I have confession to make, one that makes me a bad film critic and, quite possibly, an even worse American: I don’t care what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences thinks the best films of the year were. Yet, this morning, when I signed onto America Online and learned that this year’s nominees had been announced, I became excited. I scrolled down the list, part Best Picture, past Best Supporting Actress, and even past Best Original Song. I went all the way down to Best Documentary Feature. I did not expect to find Marl Achbar’s insightful The Corporations or Naomi Klein’s brilliant The Take amongst the nominees. I did, however, expect to see Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, but alas it was not there.
The Academy has always been a cowardly institution. IT has never been at the cutting edge of filmmaking and has only ever selected films that stir minimal, if any, controversy. Yet Moore’s film dud not exist hidden in the shadows, outside of the Loews multiplexes and so-called independent movie theaters the Academy watches over. Fahrenheit 9/11 was an explosive film. It was the highest grossing documentary of the year and put Moore on the cover of magazines from Time to Rolling Stone. The American public, which usually is comfortably unaware of documentary films, was forced to hear about Fahrenheit 9/11. It was all over the place- and surely had a greater impact on American life than The Story of the Weeping Camel, which, incidentally, was nominated.
How could the Academy ignore Fahrenheit 9/11? The Academy and the American public can now ignore Fahrenheit 9/11 because it was inextricably tied to the political moment: that summer when there was hope that the downward spiral the Bush administration was taking us down could be averted in the coming election. Fahrenheit 9/11 gave focus to people’s rage and expressed their hope for an alternative.
Well, the election has passed and Bush is still here. The hope and the rage have abated. The sad fact is that at Bush’s inauguration, the anti-Bush organization with the largest presence at the protest was the far-left International Socialist Organization. And the best that the Democratic Party could come up with was to hand out blue bracelets carrying the phrase “Think Blue, 2008.” The diverse opposition that marched against the RNC has dissipated. IN the wake of the shock caused by Bush’s re-election, political apathy seems to be spreading virulently as people resign themselves to four more years. And by steering clear of politics, the Academy is encouraging that retreat.
Whether or not Fahrenheit 9/11 was nominated for an Academy Award does not diminish its significance. But the fact that it could be so easily discarded as a distant memory is indicative of how weak the opposition has become and how bleak the next four years look. All people seem to want to do now is forget and ignore. Me, I would have loved to see Michael Moore walk up on stage to accept the award for Best Documentary Feature. It would have been a reassurance that Americans do still care about politics and what role we play in the world. Besides, it would have given that camel something to really cry about.
GREGORY ZUCKER is the Managing Editor of Logos: A Journal of Modern Society and Culture.