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Yes Men Reveal Truth through Hoax

Some of the most privileged, finest educated MBAs in the world strive for years, denying family, friends, religion, even basic human decency, for a taste of that corporate brass ring. The Yes Men just sit back and wait for the business world to invite them. The only problem is they are frauds.

The Yes Men Fix the World, follows Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, the eponymous anti-corporate pranksters, as they infiltrate the global business world, exposing the absurdity and inhumanity of corporate culture. These two merry pranksters use phony credentials to wrangle speaking opportunities at corporate summits and cable news shows. Once on the air, they use a technique called “identity correction”--posing as spokespeople for multinationals and saying what McDonald’s, the WTO, and big oil are unwilling to say.

Early in the film, the Yes Men appear on BBC World News as representatives of Dow Chemical. They announce (fraudulently) that Dow will compensate the thousands of victims of a neglected chemical explosion in Bhopal, India. Minutes later Dow had lost more than a billion dollars.

Their hoaxes reveal just how inverted the priorities of business truly are. When the Yes Men suggest the absurd--IBM was smart to do business with the Nazis, turning skeletons in their closet into golden skeletons--they are lauded by businesspeople as visionaries. When they advocate for ethical business practices--paying restitution to the victims of dangerous chemical spills--they are booed off stage.

The Yes Men Fix the World, which closed out the 20th annual Human Right’s Watch Film Festival Thursday, wields the subversive power of a thousand street demonstrators. The filmmakers brandish truth like a battle axe, slicing through the myths that rationalize free markets, deregulation, and globalization, while taking direct action to humiliate the global corporatocracy. Comedy has always possessed incredibly subversive power, and when exerted by two such cogent and insightful jesters, can quite literally bring corporations to their knees (or at least down a couple points on the NYSE).

The questions raised are simple, but fresh, and demand answers from free-marketeers, politicians, corporate shills, and everyday consumers at once. Why do businesses go to such great lengths to avoid moral action? This is hardly the first picture to expose the cataclysmic effects of unregulated corporations, and at this point it may even be passé to “blame big business”, but as the film shows, corporations need to be inculpated in a concrete, direct way. Consolidation of competition, absorption of media outlets, and litigious ass-covering insulate the Fortune 500 from the market forces which supposedly guide them.

We need grassroots efforts to pressure businesses into acting ethically, but top-down reform is a must. The invisible hand would strangle the last baby panda if it had the chance. Corporate urges are treated by Friedman’s free-market fetishists like multifarious and complex systems, but the truth is profit is the only driving factor. It is only a happy-accident when ethical business practices are profitable. But it needn’t be that way. Clearly shareholders and traders have a different set of priorities. Corporations must be regulated in such a way as to make unethical business counter to the bottom line. Business has only one rule: do what makes the most profit. That is how corporations are vulnerable. If we make it unprofitable to exploit land and labor, then corporations will be forced to act morally.

The film’s emotional range is stifling. Moments of beet-red chagrin effortlessly transform into gust-busting hilarity. Perhaps that’s because, until we restore some sort of corporate accountability, what the Yes Men do is the closest thing to justice we can hope for. In that sense, the heaving laughter this film elicits is cathartic for viewers frustrated by cycles of irresponsibility and reward that seem to define government‘s love affair with corporations.

Sometimes it takes a lie to jump-start the truth. When the Yes Men announce Dow will make restitution to the victims of Bhopal, they are derided for giving false hope to citizens of the affected area. Media fails to ask the real question of Dow, “Why does this have to be a fiction?” It is “cruel, sick and twisted” according to one news report in the film, to suggest restitution should be made, but perfectly innocuous to abandon victims of corporate negligence. Where are our priorities here?

This film just may be the kick-start we need to return corporate accountability and regulation. We have seen the ghastly effects of deregulation in Detroit, in the abandoned buildings on our streets, and in our pocketbooks. The solution seems to have been throwing vast sums of money at the culprits of corporate irresponsibility. At least with the Yes Men at large, there may be justice yet!

