Why the Academy Awards Needs to Rethink its Cold Response to “Blue is the Warmest Color”


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences stunned few when it announced its 2014 “Oscar” nominees. Yes, Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Joaquin Phoenix and Robert Redford were overlooked. However, the acting fields were loaded with such performances, one cannot help but shrug his or her shoulders and simply move on.

One slight, however, should not go unmentioned.

France’s “Blue is the Warmest Color” did not receive a nomination for Best Foreign Film. Nor did it win at the Golden Globe Awards, despite a nomination for Best Foreign Film, and a voting field of risk-taking international film reporters. You know, that ‘gaggle of characters.’ 

This is the same film that received the Palme d’Or in 2013 from a jury led by none other than Steven Spielberg. In an unprecedented move, Spielberg made sure the film’s lead actresses, Léa Seydoux and Adéle Exarchopoulos, received the award along with the film’s director, Abdellatif Kechiche.

So why the oversight? From the beginning the film was a branded a knockout by French critics. Yet Westerners offered a split decision. Go ahead, analyze THAT.

The film’s love scenes generated a list of mythic, and sometimes accurate, responses. Did you know that one sex scene lasted 10–no—20 minutes in length? (It was actually seven minutes.) Did the filmmaker really use fake genitalia, as Tina Fey and Amy Poehler claimed in their recent Golden Globes monologue? If only the actresses had expressed lust and gun violence, rather than passion and love, during their girl-on-girl scenes. Perhaps that would have merited “Blue” a R rating instead of NC-17?

Further complicating matters was the spat between the director Kechiche, and his leading lady. When asked, Seydoux confirmed tales of long hours of filming that teetered on abuse. She even went so far as to say she would never work with Kechiche again. Female critics jumped on the chance to out Kechiche as clearly voyeuristic and misogynist.

Kechiche lashed out at the critics and the actresses. Now there’s talk of him filing a slander suit against Seydoux.

Typically, Hollywood likes to profit from films that spark controversy. By omitting “Blue,” the Motion Picture Academy chose not to even acknowledge it. This, however, this should not be the end of  the “Blue” story.

What it should be recognized for is its accurate portrayal—sex scenes aside—of young women and the conflict over sexual preference and identity. How many times have heterosexuals been gifted in film with brave, conflicted, charming and flawed characters, especially in love stories that not about AIDS or the Gay Civil Rights movement? Name one lesbian character in a film that is portrayed as proudly out, without a trace of suspicious or controversy.

Ironically, “Blue is the Warmest Color,” has a very traditional story line. We learn of a 15-year-old girl, “Adele,” who feels a void in her heterosexual relationship. Then she is connects—at first glance—with a young college student named “Emma.” Right out of Shakespeare.

Emma leads Adele on a journey of both physical and emotional enlightenment. Sadly, and predictably, Adele bows to societal pressure and confusion when confronted by her family and friends, breaking both of the young women’s hearts. Been there. Done that. 

What is not familiar about this storyline is the use of homosexual characters as leads. Despite the growing and somewhat honest portrayals of gays, lesbians, transgender/transexual and bisexuals on television, the motion picture industry often fails to see the rainbow. Social change, civil rights advances and the leprechaun’s pot of gold will likely change that. The critically acclaimed 2011 release “Pariah,” about how a young African-American teen embraces her Lesbian identity, met a similar fate.

A 2011 study from the Williams Institute at UCLAdetermined that 11 percent of Americans have “same-sex attraction,” while nearly four percent claim to be openly GLBT. At least 9 million then identified publicly as GLBT. That was three years—and many court decisions—ago.

Any pollster or marketing executive will tell you that a sector of ten percent is a growth opportunity. With the advent of films streamed into the home, and the ability to distribute to the global market, films featuring homosexual characters will continue to be a sought-after and vital business.

Now “Blue” was, by no means, a blockbuster. It earned just over $7.2 million worldwide since its in late 2013.
However, it must be said that in its first weekend, in just four theaters in New York and Los Angeles, “Blue” made a tidy $100,316. With distributor Sundance Select behind it, and the inevitable placement of the film online and on cable channels, it is fair to assume “Blue” will be in demand.

Is that because people will want to see the sex? Maybe…however, like heterosexuality, any healthy relationship is about love and companionship. “Blue” is no exception. It is a film filled with emotions, feelings, and conflict that all humans share.

For family members trying to accept their homosexual relative, “Blue” is a lesson in compassion and acceptance. For the individual struggling with their sexual preference and identity, the film is about self love and preservation. For the GLBT community, “Blue” should become a rite of passage.

Thus all this begs the question: How much longer can the business of filmmaking—and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—continue to deny the feelings, desires, experiences and even the accurate existence of this portion of humanity?

To anyone who is homosexual, thinks they are homosexual or knows a teen who probably homosexual, “Blue” is an important work, and a beautiful, rare and identifiable experience. It should be, for lesbians, what “Brokeback Mountain” has become for gays. For the film industry, “Blue” is the future of their business.

So if there are any Hollywood types out there still doubting my case, I’ll offer you the elevator pitch: “Blue” is the French prequel to the “The L Word” but it has the quality, conflict and emotion of “West Side Story.”

Or, as Steven Spielberg says: “The film is a great love story.”