I didn’t think it was possible. As a student at Rutgers in 1988, I sarcastically asked my friends, “Who do you think is going to win the referendum in Chile? Pinochet or Pinochet?”
Following his bloody overthrow of the democratically elected Allende Government in 1973, Pinochet murdered thousands of dissidents and outlawed opposition parties. Like many dictators, he legitimated his rule by holding a plebiscite on a “constitution” that gave him unchecked power in 1980. He was able to do so, of course, because the climate of fear and impunity guaranteed his victory.
Facing growing international pressure to step down, General Pinochet tried to pull this same trick again in 1988, by offering a pseudo-election in which Chileans could vote to either let Pinochet remain in office for another eight years or hold a presidential election the following year. Given that he was writing the rules again, how could human rights activists and other opposition groups possibly win? It seemed hopeless.
Lawyers love My Cousin Vinny. It recently ranked third on the American Bar Association Journal’s list of top 25 movies. For many folks it’s an entertaining fish-out-of-water comedy about New Yorkers in Alabama, with classic (and in one case Oscar-worthy) performances by Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei and Herman Munster.
It’s Oscar season! In honor of the 2012 Oscar-nominated documentary on the death penalty, Paradise Lost 3, we thought it was a good time to look back at past Oscar winners that have also helped broaden our understanding of a range of human rights issues.
Movies can be a powerful tool for raising awareness about an issue, or even inspiring people to take action. And in our everyday work at Amnesty International, we aspire to do the same.
With a rich 84 year history of great films, we started looking at Best Picture winners from 1980 and onwards. Here are 5 Best Picture Winning films that not only continue to influence generations of filmmakers but also address social injustices still relevant in our world today. Read on then let us know what films have inspired you.
It’s Oscar season. And that’s great, because I like movies. I’m not a buff or anything, which is why I wrote “movies” and not “film” or “cinema”. But I enjoy a good flick. As someone who campaigns for death penalty abolition, I’m especially interested this year because there is a death penalty film,Paradise Lost 3, nominated for Best Documentary.
Movies can be a powerful tool for raising awareness about an issue, or even inspiring people to take action. In our death penalty abolition work, we have tried to promote movies we think will do that.
I’ve had the privilege of viewing and commenting on various stages of the film as it was being developed. It’s a great piece of work. With each viewing, something new strikes me. I wanted to share with you some of the themes in the film that resonate with me today.
First, The Reckoning builds to what feels like a “Law and Order: War Crimes”- style finale, with the Prosecutor and his team closing in on a target – a sitting head of state — considered by many to be out of reach. The crime thriller analogy is actually very appropriate, because some of the footage we see in the film is, when you think about it, crime scene footage. It’s easy to forget that. Mass rapes, murders, mutilations and starvation are often treated as the tragic and inevitable consequences of war, instead of as crimes which are planned — which actually require planning to implement on a mass scale — and for which specific individuals are responsible and can be held accountable.
Secondly, The Reckoning is very much a “David and Goliath” story. Critics of the ICC’s work try to portray the Court as a big, Western-dominated bully out to get Africa. I think you will come away from The Reckoning struck by how small the Prosecutor’s team really is in comparison with the massive crimes they are confronting. I think you will also be struck by how relentless they are in pursuing justice for the victims, who they stress are the millions of Africans subjected to human rights abuses, instead of the few who try to obscure their culpability by hiding behind the mantle of nationalism.
Finally, The Reckoning tells the story of what is essentially an unfinished revolution. The film explores both the breakthroughs in the advancement of human rights and the rule of law that made the ICC possible, as well as the lack of political to make enforcement a reality. Former Nuremberg prosecutor (and one of my heroes) Benjamin Ferencz recalls how the entire body of human rights law that we take for granted today came to be in his lifetime, demonstrating how much is possible in what is essentially a blink of the eye in historical time. Yet most of the world’s governments – some of whose representatives we see celebrating the ICC treaty at the start of the film — continue to fail to give any meaningful support the ICC in apprehending indicted war criminals. We may still have a long way to go, but it’s possible to get there.