We progressives ought to follow the lead of these socially-conscious con-men. Through our conversations, blogs, purchases, and protest we must sound the alarm on the carte-blanche waved by international business.

The Yes Men Fix the World will run on HBO starting July27th, and a theatrical release is slated for October 7th , opening in New York at Film Forum. You have to see this film!

Are We Living in The Age of Stupid?

Sitting in the comfy seats at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, waiting for the house lights to fade for The Age of Stupid, I wondered if I was losing interest in climate change hysteria. After all, Al Gore packed the indie theaters almost three years ago and the incessant commodification of “green” since has made me a bit weary. I felt ashamed of myself just thinking it, but luckily, I was in the right place. The Age of Stupid, Franny Armstrong’s new global warming docudrama, is not only a validation for the faithful, but an invigorating call to arms for apathetic citizens. The film does not waste much time making the case linking human actions to global warming. It plainly states early on that the research is quite conclusive on this point. As one subject remarks, “Facts are not the problem.” The Age of Stupid knows the film it needs to be and is acutely aware of the catalog of climate change films to which it belongs. There is no need to rehash An Inconvenient Truth. Armstrong’s film is instead a wake-up call to the lazy believers among us, reminding that the most immediate danger is apathy. And to that effect, Armstrong is successful.

The film begins in 2055 at The Global Archive, a high-tech Ark for humanity’s remaining animals, cultural treasures, and history. By now, Earth has suffered the wrath of climate change. London is completely flooded, the Swiss Alps are now a temperate meadow devoid of glaciers, and Sydney is consumed by unstoppable drought-fires. Pete Postlethwaite stars as the lone remaining attendant to the archive, located in the Artic Circle, and drives the film forward with a simple question, “Why didn’t we stop climate change when we had the chance?” He reviews various news and archival footage, interviews, and even cartoons probing for some answer as to how humanity saw its looming Armageddon and chose to do nothing.

The Age of Stupid is simultaneously global and personal in its scale. Clearly the implications of unfettered global warming discussed in the film have world-wide relevance, but to bring the message home, Armstrong closes in on the individual. She interviews a handful of fascinating subjects with engaging ties to climate change--among them a struggling advocate for wind turbines, a Shell employee who lost everything in Katrina, and a kick-ass 82-year old mountain guide--to show the individual tolls and efforts that make up the global warming resistance. Armstrong’s film is certainly emotionally evocative, but doesn’t solely arouse fear . Her subjects have depth and humanity. We appreciate their aspirations, their frustrations, and can’t help but sympathize.

Armstrong takes on the usual suspects--Shell, big oil, global corporatocracy--but also indicts the players key players who consistently avoid scrutiny. For example, while most everyone agrees wind-power is a desirable alternative to unsustainable and detrimental fossil fuels, local groups have been wildly successful at forestalling the building of turbines. Why? Armed with a “not in my backyard” mentality, these citizens fear the aesthetic damage turbines may have on the countryside. For them, it is not important that we take steps to prevent catastrophic climate change if it’s an inconvenience.

The Age of Stupid is an alarming call for accountability, whether personal, communal, corporate, or governmental. It refuses to take the simple route of solely blaming corporations, one that is true, though under-inclusive and too easily disregarded by the Right. Instead, the film argues that we all contribute to the problem, thus, we all have a moral obligation to contribute to a solution. It does not saddle the viewer with guilty responsibility, but shows the interest that each of us has in creating a better world than the one we inherited.

Armstrong’s film espouses a nuanced position on the free market. While individual consumers have some limited capacity to vote through their purchases--a power which increases exponentially with organization--the hierarchical power-structure of global economics demands some top-down change to work in concert with the grassroots. And it is this unabashedly critical, yet considerate stance that I so appreciate about The Age of Stupid.

