The Oscars: An Agent of Social Change?
March 3, 2014
Posted by on
One of the movies nominated this year for best foreign film was “The Missing Picture,” by a Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh. This is the first time a Cambodian film has been nominated for an Oscar, and though it did not win it has brought media attention to the atrocities still being perpetrated by the Cambodian government and brought hope to the Cambodian opposition. The director’s parents and brother were among the 4 million people killed under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime, and the film tells of the atrocities committed. In this article the author compares Rithy Panh to Anne Frank and says that it was as if “Anne Frank had lived through the Holocaust and been able to tell her own story in a film as writer and director.”
What is interesting about the film is that it draws the public eye back to Cambodia as the Khmer Rouge tribunals begin to come to an end. Cambodia has faced a difficult and slow recovery after the tyranny of the Khmer Rouge regime, and though over the last 20 years countries have donated billions of dollars to reconstruct the Cambodian infrastructure, schools, tourism, industry, and agriculture, 1 out of 3 Cambodians live on less than $1 a day and earlier this year when garment workers peacefully demonstrated for a wage increase the Cambodian police opened fire killing 5 and injuring many more. In instances like this we need to ask who international aid is helping? Often the regime that takes over post-conflict is itself not blameless and one has to question whether the aid is helping the people of the country or instead entrenching a regime that may be bad for the country.
The arts can be a form of restorative justice; in “The Missing Picture” the director is able to not only memorialize his family but also reveal the depth of the atrocities propagated by the Khmer Rouge. A picture is worth a thousand words, and this film has invigorated the Cambodian opposition and increased the international community’s awareness of the problems in the country. During the regime artists were practically stamped out, and Panh at 49 is considered the “godfather of Cambodian film.” Though Cambodia still faces problems, the return of the arts is a promising step forward for the country and the awareness it can bring will hopefully hold the Cambodian government accountable to something. My question though, is have the tribunals in the country had an important role in the country’s progress? The government has hindered the tribunals on every front, and I question whether the traditional “transitional justice” process in Cambodia can take credit for the forward motion the country has made or if the future lies in restorative justice methods like the restoration of the arts.