Oscar Watch: Should 'Paradise Now' be disqualified?

135857__now_lIt’s easy to sympathize with the 32,000 petitioners who would like the Academy not to consider Paradise Now (pictured) for the foreign language Oscar. The film, which depicts a pair of Palestinian would-be suicide bombers, is a chilling story, not least for the way it portrays the two as ordinary people and not cartoon extremists.

Of course, it’s too late for the petition; all the ballots are being counted now, and Paradise Now certainly has a good chance of repeating its Golden Globes victory this Sunday.

But even if it weren’t too late, I think all thoughtful moviegoers would agree that political correctness shouldn’t determine which movies win Academy Awards. Yes, it’s foolish to pretend politics have no influence over the Oscars — the politics of film funding and distribution, the politics of who’s popular among Hollywood insiders, the politics of who campaigns hardest, and — oh, yeah — the politics of real-world events outside Hollywood. But at some level, the Oscars really are about artistic achievement, and one measure of artistic accomplishment is empathy: how well a movie makes you feel and understand the feelings of someone else who isn’t like you.

Paradise Now is just one of three nominated films (along with Syriana and Munich) that ask you to recognize that Muslim terrorists are like you in that they have aspirations, dreams, families, frustrations, and maybe even legitimate political grievances. To honor these movies isn’t to endorse the characters’ violent tactics, any more than to honor Chicago as Best Picture was to endorse murder or to insult murder victims. Shutting out Paradise Now may assuage the petitioners’ grief, but it won’t increase anyone’s understanding.

addCredit(“Paradise Now: Seamus Murphy”)


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  • Ep Sato

    Funny how it is okay for us to sympathize with Mafia Gangsters (The Sopranos, Goodfellas, the Godfather, etc) and other general losers who sell addictive drugs to kids (Blow) as well as prostitutes (Pretty Woman, Whore, Casino), but we can’t sympathize with people who are part of other religions or political movements. I’ve often wondered why that is.

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  • daisyj

    Well, sypathizing with those who murder innocent people for political gain is pretty tough, even if their greviences are legitimate (and I don’t think that counts as a ‘religion or political movement’). I don’t believe that that’s something that should get a movie disqualified, but I can’t agree with the author that the awards are given only on artistic merit- Hollywood has a long history of giving Oscars to reward movies of questionable quality that support popular views within that community. In that light, I can see how people might be offended if that ‘seal of approval’ went to a film that was sympathetic towards terrorists.

  • Sam

    Perhaps we should live in the shoes of those whom we seem to condemn. Perhaps our generations should continue to live in refugee camps because of the land that is being illegally seized… according to the UN as well as every country in the world, except Israel and United States. Instead of accepting terrorism as a religious phenomenon, perhaps we should really analyze the root cause of terrorism, suicide bombing, 9/11, how else do you make your voice heard, if the world choosing to ignore your plight. Prior to the suicide bombing tactic, how much did you know about Palestine/Israel? Did you even know where Iraq and Afghanistan were? The director did a great job of pinpointing the root cause of suicide bombing, which has yet to be addressed by the international community.

  • David

    Sam — if perceived oppression is the root cause of terror, then why has Tibet not unleashed a bomber on China? Or so much as a raised fist?
    The only common denominator of every movement that embraces terror is that it stems from a societal structure that does not universally condemn the tactic. Want to put a human face on a suicide bomber? Draw parallels between their struggle and those of any other impoverished people? To do so is to ignore the Kings and Gandhis and Kyis and their lessons of peaceful protest. “Paradise Now” is dangerous and wrongheaded, and is unfortunately the same distressing logic that has aided extremist movements for the past 150 years. I would prefer to see a film lauding the few heroes of the true Palestinian cause, those few activists and journalists who have the courage to speak out against the monumentally murderous and corrupt string of leaders that has plagued Palestine since the turn of the 20th century.

  • Nasser

    I love this movie and I support it on every level.
    Everybody needs to see it

  • Karla

    I really want to see this film, and I hope it comes to my area soon. But if I watch it, it won’t make me disavow Israeli suffering. All suffering is suffering. I have no trouble condemning violence while at the same time trying to understand it.
    We can’t do a damned thing about violence until we understand what’s going on – and I’m tired of getting only one side of this story. Munich SO doesn’t count – I found it very unbalanced, because we the audience were invited to see the Arab terrorists as only partially human, but we were invited to empathize with the Israeli assassins. No thanks. You can’t have a war like this unless there are two sides equally willing to hurt each other. We need to be able to understand the viewpoints of both combatants.
    Peaceful solutions and all that – great. Yay – woohoo. But we know what that looks like and we have seen all those films. This story of violence and depair has been stifled, and it needs to be told. There needs to be light and air let into it. Maybe then, we can hear the voices of other Palestinians – but we shouldn’t shame this film away or wish for happier, more uplifting films. Not yet.
    But a deeper issue in this is the unrelenting American use of Arab stereotypes. As entertainment consumers, we honestly don’t know bupkis about Arabs. The Arab as the “other” is a long and shameful Hollywood tradition. If you slap a burka or a Kofia on a dark-complexioned actor, it’s shorthand for danger, foreign-ness, and some B word: Bomber, Billionaire, or Belly Dancer. The scary, foreign, inscrutable Arab is one of our last openly acceptable racist stereotypes, and it’s a hack screenwriter’s easy out.
    American awareness of Arabs is, well … can you think of four Arab Americans? Probably not right off the top of your head (see below). This really isn’t okay – nor is making Arabs into the other because some extremists and people up against a wall promote violence.
    If we want to understand the world, we’ve got to understand viewpoints that are not consistent with our own – especially in a situation this volatile and this enduring (and from within a culture that still gleefully flings Arab stereotypes all over the joint). I empathize with Israeli pain – the entire situation is just horrific – but I also appreciate being trusted with the freedom to understand all of the warring viewpoints without censorship or shaming.
    Some Arab Americans:
    Frank Zappa, Tony Shaloub, Christa McAuliffe, Danny Thomas, Marlo Thomas, Ralph Nader, Donna Shalala, Helen Thomas, Doug Flutie, Dr. Michael DeBakey, Paula Abdul, Jamie Farr, Casey Kasem, Salma Hayek, Shannon Elizabeth, G.E. Smith, Norma Kamali, Kathy Najimy…
    Check it out:

    http://www.aaiusa.org/famous_arab_americans.htm

  • Miles

    Did not know much about the film before. can’t wait to see it.

  • SJS

    I don’t know why I am surprised that the extreme pro-Israel lobby is working to make this film disappear, just like they work so feversihly to get the Palestinian people to disappear! They forbid us even the right to mention the word Palestine- but they will never succeed! I despise suicide bombers, but I recognize Palestine’s right to exist alongside a vibrant and viable Israel too! I hope desperately Paradise Now wins this weekend- and let the dialogue and debate flourish on the difficult and painful road to peace for all!

  • subsei

    I am in great sad if someone can’t see the message behind these movie. there is no funny reason someone wants to be a martyr. its happen beacause frustation, highly frustation. maybe the frustation come from a simple minded person who said that Muslim is terorist. that was so simple minded. because of severeal disapointment of indjugment by most of people araound the world especially like BUSH terorist born.

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