A “SPEECH” IMPEDIMENT
I am writing this post because I feel compelled to respond to the strange resurgence of interest in — and insinuations about — something that I wrote on this site more than six weeks ago. (See The Daily Mail, The Metro, The Independent, The Telegraph — one and two — and a Tweet from one of my heroes, Roger Ebert.)
On December 5, I wrote a post entitled “‘The King’s Speech’ Targeted: Smear Campaign or Just the Hard Truth?” In it, I shared an email that was sent to me by a person claiming to be an Academy member who wanted me to know that he or she — and “a lot” of others — would not be voting for “The King’s Speech” because, he or she had read, King George VI was not the noble man that the film makes him out to be, but rather an anti-Semite who sought to prevent Jews from leaving Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. This person pointed me to his or her source, a November 28 article on New York Magazine’s Web site, which drew its information from a 2002 article in The Guardian, which quoted from some of the late King’s private papers that had been released upon the Queen Mum’s death earlier that year.
Upon receiving this information, I agonized over what I should do next. I realized that sharing this information would create aggravation for my friends who were working on the awards campaign of “The King’s Speech,” which was not something that I wanted to do, but I also realized that not sharing it would be journalistically irresponsible, since it pertained to the subject of one of the films at the center of this year’s Oscar race. Eventually, my thoughts turned to the recent WikiLeaks news dump. I realized that the way that the New York Times handled that story offered a good model for how I should handle this one. I’m certain that the New York Times editors who decided that the paper should describe those documents knew that doing so would create aggravation for American officials, and that that’s not something that they took any pleasure in doing, but at the same time they knew that doing so was the only journalistically responsible option, since those documents directly pertained to the subjects that they cover on a regular basis.
When I wrote my post a month and a half ago, I made it very clear that I had not been able to confirm the identity of the person who emailed me the information about King George VI, but that the information nonetheless checked out. I also shared the long history of Oscar “smear campaigns,” and openly acknowledged that my source could just as easily have been “someone with a vested interest in stunting the awards prospects of ‘The King’s Speech’” as “an Academy member who would like others to take note of documented facts about the film’s subject that are not reported in the film.”
At no time, however, did I suggest — or endorse the suggestion — that this information about King George VI was a legitimate reason to not support a film about King George VI that focuses on completely unrelated matters. It is not. Florenz Ziegfeld, T.E. Lawrence, George S. Patton, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Oskar Schindler, and John Forbes Nash, Jr. weren’t saints either, but that should not have kept — and did not keep — films about them from receiving the awards recognition that they deserved.
If you had read only the aforementioned sensationalist news items in the British media, you might have gotten the impression that (a) my initial post has provoked some sort of a great debate amongst Academy members that has jeoparized the awards prospects of “The King’s Speech” and its star, Colin Firth, and (b) I was and/or am personally working against or urging others to vote against them.
The facts of the matter, however, are quite different: I have yet to meet a single Academy member who has changed the way he or she plans to vote based on my post — or any of those that came before or after it — about this matter. Moreover, I do not campaign for or against films; I do, however, have personal opinions about them, and in this case my opinion is that “The King’s Speech” is one of the top 10 films of 2010. Moreover, I am very fond of Firth, who I have interviewed and come to know a little over the years — in fact, I ran into him and his publicist in a hallway on Sunday night after the Golden Globes, and we stopped and had a friendly chat, during which I congratulated him on winning the best actor (drama) Golden Globe for “The King’s Speech” and shared with him my belief that it should have been his second win in a row, since nobody gave a better performance last year than he did in “A Single Man” (2009). Finally, I have a pretty good idea of what Harvey Weinstein is all about, having interviewed him once and met him on numerous other occcasions, and I know that he is just about the last person who would make a movie that he felt celebrated anti-Semtism or anti-Semites in any way — he is tremendously passionate about his Jewish background and Jewish causes, and he has made more high-profile movies about Judaism-related topics than anyone I know, from “Life Is Beautiful” (1998), to “The Reader” (2008), to “Inglourious Basterds” (2009), to “The Concert” (2010), and the list goes on.
King George VI may have been an anti-Semite, or he may just have been slow to appreciate the extent of the problems faced by the Jews of Germany as Hitler rose to power, as most people were at the time. Either way, those personal shortcomings had nothing to do with the way that he overcame his speech impediment and became a more effective leader, and should therefore have no bearing on the way that people evaluate a film that is about those aspects of his life. Voters are being asked to consider whether or not “The King’s Speech” is the best picture of the year and whether or not Firth is the best actor of the year, not whether or not “The King’s Speech” is the best picture of the year about a likable character and whether or not Firth gives the best performance as a likable character.
Take it from me, as someone who monitors the awards race every day, that “The King’s Speech” is far from the only major awards contender that has been embroiled in controversies of this nature this year. At the end of the day, though, Academy members should make their voting decisions based on the merits of the films themselves, rather than on any other considerations, just as they have done in similar situations in the past. I am confident that they will.
Photo: Colin Firth in “The King’s Speech.” Credit: The Weinstein Company.
Tags: A Single Man, Colin Firth, Florenz Ziegfeld, George S. Patton, Harvey Weinstein, Inglourious Basterds, John Forbes Nash Jr., King George VI, Life Is Beautiful, Oskar Schindler, Roger Ebert, T.E. Lawrence, The Concert, The King's Speech, The Reader, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart