Agence France Presse notes in Oscar-nominated pleas for Mideast peace spark controversy, the controversy surrounding two films nominated for Academy Awards which deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict: Munich and Paradise Now.
The story indicates that an Israeli father whose son was killed in a Palestinian terror attack led a campaign to disqualify Paradise Now on the grounds that it was not a “Palestinian” film. Paradise Now is nominated for Best Foreign film representing Palestine:
A group inspired by Yossi Zur, whose 16-year-old son Asaf was killed by a suicide bomber three years ago on March 5 — the same day on which the Academy Awards ceremony is to take place — collected over 20,000 signatures seeking to have “Paradise Now,” nominated for best foreign film, barred from the Oscars. In an essay published in the New York Daily News, Zur dubbed the film an “extremely dangerous piece of work” that aims to legitimize suicide attacks.
The Los Angeles Times also reports that Israeli politicians have gotten into the act:
the Israeli media reported efforts by “powerful Israelis” and others aimed at dissuading academy members from casting their votes for “Paradise Now.”
While I sympathize with the pain suffered by Mr. Zur and decry Palestinian (as well as Israeli) terror, his effort is misguided. What he’s missed is that Paradise Now does not “glorify” terror. All you’d have to do is see the film from start to finish to understand the complex position it takes which ultimately concludes with a rejection of terror as a legitimate choice.
Google News list over 100 news articles about Mr. Zur’s campaign and they all present it favorably with little counter-argument on behalf of the film. I fear based on this drumbeat of negativism that Academy voters may be swayed against the film and that it may lose. It would be Israel and Palestine (and the world’s) loss. It should be noted that the LA Times’ The Envelope, which touts Oscar odds gives Paradise Now front-runner status at 5/2! On the other hand, David Carr writing in the NY Times gives the nod to Tsotsi!, a powerful South African nominee:
These little movies have kicked up so much noise it is hard to separate the buzz from the prospects. Tsotsi is the most mentioned…but the debate over whether Paradise Now is a legitimate contender…has peaked significant interest in a movie that more than holds up to scrutiny.
I should add that some publications are giving the film a balanced portrayal like Christian Science Monitor’s blandly titled, ‘History’ on the Big Screen.
As for lobbying by Israeli leaders, that is most unfortunate but in keeping with the desire of some of them to stifle any debate that might show Palestinians as grappling with serious moral issues around using terror as a form of national resistance. It is much more convenient if Israel can show Palestinians to be bloodthirsty bomb-throwing radicals. I hope their effort fails as this film is much too complex to be pigeon-holed as the Israelis would like to do.
Again, as AFP indicates, Hamas’ resounding victory in the recent Palestinian elections has brought the issue of terror to the fore and I hope raised the profile of the film in the eyes of the Academy voters:
Film historian David Slocum of New York University said he hopes the films will “expand our dialogue about political violence, about what it means to be living under occupation, about what it means to feel threatened and take preemptive action” — issues that he says have been “marginalized” from public discourse…
Both Israelis and Palestinians are fed up, Slocum said, and “being fed up is one of the reasons that Hamas is there and in the position that they are.”
He said the movie powerfully portrays the frustration and dehumanization experienced by those living under occupation.
“That’s not to say that the Israelis are the evil-doers here. But it is to say that there are real and understandable reasons that Hamas was voted in so overwhelmingly,” he said.
“That’s why I believe ‘Paradise Now’ is so powerful, because this is a hole in our understanding of that situation.”
I’d be delighted if either Munich or Paradise Now (or both) won Oscars though my heart is with the latter film. Read my expanded appreciation of Paradise Now here. Good luck!