Supplemental: Hooray for Hollywood straight outta Benghazi!


New York values, script, film and truth:
On the front pages of today's Post and Times, it's "hooray for Hollywood!"

Or possibly not! Seeming to possibly work from script, the Times seems to be wondering why Straight Outta Compton didn't merit a Best Picture Tinseltown nod.

On the famous paper's front page, Cara Buckley pretends to puzzle it out:
BUCKLEY (1/16/16): Is it the members who vote on the Oscars, the films, the campaigns behind them or something else?

On Friday, the day after the Oscar nominations were announced, revealing that all 20 contenders for acting awards were white and that films with black themes had been shut out of the best picture category, industry critics were asking how filmdom’s top awards could be so narrowcast a second year in a row.


The studios behind two films that focus on black characters, “Creed” and “Straight Outta Compton,” seemed to come late to the realization that their productions were awards contenders and proved unable to win enough votes. The Academy’s preferential voting system also works against films and actors not selected as voters’ top picks. And, perhaps the biggest factor of all, the industry’s overall offerings: Many of the 305 films eligible for Oscars did not, demographically speaking, reflect the lives and complexions of movie audiences.

“Every time I say the same thing: Until we get a position of power, with a green-light vote, it’s not going to change,” Spike Lee said in an interview a few hours after the nominations came out. “We may win an Oscar now and then, but an Oscar is not going to fundamentally change how Hollywood does business. I’m not talking about Hollywood stars. I’m talking about executives. We’re not in the room.”

Chief among the surprise omissions this year were Idris Elba, projected to get a best supporting actor nomination for his performance as an African warlord in “Beasts of No Nation”; Michael B. Jordan, the shining lead boxer of “Creed”; and the biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” about the seminal rappers N.W.A.
Without ever quite saying so, Buckley seemed to be floating the notion that Straight Outta Compton's omission from the Best Picture nominees was some sort of surprise—was possibly even an Oscar snub, a puzzle which calls for explaining.

We wondered. Had any critics actually said that Straight Outta was one of the year's top films? We assembled our Oscar-nod research staff and told them to check it on out!

Take us behind the tinsel curtain, we commandingly said.

But first, let's divert to the Washington Post, which offers a front-page Baywatch report in today's hard-copy edition. At issue is a fiery Hollywood film which seems to explain what happened at Benghazi back in 2012.

Hooray for Hollywood—or possibly not! Goldman and Miller penned the Post's lengthy front-page report, which started out like this:
GOLDMAN AND MILLER (1/16/16): It is the most fateful moment in a movie that purports to present a searingly accurate account of the 2012 attacks that left four Americans dead in Benghazi, Libya: a scene in which the highest-ranking CIA operative at a secret agency compound orders his security team to “stand down” rather than rush off to rescue U.S. diplomats under siege less than a mile away.

According to the officer in charge of the CIA’s Benghazi base that night, the scene in the movie is entirely untrue.
Oops! According to the officer in charge, the exciting film's exciting key scene "is entirely untrue!"

According to Goldman and Miller, the author of the book on which the film is based stands by his exciting account of what actually happened that night. The film's director, Michael Bay, is rumored to have been the inspiration for the syndicated TV series, Baywatch, or so it's apparently going to say in an upcoming biopic about his exciting life.

Whatever! As we watched the Post pick nits about the accuracy of the Benghazi film, we were struck by the newspaper's silliness. Just last week, the New York Times' A. O. Scott had helped us see how "dumb" it is to focus on questions of truth when Hollywood hands us a film about searing real-life events.

Readers, behave! In an analysis piece in the Times, Cieply and Barnes reported that some major Hollywood films were being frisked concerning issues of factual accuracy. In the passage shown below, Scott, the paper's lordly film critic, explained how stupid that is:
CIEPLY AND BARNES (1/8/16): Film aficionados tend to find the fact-checking of movies a feckless exercise.

''Movies that are not documentaries are works of fiction, whether or not they deal with real events,'' A. O. Scott, the co-chief movie critic for The Times, said. ''The only people dumb enough not to understand this are certified intellectuals—journalists and college professors, mostly—who need fodder for columns or something apparently important but actually trivial to wring their hands about.''
Silly dumb journalists, professors and other intellectuals! Who else would care about questions like these? Who else would care about whether crucial scenes in a film like Bay's are faithful to what actually happened, or are perhaps crazily inaccurate—are perhaps tending towards false?

We're going to admit it! When we read that statement by Scott, we thought his upper-class "New York (Times) values" were just perhaps possibly showing.

Such upper-class figures are too grand to worry about the way a film like Bay's can possibly mislead millions of people about the important events which drive our political debates. Who's dumb enough to care about that, this pampered son of two professors ever-so-thoughtfully asked.

