Oscars' new 'woke' rules would have seen Mel Gibson's Braveheart lose out – Aidan Smith

Is it right that Mel Gibon’s epic film Braveheart would have missed out on an Oscar under new rules, asks Aidan Smith

Tuesday, 15th September 2020, 7:30 am
Braveheart was noted for a number of historical inaccuracies, including blue facepaint (Picture: Icon/Ladd Co/Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock)

Now I may not love Braveheart quite as much as you lot but I like the fact it’s there, a big, bare-bummed Scottish blockbuster, niggling everybody.

It niggled historians who complained about it playing fast and loose with dates, places, battles, flags, weaponry available in the Highlands in the 13th century, and the rule of droit du seigneur.

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It niggled cinema snobs who, appalled that it won the top prize at the 1995 Academy Awards, subsequently voted it the worst Best Picture of all time.

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10 Braveheart inaccuracies: historical blunders in the Mel Gibson film about the Wars of Scottish Independence

And of course it niggled Scots who moaned about Mel Gibson’s comedy Caledonian accent and the unfortunate business of most of the sumptuous scenery not able to be quoted on tourism pamphlets - “as seen in Braveheart” - because it was Irish.

But the film was Gibson’s vision and - good or bad, historically accurate or a steaming great clootie dumpling of fantasy and fabrication - he was entitled to put it out there, no matter that he later experienced a racist, misogynistic, antisemitic-fuelled meltdown and became virtually unemployable. Except that if he was to put it out there any time soon he would not be swapping the woad adopted at Hampden and Murrayfield ever since for make-up reducing the dazzle from Tinseltown’s night of nights. And he would not be swapping the spear in his hand for an Oscar statuette.

Tough new rules are coming for movies hoping to be acclaimed as Best Picture which, you would imagine, are all of them. They must meet diversity targets aimed at boosting minority representation on screen and behind the camera.

That’s all very laudable when you consider that Movieland has been very much a country for old (white) men. In 2012, membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was 77 percent male, 90 percent over-50 - and 94 percent white. Three years later there were no black nominees in the four acting categories, the same in 2016.

As soon as the regulations were announced, and immediately after they were condemned as “Orwellian” and a curb on artistic freedom, there was a rush to identify winners from the past which would have failed them. These included The Godfather I and II and The French Connection (three of my all-time favourites right there). And Braveheart.

Oscar contenders must have more black, female, LGBT or disabled cast and crew. Thirty percent must be if at least one lead or significant supporting actor is not from a racial minority. And storylines must turn their focus to “under-represented groups”.

Hang on, is that not us? Could Mel, if he was making his patriot epic right now, not stick “doontrodden Scots” in the appropriate box on Hollywood’s application form for the required wokeness? Apparently not.

So what do movie-makers do? Carry on regardless telling stories which are, by the Academy’s strictures, too white and too male because ultimately they’re still stories worth telling and stuff the awards?

Or will the Oscars and the opportunity to win one prove too seductive, so while there might be many great films which fit the bill - and this is to be hoped - there could also be plenty of others guilty of opportunism, tokenism and crowbarred-in causes which end up muddying the message?

I don’t know how badly Gibson craved the greatest prize for Braveheart. But, if then was now, and he was standing in a muddy field holding a tick-sheet of the rules, would he after dismissing using wheelchairs as chariots, wonder if more women could be worked into his saga, perhaps as cheerleaders at the great battle who are surprised and delighted to discover that the hairy, grunting victors seem almost telepathic regarding the thoughts and feelings of the fairer sex? Then again he might conclude: “Och naw, I’m gettin’ aheid o’ masel’ here. I winna be makin’ What Women Want for anither five years.”

Men, invariably white, dominated my short-trousered years as a cineaste. The Man from Laramie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Third Man, The Invisible Man, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Quiet Man, Our Man Flint, A Man Called Horse, The Wrong Man. In gangster flicks like The Maltese Falcon, Humphrey Bogart would tell his quietly loyal secretary: “You’re a good man, sister.” In Marx Brothers comedies, the five-minute lovey-dovey interludes were when my brother and I would wrestle on the sitting-room carpet, before old bat Margaret Dumont, hoping for some lovey-doveyness from Groucho, would ask “Will you join me?”, prompting the classic quip: “Why, are you falling apart?”

This was the way it was in movies for a long time - the men got the best lines and the biggest guns - and then along came Raquel Welch in a bikini hacked from the hide of a woolly mammoth in One Million Years BC, only for her dialogue to run not much further than “Ugh!” Still, at least this wasn’t One Million Years PC.

If the clampdown had been in place previously then you wonder if The Great Escape with not a woman in sight would have got made. But my sisters weren’t bored by it and nor were they scarred. To this day they can still reel off the fates of all the POWs.

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers? Surely that would pass the test - or would it be viewed as over-aspirational about marriage? More than any hidden hazard of war ever faced by John Wayne or Kirk Douglas, this is a minefield. As the bloke in Braveheart with the blue face almost said: “We all end up woke. It’s just a question of how and why.”

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