Armstrong is right-- the owning class has too much incentive to continue with the status quo. If the bottom line continues to be the measure of success, current business models struggle from an unsustainable growth-urge. Hyper-consolidated media ensures the large corporations are major players in agenda-setting. Not only do we as consumers need to pressure business through our purchases and boycotts, but government too must exercise some top-down power. The so-called “free-market” is far too insulated and we consumers may at points be too weak-willed to do what is necessary to stop climate change. Low prices are a temptation not easily passed up, particularly with such frugal consumptive inertia swaying our buying habits.

Ultimately, we can’t afford to continue down this current path of wasteful consumerism and thoughtless energy consumption. Not only does this habit contribute to future environmental destruction, but present human rights atrocities. We need to seriously re-think our economic priorities. Conspicuous consumption can no longer be a virtue in the West. It is simply vain suicide for the species. Indiscriminate resource-hounding, whether by the drill or the gun, has gone on too long. “Drill, baby, drill!” is the rally cry of the short-sighted , which only digs us further into fuel-addiction and the environmental red. Our top priority must be reducing carbon emissions to prevent the future effects of global warming.

The fight against global warming’s dystopian promises is a struggle for all life on earth. It cares not about our divisions between government, business, political parties, or religion. We are all in the same flooding lifeboat here. The facts are in and the speculations look bleak. But it is not too late. With a strong will, good leadership, vigilant accountability, and some serious sacrifice, we will do that which we must. There is time to adapt before the situation reaches its tipping point.

Sure, the basic message of the film is familiar--stop climate change or catastrophe awaits. But no film yet conveys the same sense of global and personal stakes with such efficacy. If An Inconvenient Truth is the reasoned thesis, The Age of Stupid is the wake-up call to the complacent. And it never hurts to be reminded. The most immediate threat, the film argues, is not hurricanes or tsunamis or melting glaciers, but apathy. At the end of the film the woman next to me, a sweet cardiganned middle-ager turned and sighed, “Well that was depressing.” But the impetus to change is not always itself inspiring. If you feel bad about yourself at the end of this film, as I admit I did, then that might be a sign. This film is a hard pill to swallow. The stakes are high, as are the demands on each of us. Significantly reducing our greenhouse emissions by 2015, the film’s ticking clock, requires serious change from each of us.

Where the film comes up light is the “how.” I found myself impassioned after the credits. “I’m ready to be the change,” I thought. But as my cinema neighbor expressed, inspiration is in shorter supply than oil. Luckily there are plenty of resources online on how individuals and government can help stop global warming. The film has set up for just that purpose.

The Age of Stupid is an invaluable addition to the current catalog of climate change films. While not necessarily required viewing, The Age of Stupid is a particularly useful kick in the butt for lazy liberals.

Markos Was Right About Us

Markos recently mentioned Living Liberally being a rare example of progressive netroots success.

We like to think that Markos was right about us - Living Liberally is as netroots as it gets, with two full-time employees and a few part-time volunteers maintaining a nationwide network. We certainly don't get rich doing this - we generally consider ourselves lucky to even keep such an effort afloat at all. With the Bush years finally over and many emboldened, vocal liberals bringing their case to Washington for the first time in eight years, it's more important than ever to have progressives in all 50 states ready to meet, socialize and, if they choose, organize for change. That's what Living Liberally means to us.

However, with one day to go until our 3rd annual fundraiser and celebration hosted by Sam Seder, there's a problem - remaining a success story, rather than one of the countless progressive infrastructure projects that had to dismantle due to lack of support, is becoming more and difficult.

The Quest for Individuality in "Tokyo Sonata"

In Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s new film, Tokyo Sonata, he presents timely and interesting ideas about identity in the modern world in a way that is at times compelling and complex, but at others overwrought and unclear.

