20 February 2008

Political Movies: The Emerging Trend of Politically Motivated Films

With the Academy Awards approaching this weekend, the whole world eagerly waits to see which pictures will be the nights big winners. This year is particularly notable, because never have the films been so richly colorful and politically charged. From Michael Moore's Sicko, a documentary on the United States' faulty health care system to Gone Baby Gone, a tale of corrupt police officers and the loose boundaries of morality, the films are direct responses to what is going on in today's society. One reason for the abundance of these films is most probably an inspiration from the current administration. As a society we are a safe enough distance from the September 11th attacks that we can begin to criticize exactly what truths we hold to be self-evident. There is a growing sentiment in the country that we can no longer blindly follow those that have been chosen to lead us. The films nominated this year ask audiences to think critically about the choices and decisions they make, because they are more important now then they ever have been.

Another reason for this boom is the growing shift between politics and entertainment. In the past, films about war and political conspiracy were controversial, but now filmmakers and activists realize that to spread their message, especially to the youth, they have to think creatively, and submerge these issues in creative mediums. The blog entry "Look On The Dark Side" by Ben Gold criticizes the lax attitude of the American people about torture in the Middle East while reviewing the new film, Taxi to the Dark Side. Also drumming up buzz is the new Sean Penn film, Milk, based on the life and times of Harvey Milk, San Francisco's first gay city supervisor. It was not a subject I knew much about, but in researching it, and reading the article "We Can't Wait for Milk" by Nathaniel R. including quotes from various bloggers and authors, I realized that is it one that is still very relevant to our socio-political climate today. I have left comments on those blogs, which I have provided below, trying to find answers in the film industry's quest for social change.

"Look On The Dark Side"

Thank you, Mr. Gold, for your critique of the film "Taxi to the Dark Side of the Moon". I agree with Mr. Gibney in the sense that many of the issues facing our country are not just political issues, but personal issues as well. As American people we tend to have a superiority complex, and any sort of unjust treatment we practice is chalked up to "national security". We are so concerned with soldier US soldier deaths, but we never consider how many innocent Iraqis were killed at the hands of American soldiers. Those names and those faces never make the newspaper, and it is inspiring to see Gibney try to translate those stories onto film.

As of right now we are under such a dangerous leadership, and it makes you wonder who is the real terrorist in all of this. If we do not get the full story over here, I can only imagine what orders the soldiers must be getting. They enlisted in the armed forces to protect and defend, but on what scale? and to what cost?

It is interesting that the War in Iraq mirrors the Vietnam War in so many ways, but even over 30 years later, we still have not learned from our past mistakes.It is a war for nothing that affects everything. The only thing that I have some contention with is that it is almost unfair to expect so much from the American people, since we want to believe in our leadership so badly. We WANT to believe that they are fighting for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness like it was established so many years ago. As citizens we must take an active role, but as people we want to believe that our appointed leaders are constantly fighting for good.

The film makes you wonder what exactly our reputation is in the rest of the world. I wonder if they fear death at the hands of a tyrannical government the same way we do. I can't help but notice the advertisement for "There Will Be Blood" further up on the page, because it seems almost apropos. There will be blood in this battle with Iraq, there HAS been blood, but at what cost? If anything, this film at the very least will make viewers think critically, and help paint a wider viewpoint of our current political climate. If it makes people ask questions, then it has done its job.

"We Can't Wait for Milk"


I can say that after seeing Into The Wild, I am excited to see Sean Penn and Emile Hirsch working together again. The life of Harvey Milk is such a fascinating story, one that I feel today's generation (which includes myself) has missed out on.

So much attention has been paid to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1970s that it is a nice change of pace to hear about the history of gay rights, which is just as much a part of our American history and framework as is anything else. Milk's life eerily mirrors our current political situation, with people being quieted and stifled simply for speaking out against the current system.

It is also goes to show that a person of a different color, creed, or sexual orientation can hold political office just as well as any former leader. We are deep in a national debate between Obama and Clinton, but when it really comes down to it, the color or the gender or religion has nothing to do with how they will hold office. Sure, their individual experiences will aid in their decision-making, most likely making them more compassionate leaders, but it has nothing to do with their abilities. What we do know, is that their election will bring a positive change to this country, one that will hopefully be read about more in the history books than Milk is now. As Milk said himself, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door." Hopefully, whoever wins this current election, will help open one more door.

It's a shame that Milk's assassin received the short sentence that he did, proving that then and even now, gays still have a lot of work to do to be considered equal citizens. There is still a lot of bigotry that exists, but as a straight man of color, I am just existed to see this movie so that it may open the gates of discussion and hopefully bring a more tolerant viewpoint to today's society. It is important to realize that this seemingly political story is deeply embedded in all of our personal histories, and it is time we finally get to see our past, so that we may grow and learn for our future.

1 comment:

JBS said...

BDB thank you for your informative and interesting post, anytime politics and film overlap the result is always fascinating. I would like to start by complementing you on your tasteful and effective color scheme, your blog looks truly excellent. Also I would like to commend you on your varied, but always interesting and topical post subjects; this post especially, so close before the Oscar telecast seems particularly pertinent. I think that the blogs you decided to comment on are unique enough that they have not been commonly heard of, but interesting enough that they should be mainstream news stories; you chose two excellent blogs to comment on. Throughout your post your writing is consistently strong, I think this comes from your deep passion for the subject which absolutely shines through in your comments. Also your graphics are wonderful, they are well placed and effective.

Your writing, while being wonderfully passionate, seems to be completely in agreement with both of the posts you chose to comment on, I am not sure that you realized your opportunity to challenge the authors of the posts. Your comments feel more like a springboard for your prose, than they do a springboard for discourse. Being a film student, as I was reading your post I was surprised by the complete lack of mention of Gus Van Sant, director of Milk and one of the few openly gay directors; I feel like you let an opportunity to pose interesting question pass you by.

With your first post, about Taxi to the Dark Side (which ended up winning the Oscar), I think you had an even more interesting subject. The Oscar nominated documentaries of this year are almost all politically charged, further almost all of the documentaries that have won the Oscar since 2003 (when Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine won) have been politically driven, with the exception of March of the Penguins.

I think that your post is both wonderfully topical and beautifully written. The comments that you make are informed, however I feel that you are not challenging the authors of the posts you commented on. Overall you did a really wonderful job.

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