How the Oscars affect the world

The 81st Annual Academy Awards are taking place later today in Los Angeles and the results will have a larger impact upon the world than one may otherwise assume. The reason? Copyright law.

Currently, while certain countries choose to enforce the Motion Picture Association of America‘s “anti-copyright theft laws is to protect valuable ideas and the creative industries”, most do not. The result has been the far-reaching proliferation of the “valuable ideas”, not only of Hollywood, but arguably of America itself. It has also stimulated economic development with local internet companies doing their part in downloading the torrents of these films. Other small businesses benefit from learning new software systems and translating and distributing these films. Ironically, the MPAA spends valuable time and money cracking down on this new distribution system, fighting rather than engaging with it to see the potential benefits this increased viewership can bring.

Bangladesh illustrates this perfectly as it had the best movie stores of any country I had ever been to. Ranging from Hollywood to Bollywood, to the underground cinema of Kolkata and art-house movies of New York. In this conservative muslim country, I could buy Kubrick’s Lolita just as readily as Farah Kahn’s ओम शान्ति ओम (Om Shanti Om) – not to mention various banned films.

It’s interesting to see what films make it overseas, and how well they do there. I’m not aware of many studies of this as there really isn’t much of an international film awareness in either direction, despite what the art-house in NY might think. Not since Amos Vogel’s Cinema 16. What I am sure of is that whatever wins the Oscar for Best Motion Picture, is picked up and spreads like wildfire. This makes this years line-up particularly interesting:

Best Motion Picture of the Year


I could go into the breakthrough that is a British director making a Bollywood film getting to the American Oscars, or the backlash he caused on the subcontinent, but I think that Milk is much more important. As a disclaimer, I think that Gus Van Sant is one of the most overrated directors to ever emerge in the US, thanks to his similarities to William Eggleston (which I will write about in an upcoming post). Nevertheless, if Sean Penn’s performance manages to secure the nomination, this will have revolutionary potential worldwide. If it wins, this will be the way that the world learns about homosexuality. As an intimate, personal and dramatic portrayal of a man who struggles to embrace political freedom, it is both humanizing and sympathetic. If it wins, Madonna‘s ex-husband, clearly not a homosexual himself, will be the face of a movement, a symbol of a struggle, and a lens into a people.

How will the world react? It’s difficult to say. For one, we don’t yet know if the film will win. For two, I’m curious to see how economics, politics and law will come to a head. Perhaps this will be the impetus for governments to support the MPAA’s arguments. Maybe Milk will be banned and provide stimulus to underground economies around the world, forcing cinephiles to visit pornography shops to access the art-house. At the same time, the kids from Slumdog recently had their “houses” demolished by Indian authorities so a win could be a victory for them as well. Whatever the case, I’ll be following closely. Good luck!



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