Conspiracy Theories and Meryl Streep’s Best-Actress Upset
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It was a surprise that Meryl Streep trumped Viola Davis for the best-actress Oscar -- but it was no shock. The "Doubt" co-stars were neck-and-neck the entire season. Rooney Mara winning: That would have been freaky.
On Sunday night, the major races had been called, the supporting categories had gone as predicted, and at the 11th hour Streep beat Davis. On Feb. 28, latimes.com's Steven Zeitchik used the upset to spin conspiracy theories about the race under the headline "What Was Behind Meryl Streep's Upset Win?"
Zeitchik actually quoted snippets overheard in an elevator on Oscar night -- because no studio executive ever lies to the face of a movie star in a moving box. According to latimes.com, Disney/ABC Television President Anne Sweeney shared the lift with newly minted Oscar winner Octavia Spencer. Sweeney confessed that she was "upset. I feel bad for Viola." When Spencer asked how it could have happened, Sweeney reportedly said, "I have my theories." But Sweeney did not share them. And, besides, it sounds more ominous without elaboration.
Only two days before, Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty came clean about his "Streep Problem" in a pre-Oscar pile-on. McNulty got his knickers in a twist about how none of his friends wanted to see "The Iron Lady" with him. They would rather see "Shame" (which is interesting because they share a writer: Abi Morgan) first, or "Pina."
Apparently the friend-o-meter went out with the buddy system. And as a way for a professional critic to root his own distaste for a performer (he strips Streep's talent bare), or a film, it's critique by peer pressure and should be left on the playground. Certainly, Streep has never followed the crowd -- and that may be the root of her problem this year when she wasn't playing beloved eccentric Julia Child. Instead, she was playing the controversial first female prime minister of the Western world.
After a very long Oscar race, I have come to believe that many Americans of the critical classes are just uncomfortable with a movie that takes a political figure who's supposed to be "evil" and doesn't treat her like Kim Jong-Il -- either as the butt of jokes or Satan's second coming. We have sadly become that polarized.
I have said elsewhere that someday American audiences will be able to look at Oliver Stone's "W" with clarity, and recognize Josh Brolin's brilliance as George W. Bush. But it didn't happen at the 2008-09 Oscars. This was not a problem when Forest Whitaker won an Oscar for playing Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland." He had his charming moments, but he was clearly bad to the bone. Bravo! And brave, too.
"It will never be known what acts of cowardice have been committed for fear of not looking sufficiently progressive," the famous French intellectual socialist Charles Peguy said in 1905. It's still true in 2012.
Related: See a timeline of Oscar history >>
The Los Angeles Times theater critic snarked about Streep as Thatcher: "Such a star turn may earn her more bric-a-brac, but it certainly won't enrich her talent." I must have seen a different movie. While I juggled Davis and Streep as Oscar front-runners while covering the race, I never doubted the talent or merit of either actress.