I know it’s yesterday’s news but maybe we can step back and look at this objectively. When they gave Ang Lee the Oscar for Best Director, everyone said, ‘Well, that seals the deal. Brokeback is a lock.’
How was everyone so wrong? There are the benign theories — the Academy voted for the hometown, urban picture over the rural, Red State one. Crash is an actor-centric movie. Brokeback fatigue.
The less benign ones — Lion’s Gate flooded the world with Crash screeners; the Academy is homophobic and didn’t even watch Brokeback Mountain — are no less valid.
We can objectively say that Brokeback captured the popular imagination more than Crash did. Parodies abounded. The word ‘brokeback’ became immediate slang on the lips of every radio d.j. It was a cultural touchstone. But that doesn’t automatically make it Best Picture. In 2000, Fight Club wasn’t even nominated.
Looking through my server logs, there are lots of people coming to this website looking for ‘an essay on the movie Crash.’ I imagine they are students, assigned to write about the movie by their teachers. Some teachers undoubtedly are and will be assigning Brokeback as well. But in lesser numbers. Because Crash won’t threaten anyone’s tenure. To borrow the song title from Avenue Q: everyone’s a little bit rascist. We can bond over that. Racism is, after these many years, an acknowledged evil. Homophobia isn’t. It just isn’t. There are still states passing laws to “defend” marriage from gay people. Choosing Brokeback would’ve meant acknowledging the gay subtext in all those old movies about men alone together in the wilderness. It would’ve been a statement. It would’ve been political.
In the end, let’s believe in this benign explanation. Let’s believe that the worst thing one can be in our society is not racist or gay or homophobic, it is political. God forbid the rickety bones of this creaking democracy be lifted from the beanbag chair of complacency.