Irish director Vincent Lambe’s short film Detainment is based on the 1993 case of James Bulger, a two-year-old British boy who was tortured and killed at the hands of two 10-year-olds. Detainment has been nominated for Best Live Action Short Film at the upcoming Academy Awards, and while that may be cause for celebration for the filmmakers, it has sparked outrage from the victim’s mother Denise Fergus. She released a statement about the nomination, it reads:
I cannot express how disgusted and upset I am at this so-called film that has been made and now nominated for an Oscar. It's one thing making a film like this without contacting or getting permission from James's family, but another to have a child re-enact the final hour of James's life before he was brutally murdered and making myself and my family have to relive this all over again.
Denise Fergus is clearly furious that Detainment was made in the first place, but now she is even angrier that it has been nominated for an Oscar. It seems that this film’s very existence ripped open an old wound, forcing the family of James Bulger to relive their trauma all over again. The Oscar nomination seemingly pours salt into that wound by validating the film.
James Bulger’s mother is also upset by the fact that she and her family were not contacted by Vincent Lambe nor were they asked for permission to tell their son’s story prior to the making of the film. And as far as what that story is, Denise Fergus is also furious that for the purpose of the film, another child is playing her son, who positively horrific things happened to.
According to Independent, Denise previously called for Detainment to be removed from the Oscars shortlist entirely, and there was a petition with thousands of signatures for the Academy to boycott the film. But those efforts did not stop Detainment from getting nominated for Best Live Action Short Film.
In her Twitter statement addressing the nomination, Denise Fergus went on to say:
I'm so angry and upset at this present time. I just hope the film doesn't win its category in the Oscars.
It seems that for Denise Fergus the only hope now is that Detainment does not win an Oscarm as that would perhaps give her some comfort. Detainment is facing off with Fauve, Mother, Skin and Marguerite for the Best Live Action Short Film Oscar at next month’s ceremony. Whether this controversy will sway Academy voters is anyone’s guess.
Prior to the Oscar nomination, Director Vincent Lambe released a statement that addressed the family’s criticisms of the film and the belief that Detainment makes excuses for the killers. He also apologized for not contacting James Bulger’s family about the short ahead of time.
This is not the only Oscar nominee based on a true story and real people to be the subject of controversy this season. Despite its wild popularity, Bohemian Rhapsody also received criticism for changing the facts and glossing over certain aspects of Freddie Mercury’s life. Likewise for Green Book, Dr. Don Shirley’s family wasn’t consulted for the film and they say it is “full of lies.”
The case with Detainment is especially tough because of the nature of the case itself. This isn’t a misrepresentation of someone’s life but a dramatic retelling of the kind of crime that is unfathomable. The short film is based on the actual interview transcripts and records of the case, and it apparently steers clear of explicit depictions of the crime itself. But that obviously does nothing to make James Bulger’s family feel any better about it.
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