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Oscar madness

"Oscar madness" Continued...

Issue: "'Into captivity they shall go'," Feb. 24, 2007

But whereas Cider House's purpose was to frame a debate already raging in America, Boys Don't Cry functioned as a preemptive strike to sway audiences to one side of a looming cultural battle. Independently produced, the film centered on a young woman who deceives her lover into believing she is a man. Played by then-unknown Hilary Swank, the character not only cuts her hair like a boy and wears masculine clothing, she makes love to her girlfriend with a prosthetic phallus.

While that sounds like the makings of a disturbing psychological thriller, in the hands of Hollywood it was transformed into a romantic tragedy-a Romeo and Juliet (or Juliet and Juliet as the case may be) for the modern gender-bending age. In his review of Boys Don't Cry, Roger Ebert set out the moral he expected viewers to walk away with: "Everybody in this film acts exactly according to their natures . . . it's a sad song about a free spirit who tried to fly a little too close to the flame."

Like Cider House, Boys received support from critics and numerous national and international awards. And because it introduced subject matter barely conceived in red-state America, it also opened the door for the mainstream media to promote the transsexual lifestyle. Only the second time around, the stories were not presented as narrative dramas, carefully crafted to elicit audience identification and sympathy, but as investigative reports.

On Feb. 25, 2004, CBS' 48 Hours premiered a broadcast titled "Trapped," examining the lives of three "transgendered" individuals who believe they are suffering from society's intolerance of their true identities-namely that, despite their genitalia, they feel more comfortable living as members of the opposite sex. One of the guests, Kayla, was an 11-year-old girl on her way to becoming a boy with the blessing of her mother and the testosterone shots of her doctor. Wanting to affirm her child's inner identity, Kayla's single mother calls her daughter "Kayden" and refers to her as "he." Following CBS coverage, on Aug. 24, 2004, Oprah Winfrey, den mother to millions of American women from all sides of the political spectrum, again featured Kayla/Kayden and her mother in a sympathetic program on transsexual pre-pubescence.

Though neither of these Oscar-winners made much money, progressives considered both successful in that they either furthered a public argument or introduced one. And whereas Boys may have been unsuccessful in its bid to draw in viewers with its tragic same-sex "love story," a film nominated six years later wasn't. No matter how the receipts were parsed by region, the fact remained that Brokeback Mountain-a twisted love story involving two cowboys who each marry wives but continue a homosexual relationship- took in an impressive $83 million in domestic grosses.

This may be why, despite the marked drop-off in Academy Award ratings, the trend of honoring baldly partisan films shows little signs of abating.

Megan Basham
Megan Basham

Megan, a regular correspondent for WORLD News Group, is a writer and film critic living in Memphis, Tenn.. She is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide to Having It All.

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