I’m not a huge fan or aficionado of military history – but I’ve been exposed to it all my life, through my grandfather, my father, and now my partner. I’ve heard a lot about battles and generals over the years. But I had never heard that General George S. Patton believed in reincarnation. I might have taken a stronger interest in him long ago if I had.
Stuck in the snowstorm, we watched the 1970 Best Picture winner Patton a few days ago. I had told Mouse that I wanted to mention how closely I have been following the very rightful #OscarsSoWhite discussion when we next spoke about a film. We will say more about this when we get to our 2015 and then 2016 films, but I couldn’t bring up an Oscar winner at this moment in time without mentioning this. In studying the format for choosing nominees, I can see how this unjust and embarrassing reality has unfolded. I think we as the general public have very little understanding of who chooses nominees and how. I admire folks like Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee for opting to sit this year out (in a style of resistance that as my friend Bomani pointed out calls to mind Marcus Garvey’s philosophy – if folks of color aren’t recognized by this ritual and institution, perhaps it’s worth a concerted effort to not care about it and focus instead on other things). The rub, though, is that there is money connected to winning an Oscar. There are parts offered as a result. And Hollywood had better contend with the fact that over 40% of seats sold to theater goers are to people of color. It’s time for better, more complex roles and real recognition.
Another awkward factor in this #OscarsSoWhite conversation is that the current President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science is a Black woman. Another dear friend of mine pointed out how often Black people are placed in positions like this where they are essentially having to publicly hold up and justify racist practices. In media, she has spoken of her desire for the Academy to do better, and has said that she is heartbroken. It’s extremely uncomfortable to watch and hear. As host, I really wonder what Chris Rock will say about it all this year – also a strange position to be in.
In Patton there is one actor of color who has a small role towards the end of the film. When it becomes clear that after stepping out of line and allowing his big mouth to get away from him Patton will not receive a significant promotion in post, this character consoles him. Not a particularly complex or interesting role, but sadly I was shocked that there was even a Black character at all in this film.
The movie tells the story of a man who lives for combat. Patton was a tank commander in World War II, and our story begins with his role in North Africa, progressing through the invasion of Europe and the fall of the Third Reich. He is blistering, pushy and loud – and we see in several scenes that he believes he is a warrior from past battles reincarnated. Other characters seem to think he is kidding around when he asserts this, but apparently his belief in reincarnation was deeply held. Another interesting fact about Patton, which I learned from this film, was that of all the Allied Forces military leaders at the time, German High Command seemed to hold him in highest regard. It’s an interesting thing to think about when remembering his life.
With all this talk of industry people staying home from the Oscars, it’s interesting to watch this movie now. At the 43rd Academy Awards, there was a conspicuous no-show: George C. Scott, nominated for his role as George Patton, refused to accept the Best Actor award, becoming the first person to actually decline an Oscar. However, he wasn’t protesting any exclusionary practice, rather he objected to the entire idea of a competitive award for acting in the first place. I can’t say I object to the sentiment, although if I were somehow to find myself in his shoes, I doubt I would have the stones to pull such a stunt. Continue reading