The Academy and Taxi to the Dark Side


In 2003 Michael Moore won a Best Documentary Academy Award for Bowling for Columbine, a year and a half after September 11 and the invasion of Afghanistan and no less than a month before George Bush’s first proposed assault on Iraq. The public at that time were being kept in the dark, trusting their president and being lead to believe in the shaky link between the September 11 attacks and the upcoming invasion of Iraq.

Michael Moore wasn’t being kept in the dark, after a standing ovation and accepting his award, he preceded to rant about being living in “fictitious times, where a fictitious president can win a fictitious election” and that they were all “against this war“ and that George Bush should be ashamed. The initial cheers rapidly turned to boos as most of the crowd tried to drown him out, and as the music came on he left the stage saying “if the Pope and the Dixie Chicks are against you then your time is up Mr Bush”.

In 2008 Alex Gibney won the Best Documentary Academy Award for Taxi to the Dark Side, a film about a taxi driver from Afghanistan who was arrested on suspicion of being involved in terrorism, sent to Bagram Prison, and tortured until he died, five days later. The crux of the picture is about prisoner abuse at Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo, and the policies behind the treatment of prisoners. To the solders involved, there were no clear laws as to what they were and were not allowed to do, their instructions involved ‘getting results’ and to the officials in charge the Geneva Convention was ignored, with the abuse apparently justifiable if it results in information, but only if the information is of equal value to the brutality of the abuse being delivered, but only if the tactics are approved by an official, an official who has to first see the information delivered, information which can only come after endless torture…. Etc Etc and so on and so forth. Basically, the officials speak in circles, blame is deflected from one to the other, with no one taking responsibility until it becomes clear (from the interviews gathered) that the torture may in fact be encouraged by those in charge. The film ends with Bush finally signing a declaration that states that the U.S. Military have to abide by a section of the Geneva Convention which guarantees safe treatment of prisoners, yet hidden in that same declaration is a safe passage for Bush and other politicians. All of them are immune from being tried for war crimes.

What happened in the five years between when Michael Moore was boo’d off stage for criticising Bush, to when Taxi to the Dark Side actually won the Oscar for best documentary? How is it that a film can win approval by the Academy when it is so scathing, so critical, so honest, so judgemental, so shocking and so hateful of Bush, when five years before no one on the same stage could be speak badly of the man?

Obviously in that five years his approval rating has plummeted, but its remarkable how much has been released that concerns Bush and the conflict. Feature Films such as Redacted, W, In the Valley of Elah, Rendition, Stop-Loss, and The Hurt Locker. Documentary’s such as The Road to Guantanamo, The President vs David Hicks, The Soundtrack to War and Fahrenheit 9/11 (which coincidently is Americas highest grossing Documentary). Television shows such as Generation Kill (based upon a book by the same name) and a comic book called The Pride of Baghdad.

Its going to be interesting to learn about previous war based films, and what is similar or different about this conflict and the way it has transposed into cinema. The profoundly negative opinion on this war will be a new and interesting factor.


2 Responses to “The Academy and Taxi to the Dark Side”

  1. Great Article… This is a great point to raise and I believe a deeper look at this subject will reveal the way populations can be simply manipulated. From this example you can clearly see that a whole countries ideas/priorities have ranged from one end of a spectrum to the other end. The populations mood was effectively influenced by propaganda, film and news. However it could also be that at the start of the war, the western world had no real concept of what War was and with the proper spin doctors and an attack on the homeland people had a thirst for blood. A whole new generation had grown up with only tales of Vietnam and everyone else has tried to forget it ever happened. After five years of blood, pain and anguish maybe the western world was beginning to understand what evils it really had done.
    I would love to read a more on this.

  2. Very good eugie, and I agree, its going to be interesting to look at the war films of this time. The Hurt Locker was actually quite great, now that I think of it in retrospect (I saw it on a plane. It’s hard to love anything new on a plane!)

    As for what happened in the 5 years. Well, Bush had skyrocket approval at that time. And also, the Oscars occurred 3 days after the Iraq invasion began, so it was literally a really touchy time. Many stars and presenters choose not to come. Many of the stars that did attend were flashing peace signs rather than dropping designer labels left, right and centre.

    Since that time, and around the time of Taxi was released and subsequently won the Oscar Bush had the lowest approval ratings and naturally, Obama was just becoming the messiah type figure that he exists as today.

    As per usual, politics seem to be at the helm of the Oscars. Several people believe that the Oscars are not a time to voice this opinion. Apart from Moore, the last time we saw this happen was with Vanessa Redgrave and her comments which prompted Paddy Chayefsky to pretty much shut up tramp. And then we can slideline off to Freedom of Speech arguments. (Which, by the way, Barbara Koppel’s SHUT UP AND SING is quite the interesting look at free speech and what happened in the two years between the Dixie Chicks being branded heathens for not supporting Bush and the unanimous public dissent for Bush).

    This could be quite the interesting and slightly philosophical debate for Iraq related films. Can’t say they’re part of my fave genre, but it sure is something interesting to talk about!

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