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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Calls Foul on Critics

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire February 19, 2013 at 4:49PM

"Some reviewers have abdicated their responsibility by chasing celebrity," says Jabbar.
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"Django Unchained."
"Django Unchained."

At the tail end of a blog post for Esquire about why "Django Unchained" should not be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar -- because, if I have this right, it's a "B movie," and B movies don't deserve such prestigious awards -- former NBA superstar and current cultural ambassador of the United States Kareem Abdul-Jabbar points the blame for the cinema's steady decline into Charlotte Bobcats-like irrelevance on one group of people: film critics. 

Cultural gatekeepers like critics, Abdul-Jabbar says, have a responsibility "to promote the best art of our culture and articulate why it's deserving." That would seemingly contradict his mission to explain why "Django" is not deserving of Academy Awards consideration, but whatever. Critics are still to blame:

"Some reviewers have abdicated their responsibility by chasing celebrity. Obviously, some craft their reviews with bon mots of praise just so they will be quoted in movie ads ('Steven Seagal makes Daniel Day-Lewis look like a street-corner mime!!!'). The more their name appears in ads, the more famous the reviewer becomes, and soon this sad sellout is happily suckling at the fame teat. And some reviewers fear alienating the younger audience who don’t want to hear any geezer crap said about their favorite films ('That’s so negative, dude.')."

That's right, quote whores. The next time you think about pretending to like a Steven Seagal movie to get quoted in a print ad, just remember: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is watching.

Also, at the risk of becoming derelict in my duty as cultural gatekeeper and incurring the wrath of a true basketball legend, why isn't "Django Unchained" worthy of an Oscar nomination? Just because it's an entertaining "B movie?" Why do we have to differentiate between great entertainment and great art? How do we differentiate between great entertainment and great art? Abdul-Jabbar himself says that some A films disguise themselves as B films, like Carol Reed's "The Third Man," for example. I've read enough smart criticism about "Django" to argue that's exactly what it is as well.

Abdul-Jabbar opens his blog post joking about how the Oscars got it wrong when they forgot to nominate him for his supporting role in the spoof comedy "Airplane!" In Kareem's mind, "Airplane!"'s status as a lowly B movie automatically invalidates it from consideration for awards. In my mind, Captain Skyhook is selling himself and the genius of his directors, David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams, short.

Here are some A movies that were nominated for a variety of Oscars the year that "Airplane!" was released and Oscar-snubbed: "Tribute," "Resurrection," "Inside Moves," "Brubaker," "Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears." Now, you might enjoy one or more of those movies. I haven't seen any of them, but I'm sure they're all fine films. But with the benefit of hindsight, what had the largest cultural impact? What entertained and satisfied more people? Which inspired more future filmmakers?

Of course, "Airplane!" deserved Academy Award nominations, right alongside other great cinematic accomplishments from 1980 like "Raging Bull" and "The Elephant Man." Maybe Abdul-Jabbar didn't really earn a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance -- but Leslie Nielsen surely did.

You think I'm joking? I'm serious about this -- comedies, Westerns, revenge pictures can all be art. They deserve recognition when they are. And stop calling me Shirley.

Read more of "'Django' is Wonderful. But It Shouldn't Be Up For Best Picture."

[H/T David Ehrlich]

This article is related to: Film Criticism is Dying, Django Unchained


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