News + Notes

Hollywood & 'Divine'

Oscar makes a political Intervention, declaring Palestine eligible for best foreign film.

Colin Powell might want to get out to the West Coast more. Or at least have the President spot him a subscription to Variety. Because after three years of fruitless negotiating with Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon, even the secretary of state hasn't been able to pull off what the Oscar folks just did: officially recognize Palestine as a state.

Last month, when the Academy revealed its list of 56 movies eligible for this year's Best Foreign Language Film, Elia Suleiman's Divine Intervention became the first-ever entry from Palestine, right alongside films from such foreign Oscar mainstays as Italy and France.

Getting the Academy to recognize the Palestinian film wasn't easy. Last year Suleiman was told that his $3 million black comedy, a 2002 Cannes Special Jury Prize winner, was ineligible on the grounds that Palestine was not a state. (Never mind that such nonstates as Hong Kong, Wales, and Puerto Rico have all scored nominees in the past. Taiwan even won Best Foreign Language Film in 2001 with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.) Yet the Academy argues that last year Divine Intervention was rejected not because of politics but because the filmmakers simply hadn't met requirements such as forming an official Palestinian selection committee or running the film for a week in a Palestinian theater. (The latter rule was especially tough that year since the one theater in the West Bank was destroyed during the intifada.)

''The movie could have been The Magnificent Ambersons, but we couldn't accept it for legitimate technical reasons,'' says Mark Johnson, chairman of the Academy's Foreign Language Film Selection Committee, adding that last year's controversy over the Academy's rejection of the film ''was blown out of proportion.''

Suleiman, who was born in Nazareth and now lives in Paris, says he bears no grudge against the Academy for last year's snub. ''I don't think they're monsters in Hollywood,'' he says. ''I think they just needed time to figure out a very hot issue.''

Originally posted Dec 19, 2003 Published in issue #742 Dec 19, 2003 Order article reprints