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Two 'Iraq War' Movies Compete For Awards

By Mamoon Alabbasi

23 February, 2010

London: James Cameron's "Avatar" and Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" had battled for best film and best director at the BAFTA awards on Sunday.

Bigelow's so called Iraq war movie won best film and director awards. It also picked up gongs for original screenplay, cinematography, editing and sound.

Cameron's computer-animated blockbuster, the world's biggest-ever grossing movie, won only two awards; for special visual effects and production design.

The two movies will also be competing for nine awards each at the Oscars in two weeks time, where the odds are in favour of "Avatar", already in possession of two Golden Globe awards.

But the two movies which have been and will be competing head-to-head for the same awards have more in common than the fact that their directors have been once married to each other.

Both films, in their own ways, 'touch on' the Iraq war, a theme that still haunts the world of politics, almost seven years on since the US-led invasion.

Ironically, and contrary to official film labelling, for many Iraqis "Avatar" is seen as the most accurate Iraq war movie so far, while "The Hurt Locker" might appear as more 'alien' to them.

The link to Iraq in "Avatar" is apparent to many from the outset of the film, but it is further entrenched with the use of terms like "shock and awe" and "fighting terror".

However, the plot thickens. The blue humanoids in "Avatar" appear more humane than their human invaders, who came from earth to steal the resources of their planet.

While in the "The Hurt Locker", where we follow an adventurous US bomb squad in Iraq, the Iraqis in the movie appear to serve just as a background that shows how heroic the film's stars are.

Almost faceless and voiceless, they are - like in the world of politics - robbed of their humanity.

It would be more accurate to say that "The Hurt Locker" is an action movie that uses Iraq as a background than to brand it as an 'Iraq war movie', and less so as the 'Iraq war drama'.

The film does not really address the Iraq war, the reasons for the presence of the US squad or even the bombs they are supposed to defuse, and most importantly it ignores the views and feelings of Iraqis.

Contrary to the claim made by some film critics arguing that the film is non-ideological, the very fact that the war context is left out makes the movie very political.

It sells war as a heroic adventure, hiding the true toll on all sides involved and brushes aside the suggestion of accountability. This seems very ideological.

But in the world of entertainment, it won the 'hearts and minds' of the BAFTA board.

According to the BBC's Will Gompertz, "the general feeling among the cognoscenti I spoke last night (Sunday) was that Hurt Locker won more for its subject matter than for the quality of the movie."

Perhaps, influenced by a noble deep-seated British tradition, BAFTA sided with the underdog film, given the public success that Cameron had swept.

But for a lot of Iraqis, "Avatar" is the film of the underdog. For many of them who feel de-humanised by some parts of the media, the positive depiction of blue non-humans is welcome.

If some humans can relate to the 'humanity' of non-humans in fiction, then surely they would find it easier to identify with the true humanity of de-humanised humans in real life?

Or would that be too much to expect?

Maybe someday all sides would be able to look each other in the eyes and say the film's most moving and symbolic words: 'I see you'.

Mamoon Alabbasi is an Iraqi journalist based in London. He can be reached via: alabbasi@writing.com