by Carey Wedler
As the celebrity-inspired stupor wears off after a predictably glamorous night of the Academy Awards, the realities of American society continue to bleed through: the most telling moments of the grand spectacle and all that led up to it demonstrate America’s love of war and propagandized prejudices. While Michele Obama presented the award for “Best Picture” from the White House, the Oscar-nominated documentary film maker, Emad Burnat, was detained and harassed at Los Angeles Airport en route to attend the ceremony. The events seem disconnected, but their significance and implications speak volumes about American values and methods of coercion.
Living up to her celebrity role as “First Lady,” Michelle Obama offered her charm to present the most anticipated award of the year. She made her surprise appearance in a sparkling gown, which CBS noted she had worn previously, bolstering her image as a champion of “the people” in wearing a dress more than once. Her surprise appearance made headlines as her often-complimented bangs clung styled to her forehead and the Academy cheered with delight that such a famous figure would present an award. That corporate Hollywood funneled millions into the Obama campaign and expects strict internet censorship in return must have had nothing to do with the Mrs.’ PR stunt. Such a fact certainly was not revolving in the minds of American viewers who expressed surprise and awe at the woman’s appearance.
Contrarily, Palestinian director Emad Burnat–nominated for his film about the Israeli occupation of Palestine, 5 Broken Cameras– was questioned by TSA agents and customs upon his arrival in Los Angeles for the awards. They refused to believe that he was actually visiting for the ceremony despite his proof of invitation. They insisted on evidence of a “ticket.” Burnat was eventually allowed to enter the country, but not without unaccountable government officials delaying his journey and obviously judging him based on his origins and skin color. Such an ordeal crystallizes the manifestation of hate that the government and media’s focus on “evil Arabs” inspires.
After all, Michelle Obama presented the award to Argo, a film about a plan hatched in the midst of the American hostage crisis in Iran in 1979. In its first few minutes, the film acknowledges the CIA’s influence in toppling Iran’s democratically elected leader (replacing him with the absolutist shah in 1953 who was overthrown in 1979 and fled to America for medical care), but changes course shortly thereafter. The back story provided at the outset of the film mutates into an obvious battle of black and white, good versus evil, and one need not guess which “nation” comes out the protagonist. The CIA becomes a hero, helping to save six “diplomats” as Ben Affleck leads them to a covert escape through the airport. Iranians are portrayed as violent beasts, eager to taste American blood in their rage for what the CIA did. They demand the shah be returned from America to be punished for his tyranny, and despite their legitimate grounds for doing so, they still come off as savages clawing at the civilized white man. As the movie goes on, the quick factoids about CIA intervention so many decades ago and America harboring the shah are forgotten in the viewer’s visceral desire for the Americans to escape to their home country. It is a movie perfect for liberals and the Obama administration–it “acknowledges” misdeeds on the part of the government, as Obama did in 2008, then carries on to glorify the very same government that created such problems in the first place. Such storytelling shouldn’t be a surprise, considering the Pentagon oversees all film productions involving portrayals of the military. Nor, then, should it be surprising that Michelle Obama presented the award for Best Picture with a background of soldiers standing in perfect form at the White House. She grinned with surprise as she called out Argo’s name, though the military spectacle might have seemed out of place had a movie like Silver Linings Playbook actually won. Nevermind the blatant staging; her bangs looked fabulous.
While Michelle Obama and the academy could only offer praise for militaristic propaganda against a country that the government is eager to bomb, 5 Broken Cameras offered a different perspective. Bringing light to the oppression and violence experienced by Palestinians living in an Israeli police state, the factual, eyewitness film provides truth where Argo offers carefully constructed delusions. Burnat offers reality and humanity in the midst of Israelis building a wall of apartheid where Argo expresses preference for the white man and demonizes all who disagree. It should be no surprise that the documentary lost in its category, as an Academy filled with Obama supporters has little interest in people trampled by a government subsidized and enabled by the Obama administration (though not to say other films weren’t qualified). And of course, the filmmaker was judged and persecuted for his appearance by the TSA–those responsible for weeding out the evil Arab terrorists in spite of their failed track record.
The very different “Oscar treatments” provided to presenter Michele Obama and Argo versus Burnat and 5 Broken Cameras illustrates the values and beliefs of an entire country. Though conservative bloggers were outraged that Michelle would present a Hollywood award using the troops as props, the underlying reality–that troops posing to honor a film that deceptively glorifies their organization’s corruption–is ignored. That more troops kill themselves than die in combat due to the unfathomable, tragic acts they witness and perform abroad is swept under the rug for the pomp and circumstance of the government. Meanwhile, a man who aims to spread truth is harassed, detained, and disrespected for trying to enter America with the wrong color skin–skin that the media and the government have demonized for decades and continue to do in “award-winning” cinema. He is shunned without apology by the cogs of the government machine, agents responsible for keeping America enslaved while they strangle it with a false sense of security.
Nevertheless, his five broken cameras, each destroyed while filming the construction of the apartheid wall, may spread powerful, irrefutable truth. Thanks to the recognition from the academy, more people will learn of the facts, spreading biting truth to those who still revel in pentagon propaganda.