81st Academy Awards: Slumdog Takes It
Crazy as this may seem, tonight I was rooting for a movie I have yet to see. And when Slumdog Millionaire won Best Picture I was jumping-out-of-my-seat happy. Identity politics at its worst? Maybe—but for me it was the joy of seeing Bollywood invade Hollywood, and Asians in the inner circle at last. (My heart was broken a couple years ago when Brokeback Mountain lost to Crash, not only because Brokeback was a much superior film but because I feared that homophobia as well as racism might’ve contributed to its defeat.)
The night started with a series of small wins for The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button and I fretted that it might be business as usual on Oscar night again, with the bland, big-budget, eurocentric Hollywood product taking the evening’s prizes. But at some point in the evening Slumdog started to pick up some awards and I started to feel a bit more hopeful. Then when composer A.R. Rahman won for Best Score and gave his acceptance speech in English and Tamil, followed shortly by Slumdog’s Danny Boyle taking Best Director (plus the film’s five other subsequent awards), I sensed the tide was turning. And, though it had nothing to do directly with Slumdog, when Sean Penn won an upset Best Actor victory against favorite Mickey Rourke, and gave a shout-out to our “elegant’ new President as well as calling shame on those who supported Prop. 8, I knew there was a paradigm shift in the making. Slumdog won the big prize immediately afterwards and the evening was complete.
So tonight was a great win for Asian cinema, even though Slumdog is directed by an Englishman and strictly speaking, isn’t a Bollywood product. But its subject matter, stars, themes, and aesthetic are decidedly South Asian and the fact that the Academy chose to honor it over Brad Pitt’s conventionally Hollywood star vehicle seems somehow significant to me. Dare I say that it reminds me of Barack Obama and the barriers he’s shattered with his election? Some might argue that equating the Best Picture Oscar with the election of the U.S. President is a bit of stretch, but I’m in the business of cultural criticism and I think Slumdog’s victory is pretty relevant. It was thrilling to see the huge Slumdog contingent, British, Indian, and everything in between, up on the stage at the Academy Awards, which is the primary symbol and celebration of Hollywood’s cultural hegemony. So, yeah, I need to watch Slumdog soon, but because of its big win tonight, I feel like I’ve already seen what I need to see. In some small way, tonight the margins have moved a bit closer to the center.
UPDATE: Breaking it down, via The Inspired Economist–a good, measured discussion of Slumdog, including a mention of the the film’s “poverty porn.”
Entry filed under: bollywood, movies, Uncategorized. Tags: academy awards, barack obama, bollywood, brokeback mountain, danny boyle, dev patel, freida pinto, hollywood, mickey rourke, movies, oscars, sean penn, slumdog millionaire.