A group of bereaved parents who have lost children to Palestinian suicide bombings have gathered 32,000 signatures asking the Academy to disqualify Paradise Now from consideration for the Best Film in a Foreign Language Oscar. The controversial film, about two friends from the West Bank recruited to be suicide bombers, explores the mentality behind people choosing to blow themselves and others up in the name of politics and religion. Many Israelis feel the film glorifies terrorists, and the film has been banned throughout Israel. The film was a collaborative effort by a team including a Jewish Israeli, an Israeli Arab, and a Palestinian cast and crew.

I don't think the Academy is going to bow on this and pull the film - for a nominated film to be withdrawn is just unheard of - nor do I think they should. I sympathize with the Israeli parents; losing a child under any circumstance is a terrible thing. However, part of the point of movies like Paradise Now is to explore both sides of a story. There isn't just an Israeli side to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; as in any other conflict in life, it takes two to tango. If we are to ever hope to truly see peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, we have to understand the motivations and emotions that drive ordinary people to strap explosives to their bodies and blow up themselves and innocent people. If there is room for a film like Munich, which is about the Israeli response to the terrible terrorist attack at the Munich 1972 Olympics, when terrorists killed members of the Israeli Olympic team, there must also be room for films like Paradise Now, which explore the factors that drive such acts  (to be fair, there has been Israeli protest over Munich as well). 

I'm not justifying acts of violence by any means, and I don't believe Paradise Now does either. Films that explore controversial issues will always cause some pain, but they are socially relevant in that they provide windows to see points of view different from our own, and they stimulate the thought and communication that plant the seeds for societal changes. You can't understand Palestinian terrorists without being willing to look honestly at the factors that motivate them, and the Israeli occupation and its resulting impact on the Palestinian people is inexorably a part of the fabric of that conflict. Likewise, Crash is stirring debate because it strikes chords of racism in American society that speak to truths at the root of the reality of black anger, white guilt, and the sad truth that, much as we'd like to believe that Martin Luther King's dream has become a reality, there is still racial discord and disparity in this country. Brokeback Mountain has raised the ire of Christian conservatives and the pride of gay activists, as they debate issues around equal rights for homosexuals, gay marriage, and the right of gays to even coexist in society.

The truth is that movies are more than just art, they are a reflection of society, and Paradise Now is a mirror reflecting back to Israel some hard truths people don't want to look at. It's difficult to confront the possibility that maybe there is more than one side to what you might have thought of as a one-sided issue. Is it bad for a suicide bomber to blow up a bus and kill innocent people? Of course it is. But exploring the reasons behind such acts, looking at suicide bombers with a compassionate eye toward what drives them, and walking, for just a moment, in the other guys' shoes, may be one way to take a step toward resolving the situation. For that reason alone, Israelis should watch films about Palestinians, and Palestinians should watch films about Israelis. Whites in South Africa should watch films about the lingering effects of apartheid. Russians should watch films about Chechens. Movies can make the world a smaller place, and help us understand each other better. That's what Paradise Now attempts to do, and it deserves to be an Oscar nominee.

[ via indieWIRE ]

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