The film focuses on the four members of the middle class Sasaki family: the father, Ryuhei (played by Teruyuki Kagawa), his wife Megumi (played by Kyoko Koizumi), and their two sons, Takashi and Kenji (played by Yû Koyanagi and Inowaki Kai). In the opening minutes of the film, Ryuhei finds himself suddenly unemployed after a meeting with the boss. Unsure of what to do, he keeps this from his wife, getting dressed for work the next day and joining the stream of businesspeople walking toward the city. He soon finds that he is not alone when he runs into an old colleague who is also keeping his family in the dark.

The other members of his family embark on difficult journeys of their own: The younger son, Kenji, uses his lunch money to take the piano lessons expressly forbidden by his father, while Takashi joins the U.S. army. Megumi’s internal grappling slowly builds, culminating in some surprising actions. Their troubles are similar, and achingly so because they rarely intersect.

Ryuhei and Megumi both struggle to understand themselves outside their societal positions: Ryuhei as businessman, and Megumi as housewife. Ryuhei has become so myopic, so dependent on defining himself by his previous title that he is unable tell a job interviewer what his skills are. When provoked, he further equates himself to his job by simply giving his title at his old company.

Ryuhei is not simply attempting to find work, but to redefine himself. Without titles and the requirements and social protocols that accompany them, Ryuhei and Megumi are uncertain how to live. Through their stories, Kurosawa leads us to wonder whether the roles created by a rigidly structured capitalist culture supplant our own needs and desires.

The generational differences in the characters’ searches for identity provide a thought-provoking evaluation of individuality in modern society: While their parents toil to understand themselves in absence of social position, Takashi and Kenji attempt to find fulfillment by following their instincts. Their most obvious obstacle is their father, who forbids them both from pursuing their goals. In order to explore their identities, then, they must question his authority. Though they fight against the expected and seemingly secure path, both boys succeed in their personal struggles in ways that their parents do not, suggesting that personal freedom is valuable and worth fighting for: If we don’t want our job to define us, we must define our job, our life.

The philosophy of justified rebellion is further associated with Kenji’s generation when his classmates call him “awesome” after he challenges their teacher for unfairly punishing him. Ryuhei’s desire to maintain the status quo is equally reflected in his generation, through recurring images of suited men in places they do not usually belong.

Kurosawa falls short of identifying the origin of or solution for the problems of Ryuhei and Megumi, and even offers contradictory ideas. For example, while it is clear that the surge in unemployment is due to cost-cutting and outsourcing on the part of corporations, it is unclear whether Ryuhei’s attempts to find a new job comparable to his old one are exhaustive. The disastrous interview in which he refuses to identify his skills takes place after he refuses work in the service sector from the unemployment office. Yet the interview takes place in a sleek corporate boardroom. Therefore, while his poor performance at the interview shows us that he is confused about his identity, it also makes him appear apathetic about finding a new job. Such a representation validates arguments that joblessness is intimately linked to personal responsibility - a view that is at odds with the film’s message in many other instances.

Many of Kurosawa’s images are devastatingly poignant or delightfully subtle, supporting his central themes with a visual maturity often lacking in modern cinema. This is a critical achievement for a film about internal struggles and taciturn relationships. Kurosawa trusts the audience a great deal by asking them to understand complex ideas using silent clues: a missed greeting; the quiet dinner table; a pause near the pedestrian traffic.

Yet at times he betrays this trust, by editing Ryuhei and Megumi’s stories in tandem to blatantly present similarities, by presenting painfully lengthy scenes showcasing their despair, by inserting overdramatic dialogue. These exaggerations not only mistrust the audience; they conflict with the beautifully restrained tone of most of the film.

With compelling content and often impeccable cinematic choices, Tokyo Sonata aims to be a masterpiece - so when it does fall short, it is jarring and disappointing.

