While no one is dismissing Oscar-winner, Tsotsi, in the Best Foreign Language Film category as anything less than stellar, it must also be said that Paradise Now‘s Oscar potential was severely damaged by an orchestrated smear campaign led by The Israel Project, a pro-Israel propaganda group. Newsday says this about the film and its opponents:
…A furor is starting to erupt around…”Paradise Now,” nominated as best foreign-language film. The film is obscure (director Hany Abu-Assad is not a name heard much around Hollywood), and it hasn’t made much money (barely more than $1 million), but the topic is red hot: suicide bombing in Israel.
The tagline of the movie declares, “From the most unexpected place comes a bold new call for peace,” and the film is nuanced and ambiguous. Still, it’s hard to refute the argument that it humanizes Palestinian suicide bombers. A private group called The Israel Project has led the charge against “Paradise Now”; yesterday the project held a news conference in Jerusalem in which the Israeli father of a teenager killed by a suicide bomber referred to the film as “Hell Now.” And the project is running an ad in Variety that asks, “Is it right to honor a film that puts a human face on deliberate murders of children?“
The Jerusalem Post, the Anglo-Israeli media mouthpiece for the campaign, added this description of the ad:
The group also placed a full-page ad Friday in the entertainment industry daily Variety featuring photos of an Israeli bus and teenager blown up by a suicide bomber.
This is the type of ad that represents what I call the pornography of terror. It is in the same class as the Iraqi Al Qaeda videos of terrorists beheading innocent westerners. Both forms of graphic abuse exploit images of terror to provoke manipulated emotions in their viewer. I have no doubt that this kind of terror exploitation affected Academy voters.
The Israel Project glommed onto Yossi Zur, a father who lost a teenage son to Palestinian terror, and used him for all he was worth to amass 33,000 signatures on a petition calling the film propaganda that justified suicide bombings against Israel. The group held a press conference the Friday before the Oscars and fronted the daughter of a fedayeen who’d fought Israel (and died) during the 1950s. She now denounced Palestinian terror and the film specifically though she’d never seen the inside of a Palestinian refugee camp and in fact is an American citizen. Full-page ads in Variety aren’t cheap and one wonders which deep pockets in the right-wing pro-Israel community fronted the bucks for this expensive project.
Here are some of the provocative comments made about the film at the group’s website:
…an extremely harmful piece of work, not only for Israel and the Middle East, but the whole world.
At a time when the world faces threats from a potentially nuclear Iran and is suffering from suicide bombers, is it right to give an award to a film that puts a human face on deliberate murders of children?
“Paradise Now” is a movie that attempts to explain away the actions behind mass-murderers. This mere act in-effect legitimizes this type of mass-murder & portrays the murderers themselves as victims!
Giving an Oscar to this movie will glorify these murderers & the groups that have sent them. It may even encourage more murders of this type.
This movie tries to say that suicide murder is legitimate…
Granting an award to this kind of movie gives the filmmakers a seal of approval to hide behind. Now they can say that the world sees suicide bombing as legitimate. By ignoring the film’s message and the implications of this message, those that chose to award this film a prize have become part of the evil chain of terror and accomplices to the next suicide murders – whether they kill 17 people or 17,000 people.
Of course, each of these statements about the film is patently false. If anyone behind this effort bothered to see the film at all, they clearly saw it only through their own ideologically distorted lens. But the problem is that this “distorted” view of the film prevailed via the media war waged against it.
Interviewed on To the Point today (audio stream), Christian Science Monitor film critic, Peter Rainer, said that the anti-Paradise Now created just enough noise that Academy voters decided to tune it out and go with nominees that brought less baggage with them like Tsotsi.
I was distressed that Warner Brothers, the film’s distributor did little to support the film during Oscar season. It was showing only in 10 U.S. cities and almost none outside of New York and Los Angeles regions. There seemed to be little or no publicity budget (I saw no ads for the film in the NY Times) and nothing was done to counteract the professional smear campaign the film faced.
I’m sorry to say that Hany Abu Assad, the director, was probably right when he told an interviewer that the Israel Project had probably guaranteed his film would not win:
Hany Abu-Assad, the director of Paradise Now, a film centering on two Palestinians preparing to carry out a suicide bombing, said he believed pro-Israel lobbying would in the end cost him the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
“I can write off an Oscar win right now,” Abu-Assad said.
“The Oscars are a complex matter, and I believe that in the end, if there is a close call, what will work against me will be two or three conservatives, even if the majority votes with its heart.”
I think this raises a troubling precedent for the Academy: the prospect that any film whose subject angers any particular group will face this type of expensive and debilitating vilification. I’d warn the studio and distributors to expect more of this in the future. If you’re distributing a controversial film you should expect the same type of crap the Israel Project dished out this year. And I think that Academy voters will have to educate themselves about such controversial films and become more sophisticated at recognizing propaganda campaigns for what they are and discounting them.
What is distressing is that if the campaign had been waged by a Pat Robertson or James Dobson Academy voters would know something about the political positions of these groups and discount them accordingly. The Israel Project and to a large extent the issues underlying Paradise Now are not as familiar to Hollywood. Why is why this campaign was able to succeed in sowing doubt in the minds of the film community. This in turn, has done a great disservice to the potential for serious debate of the issues surrounding this film. There must be a debate about terror and its role in resistance to oppression. There must be a debate about the role that terror plays and has played in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. How will the Palestinians ever be able to reject terror if we in the outside world cannot even discuss it intelligently and reasonably. Thanks to the Israel Project there will not be such a debate.
I included Munich in the title of this post even though there was no orchestrated campaign against it. Nevertheless, there was much disquiet among the pro-Israel community about the film as represented in a David Brooks column. The Jerusalem Post had this to say:
The film has been criticized, particularly in Israel, for allegedly drawing a “moral equivalence” between the terrorists and the pursuing Mossad agents, as well as for historical inaccuracy.
I hope that the time will come soon when the world will be more ready to address the issues raised by these two films and accord such works of art the Academy Award recognition they deserve.