Saturday, November 26, 2011

Lamenting Gay Hollywood

The March 2011 issue of Z Magazine has an interesting piece by Michael Bronski called "The Gay Oscars."  (Full disclosure, I have written for Z on film, and I am a big fan of the magazine.)  In it, Bronski, in his usual, take-everyone-to-task way tackles the Oscars, breakthrough movies that deal with same sex relations, and how everyone has gotten it wrong.  Bronski, it should be noted before people get upset, is a writer who has written such books as Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps and An LGBT History of the United States.  To say he is "gay friendly" may be an understatement.  Friendly, however, does not mean he lets the LGBT community pass by without examination, which is what drives his essay.

What prompted his piece was the buzz surrounding the Oscar nomination of The Kids Are Alright.  It was being hailed as the new "big breakthrough movie," which Bronski tends to think his nonsense.  He correctly points out that this label has been given to Brokeback Mountain and Milk, to name just two.  He does point out, correctly, that it is the "first Hollywood movie to bring a lesbian family drama to a non-queer audience," but wonders if it is truly the "gayest film being nominated" that year.  His answer?  It's not.

Bronski then goes on to list what he considers films that have an even bigger impact and "queer sensibilities" or "inclinations."  The list and his reasons are fairly surprising.  The King's Speech (for its message of "overcoming a personal flaw that makes you a social outcast"), The Social Network (a film that at its core is about the "pain of an outsider"), The Fighter (for it's "subtext of the homo-eroticism of one-on-one contact sports"), Black Swan (for its portrayal of seeing a "diva go to pieces, which is a total treat for queer fans of diva worship."), 127 Hours (for James Franco's real-life sexuality, which remains at that writing a mystery), and True Grit (a "feminist" film with a "stronger female empowerment message than any five Julia Roberts movies put together.").  These films, Bronski suggests (strongly), all have underlying themes that resonate with the LGBT community while often remaining hidden to the heterosexual audiences who come to see them.  Correct again, Bronski.

Bronski's pick for the "queerest" film of the year?  None other than Toy Story 3.  The series, Bronski writes, have "managed to convey" themes like "isolation, fear, and potential tragic loss of a loved one" like few films have ever managed to portray.  The three movies bring viewers "into the inner world of an unnoticed, tightly knit, and loving community."  That, he says, is what makes Toy Story 3 the "queerest" film of the year.

Do I agree?  Sure.  Why not?  The problem is that Bronski is looking for mainstream films that resonate with the LGBT community in a way that the mainstream audience doesn't realize.  Bronski is, however, barking up the wrong tree.

When mainstream Hollywood latches itself onto anything, be it lesbian family dynamics or the latest dance craze, it will potentially expose the ideas to a broader audience, but the ideas it is exposing are Hollywood sanitized.  Queer cinema is at its best and most dangerous when it has an outsider status.  The people who watched Glen or Glenda, I Want What I Want and Vapors were outlaws watching outlaw films.  The may have been hokey and exploitative, but they weren't sanitized (nobody can say that about Vapors).  They weren't worried about mainstream acceptance, and because of that the films felt more honest.  Hollywood, like all mainstream endeavors, destroys whatever subculture, counterculture, fringe, transgressive, etc., group it gets its hands on.  The Kids Are Alright is not a breakthrough film for the queer culture.  It's a mild breakthrough film for straight culture, and who really cares about pleasing them?

It's no surprise that the films Bronski picked are not blatant tales of homosexuality, lesbianism or gender twisting at its finest.  Hollywood seems unable to accept a seriously dangerous and influential film designed not only to appeal to queer audiences but as also as a wake-up call to mainstream America.  Hollywood figures there will be no money in it, and I don't think that's incorrect.  When you have a generation brought up on things like The Kids Are Alright you can't expect it to grasp something like Vapors.  Now if a remake of that were to become Oscar-nominated ... well ... I'll stand corrected.

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