If it’s awards season, then you know that not far behind must come some hyperventilating about what films, filmmakers, or actors are getting “snubbed.” The season has barely begun and already there was some breathless noting of Les Miserables being overlooked by the New York Film Critics Circle.
Right on its heels comes word from The Hollywood Reporter that the makers of the documentary 2016: Obama’s America were peeved that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ shortlist of Oscar-contending documentaries didn’t include their film. The articles notes that 2016 was a surprise hit that pulled in over $33 million, a staggering amount for a nonfiction film and more than the 15 documentaries have made combined.
One could argue that the Academy’s shortlist of documentaries, a smartly-curated selection that includes everything from Detropia to The Waiting Room and The Imposter, simply didn’t have enough room for another documentary, no matter how good. 2016‘s producer, Gerald Molen, has other ideas about what this says about Hollywood and his virulently anti-Obama film. Molen told the magazine, “The action confirms my opinion that the bias against anything from a conservative point of view is dead on arrival in Hollywood circles.”
2016‘s narrator and co-director Dinesh D’Souza agreed, saying that by “pretending that films like Searching for Sugar Man are more deserving of an Oscar, our friends in Hollywood have removed any doubt average Americans may have had that liberal political ideology, not excellence, is the true standard of what receives awards.”
Hollywood’s liberal tendencies are a favorite target of the right. It’s understandable, given the number of big Democrat donors who come out of the film industry and the inarguable fact that in nonfiction film at least, political viewpoints tend to skew left, and not right. With shortlist documentaries about the dangers of climate change (Chasing Ice), the Catholic Church’s abuse scandal (Mea Maxima Culpa), what Detroit lost with the disappearance of a unionized workforce (Detropia), it’s fair to say there’s not much on there that wouldn’t get the average Sean Hannity fan’s blood pressure spiking.
However, D’Souza and Molen’s contention that their film (which PopMatters reviewed here) was snubbed because of its politics is, on its face, nonsense. We all know that box office doesn’t equal quality, if it did, Transformers would win the Oscars every time. But we also know that a political point of view doesn’t equal quality. To say that as childishly bad and intellectually vapid piece of work as 2016 is somehow on par with Searching for Sugarman (which is, by the way, not in any way a leftist-leaning film, unless thinking apartheid was a bad thing is leftist) is on its face, absurd. If D’Souza and Molen want conservative documentaries to receive Oscar attention, they should make better ones.