History repeats itself often in Hollywood. Adam Sandler movies open big at the box office. Meryl Streep is nominated for an Oscar every other year (or so it seems). And Hollywood filmmakers and actors never seem to learn from the very films they make.
Ten years ago, in the spring of 2003, during the start of the Iraq War, Adrien Brody won the Best Actor Oscar at the Academy Awards for his powerful work in Roman Polanski’s Holocaust drama The Pianist. He stood up there on stage and thanked his parents and those who made the film, and then the music came up. He put up his hand. Told the Oscar producers to quiet down, and then said the following words:
“But I am also filled with a lot of sadness tonight, because I’m accepting an award at — at such a strange time. And you know my experiences of making this film made me very aware of the sadness and the dehumanization of people at times of war, and the repercussions of war. And whomever you believe in, if it’s God or Allah, may he watch over you, and let’s pray for a peaceful and swift resolution.”
Wait! What did he say? Did Brody not realize that it was war that stopped Hitler from succeeding? Did Brody not realize that war saved the lives of the Jewish concentration camp survivors? Did no one tell Brody that the war didn’t “dehumanize” people — it was Hitler and the Third Reich that dehumanized people?
Brody did not understand the point of Polanski’s film at all. His personal politics polluted his understanding of the film. World War II wasn’t evil. The Nazis were evil.
Ten years later, another film artist, this time Academy Award-nominate director Lee Daniels, is missing the point of his own film, The Butler.
On Aug. 16, the inspired “true story” of a black butler named Cecil Gaines exploded at the box office, becoming a huge hit and Oscar contender.
Daniels’ film starts in 1926 with a public lynching and ends with the election of President Barack Obama. These bookmarked images show the arc of evil Southern racism and the progress of America’s journey. The film is an excellent piece of high-quality entertainment. Spanning the presidencies of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and then fast-forwarding to Reagan, the film’s protagonist shows us how these different men dealt with race relations in America. Some come off well, like Kennedy, and some get the short end of the stick, like Nixon, but overall the film showcases the “black experience” through Gaines, his wife (played by Oprah Winfrey) and their two sons.