You’ll have to indulge us this week while we proudly boast about a native New Yorker who has taken Hollywood by storm with his brave story about the Iraq war and the bizarre ways men find flirting with death sometimes more exciting than flirting with women.
Mark Boal, a 37-year-old journalist who graduated from Bronx High School of Science and was the editor of Our Town in the late 1990s, had an amazing night at Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony. Boal won an Oscar for his screenplay for The Hurt Locker, which also netted top honors as “Best Picture” in a field of blockbusters that included the overly-hyped Avatar, and other, much better-financed productions.
There are many reasons we are tickled by this outcome, not the least of which is that he began his journalism career in our newsroom about a dozen years ago. A recent Oberlin College graduate, Boal had a fire in the belly to make a name for himself as a writer and an editor. In the year he edited our East Side newspaper, he did what all journalists are meant to do (no, not opine mindlessly on blogs!): he “afflicted the comfortable and comforted the afflicted.” His tenure was marked by impressive exposés on teen smoking and investigations of affordable housing problems. He took readers behind the scenes at the city’s Department of Investigations unit that is charged with rooting out municipal corruption.
Boal was (and still is) a journalist in the truest sense of the word: He did not mind putting himself in dangerous situations to get a great story. And that is what he is now being celebrated for on one of the biggest stages possible, the Oscars. In 2004, he embedded himself with an army unit in Iraq and translated the story of these brave military men into a poignant and non-judgmental work of fiction that is now being called one of the great war movies of our time.
But it started with a heroic act of journalism: Mark Boal decided to put himself on the front line and see firsthand what it was like to be one of the soldiers charged with defusing bombs in Iraq. He then wrote a series of articles for Playboy magazine (yes, they do publish some serious journalism along with those photos), which became the basis of a screenplay that many people rejected in Hollywood before Boal and courageous director Kathryn Bigelow decided to produce it themselves on a low budget.
Now, their hard work and vision has received not just critical acclaim, but many awards, and Boal is on his way to a successful career as a screenwriter. We hope he does not lose his love for journalism, and that he remembers the lessons he learned as a young journalist: It is still great stories and human drama that make for great art and great films.
His shining example should serve as an inspiration to any young person who is told that a career in journalism is a dead end, or that there is no future in publishing. It is still newspapers and magazines that produce the great stories that Hollywood and others feast on each year.
And it is in the newsrooms of small community newspapers like Our Town, on the East Side, that Oscar-winning careers are born. Just ask Mark Boal.
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