Where were the white Americans?
It was an astounding cast... because there was little that was American about both the nominees and winners, observes RATNA RAJAIAH.
``It is so much bigger than me... '' Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton in ``Monster's Ball''.
``You must be the most welcoming country in the world. God bless America.'' Englishman Julian Fellowes, Best Original Screenplay, ``Gosford Park."
WILL SMITH recently said, ``At a French film festival, the nominees will be French and the winners will be French. At a Chinese film festival, the nominees will be Chinese and the winners will be Chinese. At the Academy awards, where the majority of voters are white American actors, the nominees will be largely white Americans and the winners will be largely white Americans.'' He must have been referring to his chance of winning an Oscar for his role as Muhammad Ali in the film ``Ali." And meaning the chances of anyone other than white Americans winning an Oscar was about as high as Will Smith playing a White Knight of the Ku Klux Klan. Will, you couldn't have been farther away from what actually happened on Sunday night of this year's Oscars.
African American, British, Australian, Italian, French... And we are not even counting the Norwegian, Argentinean, Bosnian and Indian contingent in the Best Foreign film category.
It was an astounding cast at the 74th Academy Awards at the glitteringly over-the-top, spanking new Kodak theatre in Los Angeles. Astounding not only because of Whoopi's opening mock-Moulin Rouge costume and racy one liners that so took your breath away in their audacity that you didn't have the time to move from gasp to laugh but because there was little that was American about both the nominees and winners. (Not taking into account of course the fact the production houses - would I dare to call Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox ``production houses?'' who produced these films were American in both the girth of their omniscience and pedigree.)
According to the Time magazine, there were a total of 21 nominations for the Aussies this year. I couldn't count as many; not knowing the nationalities of many of the technical nominees and winners but here's what my calculations threw up.
Out of the five biggies, the high profile films that got nominations in almost every category, only two were home-grown productions in that these were the films that had largely a white American cast and crew. But even out of these, ``A Beautiful Mind'' had an Australian as the lead actor (Russell Crowe) and ``In the Bedroom'' had a British one (Tom Wilkinson). Of the rest, ``The Lord of the Rings'' was a film almost entirely conceived, directed, acted and technically produced by a cast and crew that came from New Zealand, Britain and Australia. ``Gosford Park'' though directed by one of Hollywood's great veteran directors Robert Altman had a story, screenplay (for which Briton Julian Fellows won the Best Original Screenplay Award), cast and crew more British than Yorkshire pudding. (Robert Altman, by the way, in spite of a stunning directorial career of almost 50 years and 30 films has never won an Oscar.) ``Moulin Rouge"'s creative fuelling came largely from Down Under. Baz Luhrmann is Australian, so is his wife Catherine Martin who got both the Best Costume and Best Art Direction Awards. Oh and so is the gorgeous, alabaster skinned Nicole Kidman! (By the way, Harry Potter's presence at the Oscars was more wispy than druid's hair, getting just three nominations and not a single award.)
And this invasion from the Middle Countries didn't just stop there. Of the 10 nominations for Actors, five each for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, only three were white Americans. Ethan Hawke, Jon Voight and Sean Penn.
The rest? As many as four were British of which John Broadbent got the Best Supporting Actor award, one was Australian (dear Groucho Russ though he is said to have been born in New Zealand) and two were African American! Denzel Washington getting the best Actor Award was wonderfully symbolic since it not only followed Sidney Poitier's Life time Achievement Award but was also the first time an African American won this award after Poitier's win 40 years ago for ``Lilies of the Field.''
Whispers were that Russell Crowe queered his chances for an Oscar by his prima donna-ish tantrum at the BAFTA awards. To tell you the truth, brilliant performer that Crowe maybe, this writer was secretly glad that he didn't win. To put it in a manner Whoopi, there's something about his manner that is as ungracious and grungy as his hair. (By the way, It's no longer politically necessary to de-genderise people and call everyone ``actors''. Thankfully, it's back to ``actors'' and ``actresses'' at least at the Oscars.)
It was only a less white American with the women. Out of 10 nominations, again five each for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, four were white American. Well not really, because Renee Zellweger, though born in Texas, has a Swiss father and a Norwegian mother.
Of the rest, four were British, (three of them in the Best Supporting Actress category!), one Australian and of course, there was Halle Berry, who made Oscar history by becoming the first Afro-American to win the Best Actress award.
Then there was the slew of technical awards that went around the world.
But in the end, maybe it all evened out and maybe Will Smith was prophetic. If we look at the most coveted awards, they went to - yup, you guessed right. The white Americans. ``Lord of the Rings'' though getting 13 nominations, won just four awards, all of them technical. The same fate awaited the kaleidoscope-energetic ``Moulin Rouge," winning only two of its eight nominations, again both technical awards. And so naturally, in a strange twisted way, this Oscar night was also the Night of White American. Out of its eight nominations ``A Beautiful Mind'' walked away with the two Holy Grails of the Oscars - the Best Picture award and Ron Howard getting the Best Director award. Topped up, for extra fizz, was the waif-thin but beauteous Jennifer Connelly's debut Oscar and Avika Goldman's win for Best Adapted Screenplay.
So finally, as the five befuddled blind men wondered, was it a rope, a snake, a tree, a pillar or essentially a show where white America ruled, however covertly? It's difficult to say but certainly the behemoth powerhouses that continue to fund the world's cinematic creative energies still lie in America. That's what brings the global talent of cinema to America, looking for the creative elbowroom that large budgets of the kind American producers are wont to come up with can give a filmmaker. But in a cinematic ambience where a Chinese can make a stunning screen adaptation of Jane Austen, where an American, an Indian and a German married to an Indian can make a film based on a novel written by a Japanese on the below-the-stairs working of an English butler, the definition of ``white American'' may need re-looking at. At least in the world of cinema.
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