Brow Beat

How Should We Understand Mel Gibson’s Surprise Oscar Nomination?

Mel Gibson attends the 20th Annual Hollywood Film Awards in Beverly Hills, California, on Nov. 6, 2016.

Jean Baptiste Lacroix/AFP/Getty Images

Come home, Mel Gibson. All is forgiven.

In a year in which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated an unprecedented number of nonwhite actors, Oscar voters also showered six nominations on Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge, including nominating Gibson himself for Best Director. The actor has been a virtual nonpresence in Hollywood since he was pulled over for drunk driving in 2006 and unleashed a sexist and anti-Semitic tirade at the arresting officer, who was Jewish. But he’s been easing his way back into movies with roles in films like The Expendables 3, and now his intensely gory World War II drama has gotten Gibson his first Oscar nominations since 1996, when he won Best Director for Braveheart, which was also awarded Best Picture.

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Also among the academy’s nominees is Casey Affleck, who has settled sexual-harassment suits from two female crew members, one of whom said that he crawled into bed with her as she was sleeping, while The Birth of a Nation, which at this time last year was being touted as a major awards contender, came up with nothing, likely due in no small part to director Nate Parker and co-writer Jean Celestin’s having been charged with sexual assault in 1999. (Celestin was convicted, but his conviction was later overturned; Parker was cleared of the charges.) That’s not the only explanation for Birth’s absence from the Oscars: Once the ecstasy of the film’s Sundance reception had cooled, critics were decidedly mixed on the film, and whether one believes Parker is innocent or guilty, his handling of the issue on the campaign trail was unquestionably tone-deaf. But it’s hard not to look at the list of nominations and muse on which sins Hollywood is willing to forgive, and which not, and from whom.

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Although most Oscar-watchers did not predict Gibson’s nomination, they did predict some momentum for Hacksaw Ridge, due in large part to the older male voters whom IndieWire’s Anne Thompson calls “steak eaters.” But even the steak eaters couldn’t muster significant support for Gibson’s Apocalypto or The Passion of the Christ. In the past decade, Gibson has been captured on a terrifying 2010 recording in which he screamed racist invective at his then-girlfriend, who also filed domestic-violence charges against him, and he also has a long history of making homophobic remarks. But he’s kept a relatively low profile in recent years, and that’s apparently been enough for the statute of limitations on being convicted for hitting a woman and allegedly hoping she gets “raped by a pack of n—–s” to expire. Given that the academy hasn’t shied away from giving nominations to Roman Polanski and Woody Allen, it’s clear that, as a group, the members are determined to maintain the firewall between the art and the artist and even what the artist does on the set and what he does off it. But it’s also clear that status is only awarded to a select few, and now Gibson is back among their number.

Read more in Slate about this year’s Oscar nominations.

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