Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives isn’t the first film to spark debate among LGBT filmgoers. From the gay serial-killer flick Cruising to Mel Gibson’s Braveheart,The Advocate looks at 15 films that have prompted bad press, activism, and, in some cases, full-blown boycotts over the years.
Gay activists protested the filming and boycotted the theatrical release of this thriller about an undercover cop (Al Pacino) pursuing a serial killer who is targeting gay men in bars and bathhouses. When the film hit theaters in 1980, it was with this disclaimer: “This film is not intended as an indictment of the homosexual world. It is set in one small segment of that world, which is not meant to be representative of the whole.”
Basic Instinct (1992)
Groups including the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation opposed Basic Instinct’s depiction of a sex-crazed bisexual novelist being investigated for murder. Several gay groups boycotted the film’s opening, charging that the character of Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) was offensive and homophobic. Film critic Roger Ebert, however, noted that the film’s heterosexual characters are equally unethical, and bisexual writer Camille Paglia called Basic Instinct her “favorite film.” Stone has since become an advocate for gay rights and AIDS research.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
“Buffalo Bill,” the serial killer who skins women alive for a women’s suit of real skin he’s making, was just one of the characters gay activists took issue with when The Silence of the Lambs was released in 1991. The film went on to win five Oscars (including acting awards for Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster), and director Jonathan Demme won praise from gay audiences for his next feature, Philadelphia.
Boat Trip (2002)
Beyond being offensive, Boat Trip is generally regarded as one of the worst films ever made, grossing just $15 million worldwide. Cuba Gooding Jr. was nominated for a worst actor Razzie for the film, which follows two men who accidentally book a vacation on a gay cruise. Roger Ebert wrote of the film, “Not only does it offend gays, it offends everyone else."
Elizabeth Ashley stars in Windows as a woman who becomes uncomfortably obsessed with her neighbor, played by a Rocky-era Talia Shire. It was released with the slogan “Somebody loves Emily ... too much,” and gay rights groups argued that the film was hateful to lesbians. Windows was nominated for five Razzies, including Worst Picture, and made just $2 million at the box office.
GLAAD slammed Brüno upon the film’s release, saying it "decreases the public's comfort with gay people." Brüno, a flamboyantly gay fashionista played by Sacha Baron Cohen, was deemed a satirical character by some activists, while others thought the film — comedy or not — would hurt the fight for gay rights. In one scene Brüno is shown in a hot tub with his infant son and two men who are having sex.
Mel Gibson starred in and directed Braveheart, the story of a fighter during the first war for Scottish independence. Gibson, long rumored to be homophobic, came under fire for the effeminate portrayal of England's Prince Edward. Responding to the calls for a boycott, Gibson said, “'I'm just trying to respond to history. You can cite other examples — Alexander the Great, for example, who conquered the entire world, was also a homosexual. But this story isn't about Alexander the Great. It's about Edward II.”
The Laughing Policeman (1973)
In this police procedural about a bus massacre, Walter Matthau stars as a detective investigating the case. The film’s finale is a chase sequence through the streets of San Francisco that includes some extremely stereotypical and offensive images of the Castro, which residents and gay activists were none too pleased with.
Dressed to Kill (1980)
Brian De Palma is known for pushing buttons in his movies, but this story of a therapist who assumes the role of a murdering transsexual whenever he becomes sexually frustrated was deemed offensive by gay and trans activists. Interestingly, that proposed boycott of the film never caught on — it was overshadowed by complaints that Angie Dickinson had used a Penthouse model as a body double for her nude scene.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (2007)
Two straight male firefighters (Adam Sandler and Kevin James) enter into a civil union to secure insurance benefits for one of the men’s children in I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. Activists called for a boycott before the film premiered because they thought it would perpetuate stereotypes and make light of the struggle for marriage equality. GLAAD issued this subsequent statement: "The movie has some of the expected stereotypes, but in its own disarming way, it's a call for equality and respect.”
The Detective (1968)
Frank Sinatra plays a detective investigating the murder of a presumed gay man and later secures himself a promotion coaxing a confession out of the victim’s housemate, who is gay. The housemate is sent to the electric chair for his confession, a scene critics even in the late ’60s felt was discomfiting and homophobic. The film as a whole was praised and considered ahead of its time, as was Sinatra’s performance.
The Boys in the Band (1970)
Director William Friedkin winds up on this list a second time (he also directed Cruising) with The Boys in the Band, widely considered one of the pioneering films of the gay movement. Still, gay activist Vito Russo was unimpressed and protested the film’s premiere, arguing in his book The Celluloid Closet, "The internalized guilt of eight gay men at a Manhattan birthday party formed the best and most potent argument for gay liberation ever offered in a popular art form.”
A trans activist started the website StopAvatarMovie, arguing that the “film is offensive because in the future, human beings will evolve and transition to transgenderism.” The boycott didn’t catch on — Avatar is now the highest-grossing film of all time — but the website continues, with a post as recently as late March calling for a boycott of the DVD.
Advise & Consent (1962)
Advise & Consent stars Henry Fonda as Robert A. Leffingwell, the president’s nominee for Secretary of State. But it’s the freshman senator played by Don Murray who raised gay eyebrows. In trying to block Leffingwell’s nomination, another senator blackmails him by threatening to leak proof of his past gay relationships. The threat results in his suicide, and the film has since slammed by the gay press.
Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives (2010)
Transgender and gay activists are currently boycotting the film, which is running this weekend and next at the Tribeca Film Festival. Activists are arguing the use of the word “tranny” is offensive, as is the violence trans women are subjected to in the film. But the director says the movie is a statement against that violence, and points to the many trans actresses who appear in the film. He recently agreed to “greek” out the word “Tra**ies in the film’s title.