December 29, 2011

Queer Issue: Will Fincher's remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo make Oscar History?

Usually, I have very little interest in the Oscars. Very rarely do films or directors that I like actually win and my general impression is that Hollywood politics, rather than cinematic quality, is the primary driving force behind who the oscar goes to. There is also the issue of the allegedly liberal Hollywood - which if certain groups are to be believed, is one of the primary forcers of The Homoesexual Agenda down everyone's throats - almost never allowing films with genuine queer content to win.

Given the subjectivity of art, one can certainly debate the very notion of placing the label "Best Picture of the Year" on any film. What qualities make a movie "the best" picture anyways? Then there is the issue of the cultural significance of the Academy Awards themselves for there exists a long and storied history of the Academy choosing "Best Picture" films that lacked, shall we say, staying power.

For example consider the story of Citizen Kane being booed at the Academy Awards thanks to William Hearst's campaign against the film, while How Green Was My Valley was the film that came out on top. After that, the reputation of Citizen Kane only increased over the years, eventually being given the #1 position on the AFI's list of the Top 100 Films. There are of course other examples that cast doubt on the Academy's ability to pick out the "Best Film", Do the Right Thing losing to Driving Miss Daisy, Taxi Driver being passed over for Rocky, Shakespeare in Love winning over Saving Private Ryan. I could go on but these are generally considered as cases where the Academy picked "safe" pictures over more daring films that had greater cultural influence.

In any case, this year I might actually be paying a small amount of attention. Why? Because there are faint whispers that Fincher's remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has a shot at Oscar glory. What makes Fincher's remake interesting (to me at least) is that it belongs to the rather elite class of films that queered up their content, rather then straightened it out.

In the original Sweedish version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Lisbeth Salander was shown in one brief scene, waking up naked next to another woman. In Fincher's remake, Lisbeth Salander is also shown actively seeking this female partner in a nightclub, plus we get a girl on girl kiss before she departs.

I admit that this is not a lot, but it is significant given that Lisbeth Salander is also the rare film heroine who gets to save the straight male hero, not once but twice. Not only that but he never gets the opportunity to repay her the favor. In the one situation where that she required saving, she does the all the work herself before she even meets her male co-star.

Too often when Hollywood adapts material featuring bisexual characters - or any queer content for that matter - what happens is what I call "straightening out". Same sex lovers turn into friends, overt romance becomes subtext, or in the case of The Lost Weekend guilt over a same sex encounter turns into dealing with alcoholism. The topic of Hollywood's insistence upon straightening out queer characters as, well as queer historical figures, is one I have addressed before and unfortunately, one that I will probably have to again.

Furthermore, films with genuine queer characters almost never win, while movies with straightened out characters have frequently taken home Oscar gold. For example, Shakespeare in Love and the aforementioned The Lost Weekend both straightened out bisexual individuals and were able to win the big prize. One could also make a case for A Beautiful Mind except John Nash, in spite of certain evidence to the contrary, has denied being bisexual. Also worth bringing up is the transphobic The Silence of the Lambs winning the "Best Picture" statue as well.

While films with queer characters do often get nominated, they almost never win. For example, movies such as The Kids Are All Right, The Crying Game, Brokeback Mountain, Capote, Cabaret,The Hours, The Full Monty, and Kiss of the Spider Woman have all been nominated but none of them were able to take home the statue. American Beauty is probably the most recent queer friendly film to win, but Wings - the first "Best Picture" winner (back when the honour was referred to as "Outstanding Picture") - was also the first picture to feature a full man on man kiss.

However, if The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo wins, it will be the first motion picture with a genuine and openly queer protagonist to do so. One could make a case for Lawrence of Arabia but as I understand it, that was pretty much subtext. No other film, to my knowledge has featured a genuine lgbtq character in a lead role and still pulled off an Oscar win.

Of course, the chances of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo actually winning best picture could charitably be classified as comprable to the proverbial snowball in hell. If history is anything to go by, Mara Rooney at least stands a much better chance at winning best actress, as the Academy has never been shy about giving out top honours for portrayals of lgbtq characters. However, even if Fincher's film does not take home a statue, it is still a significant film in terms of queer content. No matter what, my fingers shall be crossed.

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