Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Calls Foul on Critics

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by Matt Singer
February 19, 2013 4:49 PM
8 Comments
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"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]

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More: Film Criticism is Dying, Django Unchained

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8 Comments

  • Arch | February 25, 2013 6:48 PMReply

    A week and an award season later I can't help but think that Jabbar raises questions. Problem is, it feels like he tackles two not-so-related issues and glue them together like a Frankenstein monster.
    B-movies and Oscars, why the fuss? We're nowhere near to see the academy massively accepting them. Truth is, the academy would do well to look outside it's comfort zone. Indeed, to like Django or not doesn't matter per se. What does is (beware cliche-ridden sentence ahead) what it brings to the table. By definition "genre" tends to imply "generic" but that's no reason it can't be good (even w/out playing with rules like the meta tendency). In fact modern cinema was also born w/ b-movies (remember back when Les Cahiers were celebrating outcasts like Hitchcock and Hawks).

    Now critics... let's say he's not completely wrong. But, apart from the "so bad it's good" conundrum, it's mostly found on blogs and a few genre specialized websites. Ironically it came from a will to distinguish genre flicks (misunderstood, mistreated by critics etc) from the suit and tie Culture. Actually both issues can be linked cause everybody agree to disagree. Which is the sad part: everybody want to keep clearly separated playgrounds.

  • Arch | February 25, 2013 7:06 PM

    Also I gotta stop reading this blog.

  • Albert | February 19, 2013 9:14 PMReply

    Whether or not a film satisfies the most number of people is completely irrelevant to its quality, and the quality of the film is what the Academy should consider. How many people went to see the "Friday the 13th" slasher films? Or the "Twilight" films? Or even the worst "Batman" films? Tons of people went, simply because they WERE "Twilight" sequels or "Friday the 13th" sequels or "Batman" sequels. Sequels satisfy more moviegoers now than any other type of film being made. I am not against sequels, but how many of them are actually good? And would you really give an Oscar to them on the basis of how many went to see them?

  • Scott MacDonald | February 19, 2013 6:09 PMReply

    I side with Kareem on this one, Matt. Like Paco says, it doesn't matter what you think of Django specifically, his point is a good one generally. The Oscars WOULD be better if they honoured the most sophisticated works. I see it like this: blood n guts revenge movies like Django are, by nature, over-simplifications, reductive. (Even when they are smart and well-made.) I hated Django and loved Inglourious Basterds, but I would've been fine with neither nabbing a Best Picture nod. Why? Because revenge pictures (even good ones) fit with the popcorny, fun vibe that people already love and don't need to be sold on. The only value of awards (which are otherwise just lame Hollywood self-glorification) is to draw attention to works we might not otherwise be convinced to see. So no, we don't need Airplane to get a best picture nod (oy!), because it's not a) challenging, or b) in any way needing validation. It already got validation at the box office! I love low comedies and b-movies as much as the next guy, but demanding that they get awards is to misunderstand what such movies are for: they're a fun release from more "cultured" works (for lack of a better word). Awards would almost be an insult to their hard-earned disreputability. I'm kind of terrified at how so many people these days seem to feel b-movies need awards. Leave my b-movies alone, awards people!

  • MSJ | February 19, 2013 7:56 PM

    I see things as going the opposite way. It used to be that Star Wars and Jaws can be nominated for Best Film, but as time moves on you find that only 'prestigious' and 'high brow' films get nominations for major categories like that. It only isn't until recently that we see movies like Avatar getting nominated, or weirder science fiction films (District 9 and Inception) and animation (Up and Toy Story 3). Even then, movies like The Artist and The King's Speech (a movie with a pretty boring direction) are the ones that win. Or worse, Crash (a movie that depicts racial issues with the same 'respect' most movies portray computer hackers). Oscar voters are mostly old people.

  • Scott MacDonald | February 19, 2013 6:09 PMReply

    I side with Kareem on this one, Matt. Like Paco says, it doesn't matter what you think of Django specifically, his point is a good one generally. The Oscars WOULD be better if they honoured the most sophisticated works. I see it like this: blood n guts revenge movies like Django are, by nature, over-simplifications, reductive. (Even when they are smart and well-made.) I hated Django and loved Inglourious Basterds, but I would've been fine with neither nabbing a Best Picture nod. Why? Because revenge pictures (even good ones) fit with the popcorny, fun vibe that people already love and don't need to be sold on. The only value of awards (which are otherwise just lame Hollywood self-glorification) is to draw attention to works we might not otherwise be convinced to see. So no, we don't need Airplane to get a best picture nod (oy!), because it's not a) challenging, or b) in any way needing validation. It already got validation at the box office! I love low comedies and b-movies as much as the next guy, but demanding that they get awards is to misunderstand what such movies are for: they're a fun release from more "cultured" works (for lack of a better word). Awards would almost be an insult to their hard-earned disreputability. I'm kind of terrified at how so many people these days seem to feel b-movies need awards. Leave my b-movies alone, awards people!

  • Paco | February 19, 2013 5:09 PMReply

    His point is still valid whether you agree with him on Django or not. He isn't really taking the critics to task as much as he is hoping the Academy wakes up and takes itself and cinema more seriously. I'm still shocked Crash (2005) won Best Picture.

  • jesiii | February 19, 2013 5:04 PMReply

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