"What is truth?" Pontius Pilate once asked. We're not sure Scott knows or cares, given his role at the Times.

Citizens, can we talk? It actually matters if films like Bay's take liberties with the truth. Meanwhile, how about Straight Outta Compton? Until Buckley started possibly working from script, did anyone think it belonged on the list of Best Picture nominees?

Uh-oh! At Buckley's own New York Times, none of the film critics did!

Scott compiled a list of last year's 21 best films; the Compton film wasn't on it. Stephen Holden named eighteen films. He skipped Straight Outta too.

The film didn't make Manohla Dargis' list of the year's eleven best films, though it did appear in her unranked list of "another 26 favorites." Rightly or wrongly, no one at the Times had seemed to think that Straight Outta Compton deserved that Best Picture nod.

Did other critics rank the film as one of last year's best? It didn't make Vanity Fair's top ten, or its seven runners-up. It didn't make The New Yorker's list of the year's top thirty, which rated Spike Lee's Chi-raq as 2015's best film.

It didn't make The Atlantic's top twelve, or its ten honorable mentions. Dana Stevens skipped it at Slate. It didn't appear on her list of her "ten favorite titles," or her list of five runners-up.

Lists like these are subjective. There are many other best film lists; we're sure that Straight Outta Compton appears somewhere other than at Rolling Stone, where its musical theme made it a natural sixth-best pick. (According to rumors about possible gossip, El Chapo helped make the selections.)

Our point is this. Whatever its merits may have been, very few people, including its own producers, seemed to think that Straight Outta Compton belonged on the list of the year's Best Pictures—until Buckley perhaps decided to possibly type from script. At that point, she began to wonder why it had been excluded, not to say snubbed.

Buckley's scriptwatch appears on this morning's front page. The Times is often strong on script, perhaps a bit fuzzy on truth.

The Times' conception of film-versus-truth: Last week, we shielded our young analysts' eyes from some of Cieply and Barnes' report.

Good lord! At the New York Times, examples like these come to mind in discussions of film-versus-truth:
CIEPLY AND BARNES (continuing directly from passage above): In fact, some of history's best-loved films probably would not have withstood a contemporary fact-checking.

For instance, in ''The Pride of the Yankees,'' the Lou Gehrig biopic that garnered 10 Oscar nominations and one win in 1943, Gary Cooper badly distorted Gehrig's almost sacred farewell speech at Yankee Stadium, ending rather than leading with a famous line about being ''the luckiest man on the face of the earth.'' Elsewhere, a doctor supposedly gives Cooper the harsh truth about his pending death from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. ''It's three strikes,'' he says. But in real life, doctors, at the request of Gehrig's wife, soft-pedaled the news, saying he might live.

In David Lean's ''Lawrence of Arabia,'' which won seven Oscars in 1963, including the trophy for best picture, Omar Sharif's Sherif Ali was a fictional character—or at best a composite—as were at least a half-dozen central characters. Peter O'Toole, the film's lead, was also nearly a foot taller than the real T. E. Lawrence, who stood about 5 feet 5 inches.
The real-life Lawrence stood 5-foot-5; Peter O'Toole was taller than that! Such examples come to mind when the giants at the Times ponder questions of film-versus-truth.


  1. Whenever we think of Bob Somerby the blogger, we think of a film rated by some as 14th on a list of the 100 best since 1998.

    1. Would that be "Blue Crush"? and scroll to the bottom.

      Bob went on for weeks how ignorant film critics were trashing this cinematic masterpiece.

    2. What's wrong with Blue Crush?

  2. Is Affirmative Action...

    1. A temporary measure to change the culture so that blacks and other minorities are fully accepted into the mainstream? Or,

    2. A permanent program of quotas that should be expanded into every conceivable area?

    IMHO it should be #1, but it will be #2.

    1. You should know about affirmative action, David. Affirmative Action for wingnuts has been going on so long that your basic average right wingnut can't even function in reality fact-based world.

  3. A new sort of corruption has become the rule of the day between Hollywood and what's left of Newspapers. A.O. Scott's review of "The Hateful Eight" is a prime example.
    First the headline does not indicate it's a negative review. Then Scott's spends several paragraphs telling you it' dubious nature is due to it being a Tarrientio movie, and by implication the great man gets to make his own rules.
    Then at the end, after burying the lead as much as humanly possible, he admits this stinker is a piece of crap, which it is.
    But, after all, it's only the movies.

  4. Since at least part of the problem is that films that appeal to African American audiences tend not to have wide appeal, a possible solution is to create a category called "Best Black Film" or similar name, with relevant judges instead of the whole academy and nominees limited to those fitting a specific criterion. There are already such categories, including Best Foreign Film, Best Animated Feature Film, consisting of not widely watched genre films with appeal to a specific audience.

