Culture Fop / When the Academy Awards and Purim Had a One-night Stand

The two Israeli documentaries may have lost but the Book of Esther got a nod from Best Picture winner, 'Argo,' which reminded us that we can still get the best of Iran.

Like a rare eclipse, the 85th annual Academy Awards and Purim crossed paths this year. The biggest night in Hollywood and the craziest night on the Jewish calendar both celebrated the joy of disappearing into character, the thrill of donning outrageous costumes - and an improbable escape from sure death in Iran.

The Oscars kicked off just as the sun was setting on Purim in Los Angeles and beginning in Jerusalem (where the holiday is celebrated a day later because it’s a walled-city – don’t ask). And really, was there so much difference between the strutting up and down Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard in costume and walking the red carpet? Certainly the goal of both seemed to be to show as much skin as possible.

But beyond the similarities, the two seemed to be a mismatched pair this year. If they met at a bar, Purim would be the one insisting on body shots and keg stands and role play and maybe a bit of leather while the Oscars would be pursing its lips.

The Academy Awards, by general consensus of the Twitteratti, was a snoozefest in comparison, with host Seth McFarlane managing to alternatively bore, perplex and offend the crowd (why can Israelis make Holocaust jokes after half a century but Americans are appalled by John Wilkes Booth jokes after a century and a half?)

And something’s wrong when the stars of a night meant to celebrate actors and actresses were all, in fact, singers. Shirley Bassey, Jennifer Hudson and Adele stole the show. But ladies, the Grammys were last week.

No sugar for Israel

Of course, the night was a bit of a bummer for Israel. Neither of its nominated documentaries, “5 Broken Cameras” and “The Gatekeepers,” took home the golden guy. They lost out to “Searching for Sugar Man,” about the folk singer Sixto Rodriguez.

Thus, Israel extended its losing streak at the most prestigious award ceremony in an industry supposedly "run by Jews." How to explain this?

You can claim the two anti-occupation films split the vote, you can argue that even the lefty Jews of Hollywood got cold feet when it came to honoring Israel for its bad deeds (what would your mother think?), or you could say that somebody financed the other three films (ok, maybe not the gay one) explicitly to block these two from winning.

Or, maybe, “Searching for Sugar Man” was just a damn good film.

At a red carpet interview before the show started, Dror Moreh, the director of “The Gatekeepers,” referred to the ceremony as “the ending of a big and long voyage.” The journey of his film certainly made a splash in Israel, inspiring a good dose of debate and reflection and numerous articles in these pages. Here’s hoping that losing the statue doesn’t signal the end of the conversation that “The Gatekeepers” and “5 Broken Cameras” fueled in Israel and that more such documentaries help us look at our reality here through different, if difficult, lenses.

“It sends a clear message for Israelis and Palestinians that peace is the better way to go,” Moreh said in the interview (before he was asked "who he was wearing"). With tensions mounting in the West Bank, Israel’s leaders, who would probably have preferred that the far less political and controversial “Fill the Void” represent the country at the Oscars this year, still ought to heed the lessons of these important and compelling films.

Israel did, however, get a major shout-out from one of the cinematic stars of 2012 – Ted the foul-mouthed teddy bear, aka Theodore Shapiro, who came out as Jewish and felt it necessary to remind us that Jews control Hollywood (“I think [he] has some Hagel connection,” Peter Beinart joked on Twitter).

After he pledged to donate to Israel, the Israeli consulate of New York tweeted back: “Thank you Theodore Shapiro for your support!”

And, because we’re always happy to extend the family when it brings a bit of pride into the clan (i.e., Jerusalem-born Natalie Portman, who won Best Actress in 2011, was once again embraced as Israel’s daughter), we can now add Anne Hathaway to the list.

After all, last night’s Best Supporting Actress winner married a Jewish guy last fall in what was called a “traditional Jewish wedding.” Score one for the team. And with Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner losing their categories, make that the final score.
 

Reuters