On Our Own With Sunshine Cleaning

Screening Liberally Big Picture
By Josh Bolotsky

Sunshine Cleaning, the new film by Christine Jeffs and Megan Holley, has been done a great disservice, and that’s as good a place to begin as anywhere. A deeply moving, fiercely intelligent film about a working-class family struggling to stay afloat has been falsely presented, in an act of marketing malpractice, as a cutesy, oh-so-mischievous parade of twee and cleverness. Every trailer, poster and billboard, with their booming promise/threat of “From the producers of Little Miss Sunshine” and predictable heaping of quasi-indie-ready quirk, is a betrayal. Sunshine Cleaning is a portrait, worthy of pre-sappy James L. Brooks or post-sardonic John Sayles, of an American family suffering the worst of Bush’s ownership society, and still managing to cohere via some fragment of a belief in the basic goodness of people.

Oh, and it’s funny too.

There’s so much to appreciate about this simple, honest film, and so little space in which to express it. Let’s begin with the basic plotline: Rose, who isn’t played so much as embodied by Amy Adams in a bravura performance, is a single working mother in Albuquerque, New Mexico, living with her elementary-school-age son, Oscar (Jason Spevack), who gives some of the signals of high-functioning Aspergers Syndrome, her younger, twenty-something sister, Norah (Emily Blunt), who takes underachiever pride in staying at home and losing a variety of jobs, and her emotionally distant, deteriorating father, Joe (Alan Arkin). This is one of those long-forgotten families, forgotten by American movies at least, straddling the line between working class and working poor, their terror at the lack of a social safety net beneath them “should something happen” coloring almost every decision they make, doing their best to keep the basic family budget up and running. (When’s the last major-studio, national-release film you remember with such a backdrop? North Country? Erin Brockovich? Norma Rae?)

Who Watches The Watchmen's Political Message?

When I went to see Watchmen on opening night, I was on the lookout: not just for political allegory, but for any conservative bias on Snyder’s part. Why the apprehension? Prior to Watchmen, Zack Snyder directed 300, another graphic novel adaptation bursting with both action and political themes. And while 300 is a well-constructed and entertaining story, I was (and still am) disgusted by its insidious Bush-like, overly simplistic praise of violence in the name of democracy.

My initial overall reaction to Watchmen as the first credits rolled was pretty positive. I found the film’s structure less tight than 300, but was willing to forgive: from what I understood, the film had a lot of complicated story to condense. In particular, I welcomed the temporal jumps so roundly criticized in Patrick Lee’s review on SciFi Wire.

I was mostly pleased that the film critically explores the theme of the hero. While imperfect in crucial ways, Watchmen presents thought-provoking questions: What is a hero? What if there were more than one? What if they disagreed? How do we know who is right? Are humans worth protecting?

Watchmen asks these questions by presenting an alternate reality in which human heroes exist. In such a world, we find that the nature of heroes is contradictory: they seek justice, but they are dogmatic and uncooperative. As with the general population, each hero has different ideas of how to solve the world’s problems. And as I would expect from a hero, they are not willing to compromise. Even with each other. When the ultimate threat - extinction of the human race - comes along, their differences become even more divisive. And the high stakes help them all feel entitled to pursue their own goals. So the real battle in Watchmen is among the heroes: a battle of ideals.

Luckily, Watchmen approaches this with a dose of realism. The heroes are real humans: morally ambiguous, lonely, psychologically wounded. We are shown the violent past that creates one of our most violent heroes, Rorschach. We hear The Comedian’s thoughts on human nature. We learn the source of Dr. Manhattan’s powers and his emotional detachment. We likewise depart from the tame kisses and bloodless battles of many hero films, delving into real lovemaking and naked violence.

The political parallels are compelling and relevant. Likening the network of heroes in Watchmen to our political system, we find that we similar predicaments. Like the film’s heroes, each of our elected officials has their own political and moral opinions. They are often deeply divided on fundamental issues, and when they refuse to work together they can be consumed with internal conflict and get little done. And at their worst, they do something else the film’s heroes do: purport to act on behalf of the public while completely ignoring them.

But while I wanted to like the film, something about the story nagged me, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. Something felt off with Silver Spectre and Nite Owl, with the ending sequence, with the film’s narrative. I haven’t read the graphic novel, so I asked a fellow Living Liberally member, Josh Bolotsky, to compare it to the book. I was surprised to find that many of Josh’s criticisms of Snyder’s adaptation addressed my nagging feeling, and revealed a hidden bias.

