‘Brokeback Mountain’ and ‘Crash’ Producers Look Back At That Infamous Best Picture Upset: ‘This Stuff Is So Ridiculous’

"Brokeback Mountain" producer and co-writer Diana Ossana won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, but her film lost out in one of the most shocking Best Picture upsets in history.
Brokeback Mountain
"Brokeback Mountain"
Focus Features

Aside from last year’s Best Picture gaffe, the most notorious Oscar moment of the 21st century is probably when “Crash” upset “Brokeback Mountain” for Best Picture at the 78th Academy Awards in 2006. “Brokeback” was the critical favorite and a watershed moment for queer cinema. The film had already won Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Director by the time Best Picture was ready to be revealed, but “Crash” ended up taking top honors.

“Brokeback” producer and co-writer Diana Ossana won the Oscar that evening for screenwriting, and she looks back at the infamous moment 12 years ago in a new story on Entertainment Weekly. Like many others, Ossana read the headlines the following morning that slammed the Academy for being homophobic and choosing “Crash,” which represented a safe choice with its surface-level look at racial tensions in America. But the producer wasn’t completely blindsided. She remembers in the weeks leading up to the Oscars hearing that high profile voters just hadn’t seen “Brokeback.”

Osanna recalls attending a party for Oscar nominees hosted by none other than Clint Eastwood. She was friends with “Crash” director Paul Haggis, who told her on the way that he would introduce her to Eastwood. But Haggis had one warning for Osanna: Eastwood had not seen “Brokeback: yet.

“It was like someone punched me in the stomach,” Ossana says of learning about Eastwood. “You would think being a filmmaker, you would want to see every film. It’s what you do. The fact that he hadn’t seen it, it was kind of like, ‘I see.'”

One event that turned the tides to “Crash’s” favor was the Screen Actors Guild Awards, where the film took the Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble Cast trophy. “Crash” producer Cathy Schulman tells EW that the SAG win was the moment she realized her film could upset “Brokeback.”

“The one thing I saw was that actors seemed to be on our side,” Shulman says. “SAG had gone well, and it was clear that the acting community was really pushing for us.”

When “Crash” was named Best Picture, the backlash started immediately. All these years later, the win is still viewed as one of the Oscar’s biggest screw-ups. IndieWire recently named “Crash” the worst Best Picture winner of the 21st century. Schulman says she has tried her best in the decade since to not let the backlash bother her.

“This stuff is so ridiculous, to be honest,” Schulman said. “At the end of the day, there’s a bit of luck that’s thrown into the pot. I don’t know if there’s any deserving it or not deserving it. It becomes an overall emotional vote.”

As for Osanna, she finds comfort in the fact that “Brokeback” has had an incredibly legacy even if it lost Best Picture. The producer admits she thinks many voters ended up feeling uncomfortable with the film because it made them see gay men in a completely different light.

“What I wanted was for it to be seen by a lot of people,” she says. “I wanted people to experience and see how it made them feel, because I think it made a lot of people uncomfortable because they felt feelings that they never imagined they would feel about gay men. Men, especially. It made them uncomfortable. But that’s silly. It’s just a film, for God’s sake.”

We’ll find out which film joins “Crash” in the Best Picture winner’s circle when the Oscars air this Sunday, March 4.

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