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How Hollywood Punishes Politically Incorrect Movies By: Eli Lehrer
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, February 24, 2003

It happens every year: on a cold February morning long before anybody sane has gotten out of bed a famous (but not too famous) movie star announces the previous year’s Academy Award nominees. It happened again last week. By most critics’ accounts, 2002 produced an average crop of movies: Better than some notoriously weak ones (1995, 1987) and weaker than truly strong ones (1993, 1977, 1941). But this year’s Academy Awards were important not for what they included but, rather, for two movies, Barbershop and Secretary, the academy voters failed to nominate altogether.

Many in Hollywood take pride in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ record of recognizing films that deal with issues society as a whole hadn’t recognized. The Lost Weekend (Best Picture, 1945) confronted alcoholism when most talked about it only in whispers; Guess Who is Coming for Dinner (Best Actress and Screenplay, 1967) contained plenty of frank discussion of interracial relationships when many still considered them disgusting. More recently, however, Hollywood has tended to honor “issue” films (such as 1993’s Philadelphia) that, although well acted and produced, speak down to their audiences. But movies that break ground on new social issues tend to do well in the Oscars. The Academy’s failure to nominate both Barbershop and Secretary shows how freighting many in Hollywood find movies that ask questions offensive to the Left.

Most critics appear to have believed that both films deserved Oscar nominations. According to Rotten Tomatoes (link to: rottentomatoes.com), a website that compiles movie reviews, the two films are the best-reviewed American motion not nominated for Oscars. Barbershop, in fact, received about the same overall score (85 vs. 86 percent) as the widely lauded Chicago which won the most nominations overall. Secretary, likewise, got better overall reviews than three of the five best picture nominees. Both movies step on the Left’s social preconceptions and thus earn the distain of elites who make up the Academy’s voting membership.

The controversy over Barbershop got a lot of press. The well-acted low-budget movie follows a day in the life of hair-cuttery proprietor Calvin Palmer (Ice Cube) as he decides to sell his barbershop to a low-life hustler and then works like a devil to get it back. On the way, he confronts the paradoxes of African-American life in the 21st century: The middle class ambitions and values that most black Americans share combined with the socially corrosive pull of the black underclass. The movie confronts this uncomfortable paradox, one the Left likes to ignore, better and more honestly than any mainstream cultural production of recent years. Jesse Jackson famously attacked the movie for supposedly criticizing Rosa Parks. His charge, however, has no merit. In the movie, the rather buffoonish character Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer) who points out (correctly) that Parks’ refusal to give up her bus seat sparked the civil rights movement because she was already a prominent activist. One must seriously wonder if Jackson’s objections come more from Eddie’s ad hominium attacks on him than any a supposed insult to the civil rights heroine. Other blacks, in any case, don’t seem to mind Eddie’s comments, Barbershop got four nominations for NAACP Image Awards including one for Cedric The Entertainer himself. The overwhelmingly white Academy membership, on the other hand, probably couldn’t stand having Jesse Jackson brand them as racist.

While it didn’t arouse nearly as much controversy, Secretary may have deserved even more plaudits than Barbershop.  It’s the first mainstream movie to present sadism and masochism in a positive fashion. The film tells a conventional love story with a seriously kinky twist: Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) goes to work for anal-retentive lawyer Mr. Grey (James Spader) after her release from a mental institution. As a result of their relationship, she discovers that she’s a sexual submissive. Mr. Grey spanks her, ties her up, and orders her around: She loves every minute of it, masturbating in the bathroom when he tells her what kind of sandwich she should eat for lunch. (Grey, for his part, finds the whole thing a bit wearing.) It’s not a give away to say that the two eventually get married. It’s not a children’s movie but plenty of violence on prime-time television proves far more likely to damage young minds than the “secret” that some consenting adults get sexual thrills from giving spankings and being tied up. 

Gyllenhall’s emotionally effecting, drop-dead sexy performance marks her as star material. But it appears a movie that feminists just couldn’t stand; (see here, (link to: http://www.escapeprostitution.com/2.0shirleymanson.htm) about half way down, for a typical response. The National Organization for Women, likewise, has long taken a stand against the sort of relationship, (http://members.aol.com/NOWSM/SMPRP.html) Lee and Mr. Grey enjoy. While everyone in Hollywood (and, for that matter, NOW) preaches tolerance towards homosexuality and other atypical sexual practices, the idea that some women might sometimes enjoy being submissive to some men simply steps on too many toes for the feminist establishment to live with it. Even the movie’s backer’s seemed a bit scared. Although at least a dozen reviews in major newspapers mentioned Gyllenhall’s Oscar-worthiness, the studio Lion’s Gate mounted only a modest advertising campaign to secure her a nomination.  

By not recognizing these two important, groundbreaking films, the Academy has shown just how deeply mindless political correctness has permeated Hollywood. 

Eli Lehrer is a writer in Arlington, VA.

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