Turns out that the film was a poor adaptation of the book, choosing the wrong moments to expand and condense and eventually changing the original meaning of Watchmen into something less mature and interesting; more commercial.

*Some spoilers below*

For example, a major theme of the book is the moral ambiguity of all the heroes. Snyder has instead created a narrative in which we have typical protagonists (Silver Spectre and Nite Owl) and antagonist (Ozymandias). He does this by omitting the back stories of these characters, allowing the story structure to create their identity: Silver Spectre and Nite Owl are lovers on a mission to save the world; Ozymandias an evil genius working against the other heroes in secrecy.

Making this adjustment injects a simple right/wrong morality into the story that wasn’t in the book, abandoning a mature and balanced contemplation of the nature of heroism. As a result we are essentially asked to identify with some heroes more than others, which is troubling to me because they each represent specific political and philosophical ideologies.

Rewriting the ending was also a poor decision. It allowed us to demonize Ozymandias and glorify Dr. Manhattan, and it ignored the fact explored in the book: that humans need a constant common enemy in order to work together. A single explosion and an invisible, insurmountable enemy would not do the trick. The book’s ending, by contrast, encourages us to move from thinking about the moral ambiguity of heroes to the true nature of humans.

Superheroes in the modern age

Superhero stories are a reliable place to find political themes: any battle between good and evil makes pretty clear distinctions in the morality department. Alternate universes in particular allow creators and audiences to crystallize themes and messages precisely because they are so divorced from our everyday lives.

While we continue to enjoy these stories, a sub-genre has emerged and gained popularity: the examination of the superhero figure. While many hero stories delve into this issue, many have begun exploring this as the central theme. Last year's obvious popular example was The Dark Knight, which dealt largely with the superhero's need for evil and the role of the hero as a publicly maligned figure.

The superhero, it turns out, is only loved when the public is aware of the evil forces at work.

This week's premiere of "Watchmen" brings us the newest in both superhero epic and moral ambiguity. The film, directed by Zack Snyder, is based on Alan Moore's graphic novel which gained historical critical and popular acclaim. The best-seller won industry awards like the Kirby, Eisner, and Hugo and was the only comic featured in TIME's "100 Greatest English Language Novels from 1923 to the Present."

So, why is "Watchmen" part of this sub-genre? It begins with the typical opening premise: that before the story's start, heroes were unneeded. But in the universe of "Watchmen" it seems post-Dark Knight: the heroes already exist, and are simply unwanted. The story isn't about the rise of a superhero, but the regrouping of pre-existing heroes. And, to further complicate matters, they all have their own moral ideas.

Each hero represents a different modern sensibility, which makes working together a little problematic. And refreshingly realistic. And while it is unfortunate that the film was stymied for years in Hollywood, I am pleased that a film discussing heroic cooperation is coming out now, into a difficult social and political time when teamwork - among heroes or otherwise - is essential.

Check out the midnight premiere with Screening Liberally this Thursday and share your ideas and opinions, about the film and our prospects for political cooperation.

Liberal Highlights of the Oscars

(Yes, the answers to the Trivia Quiz are up! Plus, check out some more Oscars facts here)

At last night’s Oscars, we witnessed the usual song and dance, light-hearted joking, and occasional tear-jerking speech. Happily, some performers and filmmakers used their time at the podium to remind us of issues greater than their personal struggles and achievements. Some speeches were more direct than others, but as I like to say: there’s politics in every word we speak. Below are my 5 favorites from the night - comment with your own!

The Clearly Political

1) Milk writer Dustin Lance Black won the award for Best Original Screenplay. In his beautiful, personal speech (below the fold in its entirety) he spoke directly to gay and lesbian kids, telling them:
“you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally, across this great nation of ours”

Post-event, he kept it political, telling reporters "For inspiration, we need to look not at Proposition 8 but look back to 1964. No group has ever won full civil rights in this country going state by state, county by county."

