'Carol' Producer Discusses The Film's Political Relevance & It's A Savvy Move This Close To Oscars Season

This Wednesday, the Cate Blanchett-starring drama Carol was honored by the New York Film Critics Circle as the Best Film of the year, also taking home prizes for Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. These big wins bode well for the film's chances at the 2016 Academy Awards — but rather than resting on their laurels, the film's team is working hard to push Carol to the forefront of the Oscar buzz, which is starting to reach a fever pitch in the final month of the year. This Thursday, Deadline published a guest column by Carol producer Stephen Woolley in which he makes a strong argument for the movie's political relevance.

"America and the world are gripped with a new brand of fear and conservatism as modernity and liberalism take a back seat to a powerful surge in Republican populism that Carol so clearly mirrors," Woolley said of the 1950s-set film, in which Blanchett's titular character struggles for custody of her child after embarking on an affair with Rooney Mara's Therese. He went on:

Are the clocks running backwards? Women’s rights are still being infringed upon and abused in a similar way in the home, the workplace and the schoolyard. Outside the liberal world of East and West coast cities, is it really that easy for today’s contemporaries of Therese and Carol to step out together in 2015 America, an America where the monumental Voting Rights Act was overturned? As the horrific events at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic demonstrated, armed intolerance is a very real factor. We are a few steps away from institutional racism and socially acceptable religious bigotry. The world so brilliantly evoked by Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price Of Salt, of subterfuge and guilt, could be the world of the future, not the past.
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But disguised in Woolley's (above, far left) scathing political commentary is a clever bid to encourage readers to flock to his film — and for Academy members to vote for it. "Carol is a movie everyone of us should see and take note of (like all of [Todd] Haynes’ important work)," he said, referring to the movie's director — who he was quick to point out has never been nominated for an Oscar, "not because it reflects a distant past, but for reminding us firmly of the very present and imminent danger of the consequences we face if we don’t prevent the political tide changing looming now."

Is such blatant self-promotion savvy or tacky? Can it be both? Campaigning is a long-standing — if much derided— tradition of Oscar season; but that doesn't mean it doesn't work. One of the most controversial campaigns in recent Academy history is the one Melissa Leo launched on her own behalf back in 2010 for her role in David O. Russell's The Fighter. The actress paid for a "bizarre" series of trade ads picturing herself in faux-fur with the tagline "Consider..." that was the object of much scorn in the industry. And yet it paid off: Leo took home the trophy for Supporting Actress that year, even over her own Fighter co-star, Amy Adams.

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Writing an impassioned op-ed about your film's political relevance is arguably a classier way to promote than paying for newspapers to publish your headshots. And, if Woolley and the rest of the Carol team hope to take home Oscar gold this season, then making a case for the movie's topical themes is certainly the way to go about it, considering the frontrunner they have to compete against. While the 2016 Oscar race is far from a done deal, as it often is at this point — this time last year it was already a given that the eventual winner would be either Birdman or Boyhood — most pundits would agree that Spotlight is currently the one to beat.

That ensemble drama tells the story of a team of Boston Globe journalists (played by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams) who exposed the systematic cover-up of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church — and won a Pulitzer Prize for their efforts — back in 2002. That's a clear political statement that everyone can get behind, and one that should still be relatively fresh in the minds of most Academy members. In publishing this guest column, Woolley is attempting to convince voters that Carol isn't just another Oscar-bait period piece; it is, in fact, even more topical and relevant to contemporary politics than Spotlight's 13-year-old case against Catholic priests.

Carol premiered at the Cannes Film Festival a whopping seven months ago; that's a veritable lifetime when it comes to the ever-changing landscape of the annual Oscar race. If Woolley and the rest of the Carol team hope for their film to remain at the forefront of the conversation in the face of upcoming buzzy releases like Joy (starring Oscar darling Jennifer Lawrence), The Revenant (from last year's Best Director winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu), and The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino's bloody Western), then this will likely be just one of many campaign moves on behalf of Haynes' film coming our way between now and when the Oscar polls close on Feb. 23, 2016.

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Images: The Weinstein Company; Open Road Films