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Fabelmans flops at Oscars, but Hollywood’s Jewish history spotlighted



JTA – With seven nominations for his most personal film ever, this could have been Steven Spielberg’s biggest year at the Academy Awards. But the hot-dog fingers had other plans.

The Fabelmans, the director’s highly personal dramatisation of his Jewish upbringing, didn’t win a single one of the Oscars it was nominated for on Sunday night. Spielberg’s film lost out on the biggest categories, including best picture, director, actress, and original screenplay, all to the same movie: chaos-theory multiverse comedy Everything Everywhere All At Once, where the aforementioned hot-dog fingers play a starring role.

But while the most Jewish movie came up empty-handed, other Jewish stories played out on the movies’ biggest night.

Getting loud for All Quiet

All Quiet on the Western Front, Netflix’s gruelling drama about German soldiers on the frontlines of World War I, ended the night with four Oscars: international feature film, original score, cinematography, and production design. In addition to having a Jewish producer, the movie was also adapted from a novel and 1930 film that both met the ire of the Nazi party and were tarred as Jewish plots to destroy the German state.

A Jewish “Goonies brother for life”

One of the most heartwarming moments of the evening was the best supporting actor win for Ke Huy Quan for Everything Everywhere All At Once. Quan, a former child actor, had abandoned his onscreen career for decades before his big comeback role last year. Quan gave a special shout-out to “my Goonies brother for life”, Jeff Cohen, a Jewish former child star turned entertainment lawyer. Cohen and Quan appeared in The Goonies together in 1985, and when Quan landed his big Everything Everywhere role, Cohen negotiated the terms of his deal.

Jamie Lee Curtis and Sarah Polley

There were a couple of big-name Oscar winners with Jewish parents. Immediately after Quan’s big moment, veteran actress Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her first-ever Oscar, also for Everything Everywhere. Tony Curtis, Jamie Lee’s Jewish father, was one of the biggest stars of golden age Hollywood, yet received only one Oscar nomination, in 1959 for The Defiant Ones.

Another winner with a Jewish father was the writer-director-actor, Sarah Polley, who won best adapted screenplay for Women Talking.

Navalny and the neo-Nazis

The winner for best documentary went to a profile of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whose 2020 poisoning by KGB agents after he publicly criticised Vladimir Putin was an international scandal. Navalny is imprisoned in Russian solitary confinement, and the filmmakers dedicated the award to him. The documentary also details a controversial aspect of Navalny’s campaign: his onetime support of the “Russian march”, a gathering of Russian neo-Nazi organisations.

Diane Warren’s no-win situation

Diane Warren, who is Jewish, joined in the performance of Applause, her composition from the feminist documentary Tell It Like A Woman. She has never won an Oscar, and unfortunately for her, the streak continued on Sunday, 12 March, as the viral sensation Naatu Naatu, from the Indian film RRR, took the prize.

Another Jew-ish shutout

Also drawing blanks was Tár, the cerebral classical-music psychological drama with somewhat inexplicable Jewish themes.

Hollywood’s Jewish history gets a nod

The broadcast included a promotional video for the Academy Museum, which opened last year, which stated that one of its roles was to “bring important film histories to light, from the Jewish immigrants who founded the Hollywood studios to the early innovators of African-American cinema”. The museum drew criticism when it first opened for giving short shrift to the industry’s robust Jewish history.

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