(More here)

2) Sean Penn, our Best Actor in a Leading Role, began his speech with quite the attention-grabber: “Thank you. Thank you. You commie, homo-loving sons-of-guns.” He was, of course, referring to Hollywood’s legendary liberal leanings. Luckily he also got down to business, giving a shout-out to Obama, talking about the anti-gay protests that lined the streets near the Oscars, and declaring our need for universal human rights. (The full speech below the fold) Hollywood’s elite broke into applause.

With reporters, Penn discussed the protests and his views on Obama, striking a positive, confident tone. When asked what he would say to the protestors outside the Oscars:
“I'd tell them to turn in their hate card and find their better self, you know. I think that these are largely taught limitations and ignorances, this kind of thing, and it's a really it's very sad in a way, because it's a demonstration of such emotional cowardice to be so afraid to be extending the same rights to a fellow man as you would want for yourself. I would ask them not to tempt those of us who see something more deeply than they are looking at it, as angry as they tend to be in a void.”

What about the signs declaring that Heath Ledger is in hell?
"I think if we get used to dismissing these kind of comments rather than commenting on them, we'll be better off. It's meaningless jibberish."

And, commenting on Obama’s views on gay marriage:
"I would like to believe that's a political stand right now and not necessarily a future one or a felt one. I don't think any of us, particularly our president, would long be able to take that position because it's not a human luxury. These are human needs, and they will be gotten."

(More of Penn's Q&A here and here)

3) Slumdog Millionaire for Best Picture. There certainly is plenty of debate over the content of this film: Is it “poverty porn”? Is the word “slumdog” insulting? Does the film ignore real solutions for the world’s poor? (See this NYTimes blog entry for some views on the debate)

But I think there is something to be said about Slumdog’s presence at the Oscars (or the other top awards shows, for that matter). The film, which was an independent production shot on location with mainly unknown actors, barely got made because of financial problems. Best of all, its success was largely based on grassroots support: word-of-mouth, instead of the usual mammoth marketing campaign. (Just look at the budgets and stories of the other top contenders)

Not long ago, it would have been hard to find a film like this at the Oscars. But thanks to our increased interest in independent film, these films are not only accepted in mainstream cinema, but impacting it.

The Less Obvious

4) The first award went to Best Supporting Actress Penelope Cruz, whose speech touched on three issues: Hollywood’s horrific and long-standing lack of strong female characters; art’s ability to cross cultural boundaries; and the recent financial hardships hitting the arts, particularly the film industry. Here are excerpts from her speech:

“Thank you for having written over all these years some of the greatest characters for women…"

“I grew up in a place… where this was not a very realistic dream"

“I always felt that this ceremony was a moment of unity for the world, because art in any form is and has been and will always be our universal language and we should do everything we can to protect its survival”

5) Kate Winslet’s speech didn’t seem too political, but she dedicated her Oscar to recently deceased producers Sydney Pollack and Sir Anthony Minghella, both of whom made high visibility films that dealt with a range of social issues.

I was also intrigued by her emphasis on the equality between the cast and crew on the production:

“There was no division between the cast and the crew on this film”

I don’t exactly know what she meant by this but from my own experience on film sets, that is pretty rare. Higher budget union films are comprised of different craft groups that stick together and rarely mingle. And within them, a rigid hierarchy resembling traditional corporate America. Lunch time always reminded me of the high school tables in Mean Girls. So, if the production really did strike a more egalitarian collaboration, I’m game to call that liberal.

See Dustin Lance Black and Sean Penn's speeches below the fold

Get Political For The Oscars!

Do you know which Best Director nominee donated $25,000 to the DCCC? Which nominated actress once worked at the Pentagon? What celeb once said: "If there weren't blacks, Jews, and gays, there would be no Oscars"?