    When there were segregated industries, there were many more opportunities for talented African Americans to succeed in films. Now that they must compete in a market that is not dominated by African American interests, there are fewer such opportunities. I can see how this is frustrating but there is never going to be wide interest in N.W.A. or ChiRaq or Tyler Perry movies. Saying there should be doesn't change reality.

    African Americans say they do not want segregated awards because they do not lead to jobs or create success in mainstream Hollywood. If that is the case, they need to be willing to compete in the mainstream industry and that means less chance at success and a need to cater to mainstream interests (those awful roles white actors have to play too). It is a reality that ALL Hollywood films chase the dollar by appealing to the youth market, or they accept Indie film status. That is the nature of capitalism. Complaining because white people don't like movies about Compton will change nothing. Similarly, making a huge fuss until awards are grudgingly given to people who haven't earned them (sorry Denzel) isn't succeeding on the same terms as everyone else and really isn't going to open those doors. It creates resentment among those who are also struggling (white, Asian, Hispanic, all talent).

    Actors, directors and writers of comedies have historically been overlooked at the Oscars, especially before Woody Allen. The solution was to make better comedies, not throw tantrums because the genre (roles, material, production challenges) didn't attract nominations. Comparing Straight Out of Compton with Innaritu's films is ridiculous. Creed doesn't stand up either.

    African Americans cannot insist on competing in the mainstream while making niche films. It is a losing strategy to insist such films be treated as if they were mainstream and art when they are at best competent entertainment or at worst (Spike Lee)self-indulgent racist polemics disguised as activism. I predict the good will of the industry will dissipate and the talented black professionals will be back to their work, which is to find jobs in an overpopulated field with few winners and many disappointed people all striving for their chance. It isn't an industry that is particularly fair to anyone.

    1. films that appeal to African American audiences tend not to have wide appeal

      True. But, also true for many other cultural subgroups. Should be have separate Awards for Best Redneck Movie; Best Tea Party Movie; Best Actuary Movie; etc. I don't think so.

    2. Best Actuary Movie? Heck yes! I nominate David in Hol, uh mean David in Cal.

    3. On an episode of Conan with Kevin Hart, Hart said he had no interest in seeing most of the movies nominated for an Oscar. I've read statistics that black viewing audiences for many TV shows are small. I think the lack of interests is mutual. I don't know whether that is historical or because race dominates so many aspects of life, or perhaps one purpose of films is to affirm identity so people choose accordingly. Blaming white people for doing what black people also do seems a bit unfair.

    4. Quality has very little to do with the Academy Awards. And if a film is too popular (let's say Star Wars this year) it is usually snubbed. Niche films get nominated all of the time (Harvey Weinstein has made a career of it). So to blame the lack of representation of African Americans on niche film status, or not making good movies is disingenous at best.
      Blacks don't make many "mainstream" Hollywood films because they are woefully under-represented at all levels of the Hollywood machine. They are not at the table, as Spike rightly points out. Women, too.
      They are a game that is played by Hollywood, and we just get to watch. They are not an indication of quality, they are just a representation of what the Hollywood system wants to see. Which is the real reason you don't see many African-American noms.

    5. Political POV is important, since the Academy Award voters are mostly liberal. American Sniper would have won the award for Best Picture with a different group of voters IMHO. OTOH American Beauty won Best Picture in 1999. It was mediocre movie IMHO, but its values resembled the values of the group voting.

    6. Academy Awards use you. If you even think about them for a second, you are being used. Don't let them use you. Read a book or watch birds in your backyard. Break away from the soul sucking culture monster. Never think or read or talk about the Acadamy Awards ever again. DON'T watch the academy awards EVER AGAIN. Break away from all culture. I know it's hard but you deserve the reward that awaits you when you do..

  5. I wouldn't honor a glorification of gangsta rap.

    1. So I guess you disagree with the Oscars for The Godfather?

    2. The Godfather is not a 'glorification' of Mafia life, and I'm unsure how anyone who's ever watched the series could avoid this conclusion.

    3. I too, wouldn't honor those on Wall Street.

  6. Huffington Post has three anti-Clinton hit pieces up today. The New York Times has two. Supposedly her allies are abandoning ship because she has all but lost the nomination to Sanders, without a single vote being cast. Next week the calls for her to pull out and yield to Bernie will begin.

    1. I thought it was Sanders who had no chance at winning anything and could only hurt Sec. Clinton's and, by extension, America's chances by running. New script?

  7. I thought I would note that being a good movie, isn't really necessary for an Oscar nomination. The Revenant is pretty universally regarded as a mediocre to bad movie, yet it has not only been nominated for an Oscar, it even seems to be the favorite.