to reinforce. So the party rages on, and after a while, the bloated, obnoxious film feels like a hammer crushing your skull. It’s not pleasant, and given that The Wolf of Wall Street totally missed an opportunity to say something important about the times we live in, it’s not worth the pain.

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Unlike the Forbes “hatchet job” that angered Belfort before it helped him grow his business by leaps and bounds, The Wolf of Wall Street is based on the book written by the wolf himself. Belfort’s account might have been honest about his wild behavior and his willingness to scam people to enrich himself, but it’s definitely not a hatchet job of any sort. This film is designed to ultimately make Belfort look pretty good, and it will likely help to enrich him even more by promoting his lecture series. All publicity is good publicity, after all. DiCaprio even went out of his way to shoot a promo for Belfort’s real life speaking engagements in which he lavishes the man with praise, even though he still owes restitution to many of his victims.

Given what The Wolf of Wall Street is, as well as what it isn’t, and the fact that DiCaprio supports and promotes Jordan Belfort in real life, it’s safe to assume that when Scorsese and DiCaprio try to make the case that their film is meant to condemn the behavior it depicts, rather than glorifying it, that they’re lying. It is uplifting to note that critics as well as the general public are calling them out for their dishonesty and putting them on the defensive. Those people, like the daughter of one of Belfort’s co-conspirators who wrote an open letter opposing the film, are not the ones who missed the boat entirely. Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese did, and it’s a good sign that a lot of people aren’t buying what The Wolf is selling.

Twerking for the Man: Fallout from the 2013 VMAs

During this year’s wild Video Music Awards on MTV, there was a brief interlude about a third of the way through the broadcast where comedian Kevin Hart talked about the show’s performances up to that point. His main contribution to the show was his surprise that Lady Gaga had such a big ass. He commented that he had been checking it out during Gaga’s show opening performance, which featured the performer going through multiple costume changes on stage, ultimately ending up in just a tiny thong and a seashell bra. As if that weren’t bad enough, Hart then went on to discuss the most controversial performance of the night: Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke’s rendition of Blurred Lines.

Though he was going for humorous effect, Hart stumbled onto a serious element of truth with his analysis of the duet. He said that Miley should probably get a pregnancy test after grinding on Thicke during the performance, and that other young girls should stay away from Thicke unless they want to end up on an Amber Alert. Given what had just transpired on stage, let alone the fact that women are still kidnapped, raped, and killed by men at a horrific rate, it definitely wasn’t funny.

But even though Hart’s critique of the performance was crude and inappropriate, at least he found the right target, Robin Thicke, unlike the mainstream media and social media universe. Following Cyrus’ performance, in which she brought “twerking” fully into the mainstream, Twitter exploded into a frenzy, setting a record for the most tweets per minute on a given subject at over 300,000, which is even more than the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, most of the Tweets and Facebook posts, as well as the reaction from the mainstream media focused almost exclusively on Cyrus. There was lots of “What was Miley thinking?” and “Should your daughter be watching Miley Cyrus?”, plus all sorts of extremely derogatory name-calling through social media.

Granted, while it is unfortunate that Miley Cyrus bought into this performance and allowed herself to be brought down to such a low level, the truly awful aspect of it was the way it illuminated the double standard women face under this system. Almost none of the negative reaction went toward Robin Thicke and the performance of his extremely misogynistic song “Blurred Lines,” a song that is all about pressuring women into sex. The chorus “you know you want it” (which is often the last thing a woman hears before she gets raped) repeats over and over. The song’s music video features topless women prancing around for men’s amusement, and during the VMAs Miley Cyrus essentially played that role. She stripped down into a skimpy two-piece outfit and twerked and grinded in front of Thicke.

It’s extremely telling that in our society a man can sing a song with lyrics that compare women to dogs and promotes a misinterpretation of “liberation” in order to pressure women into giving over their bodies for a man’s pleasure, and then when a woman actually does exactly what the man wants, strips down and dances and grinds for his pleasure, she’s instantly labeled a “bitch” or a “slut” or a “whore.” Meanwhile, the man who pressures women into a subservient, objectified role and benefits from the kind of behavior that Cyrus demonstrated doesn’t get criticized at all. It’s the male privilege under this system to exploit women sexually and skate away clean, while women must endure and defend themselves against the backlash that results from daring to be openly sexual. The Cyrus/Thicke performance has perfectly demonstrated the double-standard women face on a daily basis.

Again, it’s unfortunate that Cyrus participated in a performance that reduced her to nothing more than a sex object for a man’s pleasure, but to be clear, the villain here is the patriarchal system of male privilege that allows men to encourage the objectification and the exploitation of women, and then turns around and viciously attacks women who actually conform to those demands. “Don’t be such a prude,” followed by, “You’re such a filthy slut!” Under this system women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Miley Cyrus was damned because she did, taking all the backlash that should have been aimed at Robin Thicke.

However, while the 2013 VMAs will forever bare the black-eye of the Cyrus/Thicke performance which was controversial for all the wrong reasons, there were some positive moments from the broadcast.