Sunday is Oscar Night, but that's no reason to put politics aside. After all, it's one of Hollywood's most political evenings -- why shouldn't we wear our partisan stripes as well?

Whether you're rooting for a favorite flick, just channel-surfing through, or watching to make fun of the outfits, make your Oscar-viewing a little more entertaining with Screening Liberally Oscar Trivia. Host your own Oscars party (or join ours in New York), and enjoy! The rest of the quiz below the fold.

Oscars Political Trivia Quiz!

You know a lot about Hollywood: Who's dating who, whose breasts have been unleashed in front of the press...

So, let's up the difficulty: how about political Oscars trivia?

No cheating! Answers at this Sunday's Screening Liberally Oscars Party (host your own or come to ours) and posted online on Monday.

And add your own trivia questions or knowledge in the comments - we're all about learning!

1) Who said "If there weren't blacks, Jews, and gays, there would be no Oscars"?
A - Chris Rock
B - Woody Allen
C - Ellen DeGeneres
D - Neil Patrick Harris

2) This performer’s mother was a teacher and social worker
A - Brad Pitt
B - Melissa Leo
C - Mickey Rourke
D - Viola Davis

3) Which Oscar-nominated director was forced by Fox Studios to change a line in their film because it was about abortion?
A - David Fincher
B - Ron Howard
C - Gus Van Sant
D - Danny Boyle

4) Which nominee gave $25,000 to the DCCC in 2008?
A - Ron Howard
B - Marisa Tomei
C - Philip Seymour Hoffman
D - Angelina Jolie

5) Which nominee received the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon's Freedom of Expression Award, recognizing courage or creative vision in upholding free expression, particularly in the arts, for their films that have "let us see inside the lives of individuals we don't often get a glimpse at."
A - Angelina Jolie
B - Sean Penn
C - David Fincher
D - Gus Van Sant

6) Who said: “I wonder, when the war trials begin -- and no doubt, the Iraq war trials will begin, at certain points -- I don't know what will happen to the guards at Guantanamo Bay”?
A - Frank Langella
B - Kate Winslet
C - Stephen Daldry
D - Penelope Cruz

7) Which nominee at one point seriously contemplated the priesthood?
A - Danny Boyle
B - Philip Seymour Hoffman
C - Ron Howard
D - Josh Brolin

8) In May 2006, this nominee joined other Brooklyn celebrities to protest plans to build a Nets stadium in Prospect Heights. The star-studded group joined an advisory board for “Develop, Don't Destroy Brooklyn”
A - Anne Hathaway
B - Gus Van Sant
C - Kate Winslet
D - Heath Ledger

9) Which actress used to work at the Pentagon?
A - Viola Davis
B - Taraji P. Henson
C - Angelina Jolie
D - Marisa Tomei

10) Who said: “Politics itself is so unsexy, isn't it? But when the politics in creative works are really explored - not used as a vehicle - the results can be really interesting.”
A - Stephen Daldry
B - Marisa Tomei
C - Michael Shannon
D - Meryl Streep

11) Who said, referring to President Bush: "Well, in 1932 Huey Long said something very interesting. It was, 'Fascism will come to America, but likely under another name, perhaps anti-fascism’"?
A - Ron Howard
B - Kate Winslet
C - Sean Penn
D - Robert Downey Jr.

12) "Slumdog" is perhaps the first mainstream movie to present an unflinching portrait of India's abject poverty, its crime, corruption and communal tensions since what year?
A - 1997
B - 1989
C - 1982
D - 1969
* Bonus if you can name the film

13) Who said: "I never heard the word 'fag' until I was in high school. I might have heard about homosexuals from Life magazine, but I never heard anything derogatory.”
A - Sean Penn
B - Stephen Daldry
C - Gus Van Sant
D - Josh Brolin

14) Who said: “America doesn't reward people of my age, either in day-to-day life or for their performances”?
A - Kate Winslet
B - Sean Penn
C - Heath Ledger
D - Meryl Streep