The revolution may not be televised; but it will be immortalized on the big screen.
Prior to this week’s Doha Tribeca Film Festival debut of “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” there was some security concern around Mira Nair’s adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s eponymous Booker-prize nominated novel about a young Pakistani-American whose Princeton-Wall Street credentials earn him a spot on the express train to one-percenterville until 9/11 hits and leads to his exile.
But when the flick screened over the weekend, it stirred up more thoughtful conversation than controversy, despite its bold portrait of a protagonist whose intentions become increasingly ambiguous amid the anti-Muslim hysteria following the World Trade Center bombings.
Though the flick attracted its share of detractors, it’s a tremendous compliment to Nair’s balanced filmmaking – and her faithful take on the novel – that complaints about the flick were polarized between accusations of anti-Americanism to jingoism.
And perhaps most significantly, in the wake of last month’s violent response to the user-generated propaganda video, “The Innocence of Muslims,” this flick sends an important message that there’s a place for politically provocative flicks among moviegoers around the world, as long as the subject-matter is treated with respect.
That message was amplified by today’s news that Hollywood financiers are showing renewed interest in “Memphis,” director Paul Greengrass and producer Scott Rudin’s warts-and-all Martin Luther King, Jr.
The project has been on hold since Universal backed away from its commitment to finance the flick over a year and a half ago, due to concerns about the film’s commercial viability, at least partially due to its depiction of the iconic Civil Rights crusader as a flawed hero.
Though it’s widely known that King, like many men afflicted with great power, was susceptible to abusing it in his relationships with women.
But because King is such an exalted figure whose family remains alive and active in framing his legacy, this strand in King’s narrative has always been considered off limits.
“Memphis,” one of several MLK pictures in various stages of development, steps right on that third-rail with its holistic portrait of the non-violent activist in the days leading up to his assassination.
The flick focuses on King’s efforts to organize a protest march while grappling with increasing hostility from the FBI’s J.
Edgar Hoover and letting off steam with an assignation or two.
As a result of its 360-perspective on King, “Memphis” was disavowed by the King estate.
No studio would touch it, despite an A-List team of filmmakers and a revered subject long overdue for the kind of cinematic eulogy accorded to fellow history-makers like Gandhi, Malcolm X or, most recently, Abraham Lincoln.
History has never been one of Hollywood’s strongest subjects.
The tendency to sanctify or vilify has often proven too great for studios and filmmakers fearful of straying too far from the black-and-white official story we learned in 11th Grade history class.
And that goes double for anything in our recent past (think: “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and “World Trade Center”).
But the biopic’s dull-edged reticence may have entered the beginning stages of its own velvet revolution, as audiences continue to embrace more nuanced takes on familiar events, with flicks like “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” and “Lincoln.”
In fact, Steven Spielberg, himself a recovering sentimentalist, has lead the charge to remove history from its pedestal, with his rough-edged portrait of our beloved 16th President as a cunning political animal.
Now we’re eager for the next wave of flicks based on challenging and provocative books – contemporary or historic, fiction or otherwise – that reflect the urgency of our times. First up on our post 9/11 must see list, Teju Cole’s haunting meditation on history and identity, Open City, and The Submission, Amy Waldman’s moving and meticulously researched political satire about the firestorm that ignites around the Muslim architect hired to design a memorial to terrorist victims in Manhattan.
What provocative takes on real-life events , recent or not, would you most like to see Hollywood tackle next?