Progressive Cinema: The Oscars vs. The Progies

Highlights were few and far between in this year’s Oscar Awards show. The shameful lack of people of color nominated for awards, the absence of films with progressive content and the failed attempt to improve in the hosting category made the event less than attractive to progressive viewers.

Oprah Winfrey hit one of the only highpoints with her presentation of the Best Documentary Award, saying, “If we’re feeling lousy…what do we do? We go to the movies. We escape. But I’m here to present the award to the movie that did not let us escape.” And then Charles Ferguson came up to receive his first Oscar, for the powerful documentary Inside Job, an exposé of the world financial meltdown of 2007.

“Forgive me,” Ferguson fearlessly stated, “but I must start out by saying that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by massive fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that is wrong!” This startling remark, which pulled most people out of a daze of glitz and glamour, was met with an equally surprising round of loud applause from a room full of most of the movie kingdom’s greatest artists.

Another highlight, as part of the memorial for those in the movie industry who passed this year, Halle Berry (who many feel was robbed of a nomination for her compelling performance in Frankie and Alice) paid tribute to the great singer/actress/activist, Lena Horne.

The battle between The Social Network and The King’s Speech, two well-made but hardly progressive films, fizzled out when the awards were distributed more randomly than expected. It was only the song at the very end of the program that saved what little there was left of a boring evening of gowns and tuxedoes. Fifth graders from a Staten Island public school sang their hearts out on a rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” melted the hearts of every viewer and reminded us what entertainment can truly be. Maybe some noticed that these were PUBLIC school children, and the song was from two of America’s greatest progressive songwriters, Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg.

It wasn’t coincidental that the James Agee Cinema Circle (JACC) announced, prior to the Oscars, the winners of the Progies, awards for progressive cinema. Without the glitz and glamour, JACC laid the honors on films of social substance, and artists of talent and commitment to the struggle. Even the Rain won in three categories: Best Picture, Best Foreign Film and the Robeson Award for Best Portrayal of People of Color. The film, scripted by one of Ken Loach’s favorite screenwriters, Paul Laverty, tells the story of the famous water war in Bolivia, where local peasants rose up against corporations attempting to privatize their only source of water. Kevin Spacey won for Best Actor in Casino Jack, as he cannily portrayed the jailed super lobbyist, Jack Abramoff.

The Progies shared tastes with the Oscars in the selection of Inside Job for Best Documentary, and for honoring the Lifetime Achievement of French master, Jean-Luc Godard. His latest contribution to the growing collection of progressive cinema, Film Socialisme, won the Progie for Best Progressive Film Deserving Theatrical Release in the U.S., because it will most likely not see the light of day, nor the light of any movie screen, in America.

Other recipients of progressive acknowledgement include Naomi Watts for her work in the Valerie Plame drama, Fair Game, and The Green Zone for Best Anti-War Film. The Kids are Alright received the Pasolini Award for Best Pro-Gay Rights Film, and Made in Dagenham won for the Best Working Class Image Award.

Image: Still from The Kids are Alright.


Bill Meyer
Bill Meyer

Bill Meyer writes movie reviews for People’s World, often from film festivals. He is a keyboardist at Bill Meyer Music and a current member of the Detroit Federation of Musicians. He lives in Hamtramck, Michigan.