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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Brokeback Problem

I have a problem with Brokeback Mountain, and it’s not what you’d expect. It’s not the fact that it’s a gay love story, or that it’s about cowboys (though I do hate westerns). It’s that it’s claiming to be a giant step forward for the way homosexuality is depicted in Hollywood, something I believe it is not.
The Academy Awards have a history of being backward, or at least several years behind. So, it would seem very likely they would recognize this film. But by honoring this film the academy wouldn’t so much show their lack of prejudice against the subject matter...it will show that since that subject matter is packaged in such a pretty film with such non-threatening people associated with the film, that they can acknowledge it.
The biggest problem associated with this is that the nation, critics, and the Academy is more than willing to give accolades and praise to a film about gays, that has no one working on the film who is openly gay. In fact, no openly gay actor has ever won an academy award playing a gay person. The only nominees in history who have played gay characters have all been portrayed by heterosexuals. The screenplay was written by two straight people. It stars straight people. It’s directed by a straight man. How is this supposed to be the great rallying film for gays if no one associated with the film has lived the gay experience?
Second, I have a problem with the casting. Jake Gyllenhal and Heath Ledger are two very good looking men. We don’t have a problem with them getting together. But seriously, who in real life looks like them? The world wouldn’t nearly be as open to a film that has to normal looking men. We are a very superficial society, and perhaps we only like to think about pretty things, and I’m not saying that the casting advocates any sort of lifestyle. I am saying that it is easier to distance ourselves from these characters seeing them as movie stars, than had they been portrayed more realistically.
Third, the two main characters in the film are rather predictable for a gay portrayal by straight people. They fight their feelings, they marry women, they hide. They are as iconically gay as they are iconically cowboys. Would the critics and public like a film where someone embraced being gay? You may say, but the film takes place in the ‘60's. Yes, my point exactly, a period where homosexuality was kept in the closet. Why not make a gay love story about two men living today, who want to get married? The public and critics would never have it.
This is much like the way the Academy has recognized minorities. In safe roles, played by safe actors, or roles that perpetuate negative stereotypes. Roles that are dangerous, by actors that threaten the mainstream public, will not be recognized. Denzel Washington has won for playing a delinquent soldier and a bad cop, Halle Berry a desperate, unstable woman, Hattie McDaniel a stereotyped sassy maid. Sidney Poitier won his only oscar for the Lilies of the Field, where he played a gruff, but likeable construciton worker, but it was far from his best role, but the least dangerous of his best work. Louis Gosset Jr. won for playing a harsh but somewhat redeemable drill sergeant. Miyoshi Umeki won for Sayonara, playing a somewhat stereotyped Asian woman. Only Haing S. Ngor (The Killing Fields), Rita Moreno (West Side Story, she was one of the few Puerto Ricans in that one) won oscars for strong minority roles. Anthony Quin (half-Chicano) won two Oscars, the second for playing a Frenchman.
I am not criticizing the film and the filmmaking. I am criticizing the Hollywood system. Ang Lee is a teriffic filmmaker. I am questioning the hype. We should focus this year on films that do challenge us on social issues rather than put them in neatly wrapped packages. Films like Syriana, or Paradise Now.

1 comment:

Erin said...

Very true. It's very sugarcoated and the Academy loves its sweets. It's making steps toward making homosexual-ploitation even more prevailent, it blazes no trails toward making more realism in film in general and especially not accurate portrayl of homosexual lifestyle. I doubt Ang Lee wanted any of this when he made the film, especially not realism, but you get my idea.