Justin Timberlake cemented his status as the coolest human being alive with an epic greatest hits performance that featured a brief reunion with his boy-band N*Sync. Taylor Swift’s fantastic video for “I Knew You Were Trouble” won the award for Best Female Video, and Jason Collins, the first active athlete in a team sport to come out as gay, introduced a great performance of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s song “Same Love” which puts forward a powerful pro-gay message. And the show ended on a strong note with Katy Perry performing her hit “Roar” for the very first time.

It’s interesting to contrast Miley’s performance with Katy Perry’s. Cyrus is a huge star in her own right. She developed a massive following while performing as Disney’s Hannah Montana, and she successfully transitioned into a career under her own name. She is one of the wealthiest young people in the world with a media empire dwarfing that of her father’s, country singer Billy Ray Cyrus. And yet, all that wealth, power, and industry clout was meaningless on stage during the VMAs. Instead of taking her career to even new heights and solidifying herself as a powerful female mega-star, she took a back seat to the up and coming misogynist Robin Thicke. It was a degrading performance that in one stroke showed how good it is to be a man under this system, and how difficult and complicated it is to be a women.

Perry’s performance on the other hand was much closer to what Miley’s should have been. She was sexy without objectifying herself, dressed up as a boxer, and in an extremely well choreographed performance lit up the night under the Brooklyn Bridge with a display of raw female athleticism, power, and talent. She didn’t take a back seat to any man or play the part of the slut, she sang a good pop song on her own terms and ended a controversial award show on a generally positive note.

The Amazing Vanishing Act of Cloud Atlas

What happened to Cloud Atlas? My favorite film of 2012 has totally vanished from the face of the Earth. It was made by the highly successful, mainstream Wachowski siblings and their collaborator Tom Tykwer, who has also had mainstream success. It featured some of the biggest names in Hollywood (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant), as well as a huge, well-known supporting cast. It was so grand in scope and spectacle, so bold and daring, so unique, and so expertly executed that it was bound to leave audiences awed and inspired. As I sat dumbfounded in my seat after seeing it, I fully anticipated that it would pile up accolades through awards season and cement its status as a classic.

Enter crickets chirping. None of that happened. No accolades, no awards, and very few Top 10 lists. It didn’t even get any nominations from the Independent Spirit Awards, which is amazing considering it was one of the most ambitious independently funded films of all-time. It was even branded the worst film of the year by Time Magazine, and its DVD/Blu-ray release has been delayed not once, but twice.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but it seems like something fishy is going on here. I know I couldn’t have been the only person to be totally blown away by Cloud Atlas, so why is it being neglected, ignored, and buried by the industry?

To go back to beginning, it was incredibly difficult to get the film made in the first place, and the project likely would have been abandoned if it weren’t for Tom Hanks’ enthusiasm for the project and his determination to make sure it was completed as written. Which leads me to what I assume is the real issue here. The subject matter.

Yes, Cloud Atlas is a sweeping, genre-bending epic with big name actors and incredible special effects, but it’s also highly political. And not just political, it’s revolutionary. The narrative weaves together several stories that take place over several hundred years, but the theme of openly resisting injustice and authoritarian power is carried throughout. It’s proudly anti-establishment and openly embraces resistance and revolution as the solutions to human exploitation and oppression across the ages. While right on the money politically, that’s not a line the major studios are too keen to finance, promote, and distribute.

And even though the film has one of the best trailers I’ve ever seen, an incredible 6-minute composition in its own right, the film wasn’t marketed on television very well. The TV spots focused on action scenes, flashed generic critical praise on the screen like, “A remarkable movie experience,” and left out all the political content that would actually make people want to see the movie. Cloud Atlas is an intricate, philosophical, politically timely film, but it was promoted as a run of the mill thrill ride of the week. And, not surprisingly, its low box office numbers reflect that generic style of marketing. When you’ve got a film like Cloud Atlas in your hands, a film that has something important to say about the human experience, you’ve got to sell it based on what it actually is and hope it connects with the intended audience. You don’t advertise it as a roller-coaster ride… unless of course you’re afraid of the message and hope to limit the audience to people who just want to see things blow up on screen.

And once the film was considered a “flop” it became poison to awards nominating organizations. And thus, the best film of the year was buried. Its dvd/blu-ray release date originally set for January, was pushed back to March, and eventually delayed until May 14.

There are those who will argue that Cloud Atlas has been forgotten and buried by the industry just because it didn’t perform well, and perhaps others will say it’s just not a very good film. Those people are entitled to that opinion, but in my mind it seems clear that the reason the industry mishandled this project from the beginning, from the difficulty in acquiring funding, to the poor marketing, the lack of critical acclaim, the way it was conspicuously ignored by all the major award shows, and the twice delaying of its home video release… was a chain reaction caused by the desire to suppress the film’s progressive, anti-establishment, revolutionary political content.

It’s a film about how human beings are connected to each other, and the way we treat each other matters. It’s about finding the strength to resist evil, even if it seems like that evil is permanent and the entire universe is against you. It’s a film that desperately needs to be seen right now. We need some revolutionary hope. We need to learn that things don’t always have to be the way they are, and that if enough people get together and decide to do the right thing we can truly change this world for the better. The fact that Cloud Atlas, a film that champions this anti-establishment position and embraces a spirit of human interdependence and revolution, has been shoved in the corner, mocked, and left to be forgotten is practically criminal, especially while so many negative, politically harmful films are upheld critically and widely promoted.