They say movies reflect the times. And however improbably, two of the top winners at Sunday night's Academy Awards, “The King’s Speech” and “The Social Network," stand out amid the ongoing wave of Arab revolutions that are reshaping the world's mental maps.
With past weeks at times seeming like a standoff between autocrats and Facebook, between Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Silicon Valley's Mark Zuckerberg, "The Social Network" has felt like an art-meets-life moment.
Yet at its heart, as Timothy Egan points out in The New York Times, Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar-winning screenplay about the creation of Facebook was “a fight among the privileged for more privilege.” At Harvard University, Mr. Zuckerberg is royally miffed that girls don’t date him and other brainy nerds. He’s not seeking dignity but acceptance at exclusive school clubs.
And so "The King's Speech" – a film about a reluctant prince who seeks help from a commoner to overcome his stammer and find his voice – may have more resonance at a time when ordinary Arabs have taken matters in their own hands, and have overcome many humiliations to find their own voice.
Winner of four Oscars, "The King's Speech" details the relationship between Prince Albert, a reluctant king treated coldly by his father and mocked by his brother, and speech therapist Lionel Logue, who understands that to treat the British royal he must approach him as a fellow human being. Mr. Logue has a conviction that people are not born at stammerers. In a plain downstairs office where Logue’s sons paint model airplanes, he calls the prince “Bertie” and insists that “In here, we have to be equal.”
Likewise, it seems, for the Arab moment: Gaining a voice, assuming equality and dignity among peoples, reducing the distance between the privileged and the rest of us – these are the tropes of the Arab spring.
Perhaps the genius of “The King’s Speech” is that it also ennobles the audience, allowing us to share in a relationship that throws out class and convention in the service of finding an innate voice. As Arab youth step up with courage to end repression, the lesson may be instructive. Perhaps in a larger sense it is true that no one is born without a voice.