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Open Letter to The Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences
RE: Snub To Nelson Mandela Just Six Weeks After He Died

The editors of the Journal of African Cinema have asked for the following essay to be posted to the Intellect blog to stimulate discussion, the conversation will continue in the journal.

 
Danny Schechter, a.k.a., "The News Dissector" is an author, journalist, blogger, and filmmaker. He is completing a series of documentaries on the movie, Mandela Long Walk to Freedom. He directed six documentaries about Nelson Mandela, in the 90's, and has been reporting on South Africa since the mid l960's. He produced the internationally distributed (but banned here) TV Series, "South Africa Now" for 156 weeks out of New York from 1988-91. He has written 15 books. His latest is Madiba AtoZ: The Many Faces Of Nelson Mandela distributed in South Africa by Jacana Media. He blogs at newsdissector.net and edits Mediachannel.org
 
From Danny Schechter
 
New York, New York: It was ironic to read that the theme of this year’s Oscar ceremony will be heroes---even as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences just snubbed the movie about Nelson Mandela that South Africa’s first black President, and without question, a hero of the world, had given his rights to be turned into a major motion picture.
 
He wanted it made by South Africans, somehow not trusting foreign moviemakers.
 
I wonder why.
 
No one is questioning the Academy’s right to nominate and honor any movie but, given the world we live in, and its need for inspiration, we can question the judgment involved in passing over a critically acclaimed story of a successful fight for freedom while lesser themes seem to be considered more compelling: crime dramas that spoof, but don’t explain, the greed and criminality on Wall Street and government, a love affair between a man and his laptop, and a movie focusing on the ordeal of slave but not the system of slavery, among others.
 
For reasons that seem to reflect the commercial imperatives and callousness in American popular culture, we exploit the violence associated with victimization and subjugation but don’t admire the sacrifice connected with liberation. 
 
•Why does Hollywood prefer to milk guilt rather than promote solidarity? It is not “sour grapes” to ask questions like this.
 
Again, filmmakers must be free to deal with any and all issues but the public has a right to discuss the priorities, politics and values embedded in our “best” films even if the industry’s voters do not seem to be conscious that their choices make a statement about their outlook, by what they vote for and what they ignore.
 
•Was Mandela Long Walk To Freedom passed over because it was produced by an African? 
 
Movie critics in our best newspapers praised it for its integrity. It was debated, not panned. Mandela himself was saluted by all our media . Time Magazine, hardly a marginal outlet, issued a Special Commemorative Edition saluting a “Heros’s Journey.”
 
•Is it true that Hollywood can only handle one “black film” a year even as Mandela’s fight for a non-racial society galvanized international support with 91 heads of State, including our own, speaking at his funeral. It rejected racism.
 
•Was a story deemed heroic by virtually every nation in the world ignored because it is not about some American obsession in an age when Hollywood claims to represent a global industry?  
 
•Is it not entertaining enough?
 
•Was the lack of pricey big name American stars a liability?
 
•Was the Mandela movie bypassed because it had no big studio backing and, hence, no deep pockets to lobby for it?
 
It may be that the film’s ‘Oscar campaign’ assumed that Academy members saw the film and cared about the story.
 
Take two.
 
Maybe the movie’s boosters relied too much on hopes for black-American support not realizing how much the black community in our country has been devastated by the financial crisis and its epidemic of foreclosures, making it more difficult for many families of color to afford increasingly costly movie tickets as apartheid-like inequality deepens beyond Beverly Hills.
 
Perhaps they don’t realize that the decline of public education makes it less likely that students will even learn about Mandela in their classrooms, or that our news biz as show biz “journalists” who have mostly abandoned the world, will cover his story in any depth.
 
Many prefer to fawn on the rich and famous asking them how they feel to be in the spotlight. They rarely do the same with the poor and anonymous.
 
Once their “death watch” was over, the world moved on. In their words, they are “Mandela’d out.”
 
•What does Hollywood care about these days except more and more displays of attractive actresses parading around in expensive gowns trying to capture the glory of an earlier era?
 
Maybe it was the booze that was consumed by the gallon full at the Golden Globes sponsored by an institution of questionable integrity,
We know you love to wear tuxedos and love movies that make bug bucks so you can reward them with a gold statuette to help them make more. In the end, is that what its all about?
 
How naïve of me not to “get it.”
 
Nelson Mandela is not around to express his disappointment, but the people of South Africa who struggled with him cannot be happy with the indifference the Academy has shown for more trivial fare, whatever its artistic merits.
 
I am not saying Mandela Long Walk To Freedom should win—but it should have been given the chance to compete.
 
One dissent to my own argument: Reality has not been abandoned completely. Many of the documentaries up for consideration this year deal with serious subjects and under-covered issues. All the potential winners, however, are repeatedly warned to keep their remarks apolitical and brief.
 
“I want to thank….” Music sneaks in. Your 15 seconds of fame is done.
 
So much for freedom of speech!
 
In l990, when the real Mandela visited Los Angeles, he was given the key to the city and leaders in the Entertainment Industry flocked to greet him and express their admiration. That was then; been there, done that.
 
Twenty years later, after his death from a prison induced medical condition at age 95, the Academy has turned its back on him and his achievements while only offering up a booby prize—a nomination for U2’s memorable song about love that ends the movie, a song that earlier won the Golden Globe. See a pattern here?
 
Where is the love for Madiba? 
 
Where is the respect?
 
Where is the courage in LaLa land?
 
News Dissector Danny Schechter produced six documentaries on Nelson Mandela and created the South Africa Now TV series from 1989-91. His new book is Madiba AtoZ: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela (Seven Stories Press-Madbibabook.com.
Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org

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