Much has changed in the years since “Brokeback Mountain,” having won nearly all the major awards leading up to the Oscars in 2006, was rejected in favor of “Crash” for the ultimate best picture trophy.
Same-sex relationships have gained a greater acceptance, even if the idea of marriage has progressed in fits and starts.
One of the most prominent critics of the Academy that year, the Los Angeles Times Kenneth Turan, believes that the vote would have turned out differently today.
“I can still feel my anger,” Turan said at a recent panel on the movie as part of Out West, a new series at the Autry National Center of the American West. “I really think that if the Academy could have a do over they would vote for ‘Brokeback.’ I think that their decision over time has come to seem less acceptable and less like the right thing.”
It was hardly as if they had rejected “Brokeback” in favor of say, “The Passion of the Christ.” “Crash” was a movie about race relations in Los Angeles, albeit one that many critics found a bit overbearing and not completely original, as “Short Cuts,” “Grand Canyon” and even “Magnolia” used similar approaches. And Turan’s point, spelled out in an Oscar night commentary in 2006, was that “Crash” gave Academy voters an acceptable progressive alternative to voting for a movie they were uncomfortable with.
As was pointed out at the panel, which also featured USC English professor William Handley, Pitzer College sociology professor Peter Nardi and moderator Virginia Scharff of the University of New Mexico, there were plenty of clues that the Academy’s older-skewing voters were uncomfortable with “Brokeback.” Tony Curtis appeared on Fox News and just said straight out (so to speak) that he had no intention of seeing it: “Howard Hughes and John Wayne wouldn’t like it.”
Turan wrote the night of the loss, “In the privacy of the voting booth,
as many political candidates who have led in polls only to lose in an
election have found out, people are free to act out the unspoken fears
and unconscious prejudices that they would never breathe to another
soul or likely acknowledge to themselves. And, at least this year, that
acting out doomed ‘Brokeback Mountain.'”
“Brokeback” has lived on in the form of “Brokies” fan groups, who write their own stories of the characters and continue to watch the movie, over and over again. Its lines are still part of the cultural lexicon. And the fact that the Autry Museum is spotlighting “Brokeback,” and the gay west in general, is considered something of an achievement.
Conceived by author Gregory Hinton, the Out West series has garnered the support not just of curators and scholars, but Gene Autry’s widow, Jackie. She was present a few months ago when the museum installed an exhibition of the shirts from the movie, costumes now part of the collection of Tom Gregory. Gregory points out that Gene Autry wrote a “code of the cowboy,” one of which was, “A Cowboy must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant views and ideas.”
The idea that Academy voters acted on their unspoken prejudices in 2006 is a much debated theory, and one that never can be proven. But it’s hard to doubt something else that Turan wrote that night, a prediction that the movie would stand the test of time in ways that “Crash” would not: “Sometimes you win by losing.”