"And the Oscar goes to ... Citizenfour."
With those words, filmmaker Laura Poitras took the stage Sunday at the Academy Awards, where her portrait of whistleblower Edward Snowden and the sweeping mass surveillance that he exposed won the prize for best feature documentary.
The award couldn't have pleased the NSA and its apologists, most of whom live a continent away in Washington, D.C. As they see it, Hollywood just feted a journalist who helped to recklessly expose closely guarded national security secrets.
But as Poitras noted in her acceptance speech, the NSA surveillance programs that she helped to reveal "don't only expose a threat to our privacy but to our democracy." Citizens can't vote out politicians for adopting a wrongheaded or illegal policy "when the most important decisions affecting all of us are made in secret."
That's an under-appreciated insight. Perhaps it struck some who watched Poitras' Oscar speech and will strike others who see Citizenfour due to Sunday's win (the film makes its TV debut on HBO Monday). Meanwhile, it's worth noting another part of Poitras' speech that may have struck some as boring Oscar boilerplate:
Thank you so much to the Academy.
I'd like to first thank the documentary community. It's an incredible joy to work among people who support each other so deeply, risk so much, and do such incredible work.
We don't stand here alone.
The work we do and that needs to be seen by the public is possible due to the brave organizations that support us. We'd like to thank RADiUS, Participant, HBO, BritDoc and the many organizations that had our back making this film.
In this case, the "thank-you" list is actually an important reminder of the always vital, sometimes under-appreciated role that civil society plays in the United States.