Scroll To Top

"It's very brave
of them"

"It's very brave
of them"


Everyone who's tired of the media--and Madonna--calling Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger "brave" for acting in Brokeback Mountain, please raise your hands. Then say it with me: "poppycock"

of them" " >

It started eating at me when I saw a little preview on Logo for upcoming movies. It said, "Logo salutes those who were brave enough to play gay..." or something like that. It stuck in my craw (or whatever the human equivalent is) for days: brave enough to play gay. But since I have ADD (no, not attention deficit disorder, aging diva disorder), I quickly forgot and moved on.

Then the topic again came into view, and craw, with weeks of prerelease coverage of Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain, which stars two allegedly straight hunks, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal. Even before the movie was released, the accolades for these two began pouring forth. Gay Goddess Madonna saw the film and told the British magazine Attitude, "They're really good, those boys, and they did a great job. It's very brave of them."

And there's the problem. The media seem to be running with a recurring theme around this movie: the "bravery" of the actors playing the roles, the "courage" it took them to do it, and the "speculation" about whether America is ready for a "gay cowboy movie." Certainly not a position a liberal would take, so it befuddles me how the media is labeled "liberal." Because the media has all but compared these two to war heroes for their portrayal of two closeted cowboys in a story of unrequited love and personal deception.

Say it with me: poppycock.

Now, there can be no doubt it took awhile for this movie to be made. And there can be no doubt there was a lot of fear surrounding it. And that's what the media should be talking about. Instead of playing into the homophobia about how courageous it is to play gay, the media should be examining why it's OK to play a rapist, a demon, a vampire from hell, a serial killer who eats his victims with fava beans and nice chianti, or any of the hundreds of sick, warped, twisted characters Hollywood puts out and we gobble up. Why do studios green-light films all the time that have gruesome plots or despicable characters, and why did this film languish for years?

If it really is the gay thing, then the media needs to take Hollywood to task, instead of lauding the courage of the people who ended up making the film.

According to the Hollywood Reporter's story of November 11, the movie struggled for years to get made, in part because no actors would commit. According to the story, actors would read it, love it, and then their agents would advise them against it even though it was, according to most, the best script they'd read in years. Those actors obviously had no courage in turning down the script, according to the press, yet not one interview has been done with the interviewer calling such an actor a coward. We can laud the heroes but not call out the cowards, I suppose.

The media's obsession with the "courage" and "bravery" is just plain crap. First of all, I thought Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal were actors, as was every person who turned down the script. And I thought actors were paid, often large amounts, to be somebody else. In other words, they are paid to play people who are not themselves. So why on earth would playing gay be a problem? Actors take on roles all the time embodying despicable or reprehensible characters. No one clamors to them and tells them how brave they are. But the media make a big deal when a straight guy kisses another straight guy on-camera. (Or a woman kisses a woman, for that matter--remember Mariel Hemingway and Roseanne?)

Are they, and thus America, so insecure that they actually believe if two guys kiss on-screen, they're gay off-screen? Bi? Curious? Are we still that much in the dark ages when it comes to being gay? Can we all just finally agree that it is not learned, it is not forced, it is as organic as breathing? And just because a person "acts" gay doesn't mean they "are" gay. So when an actor acts, he is doing just that, and when the lights go off he goes back to his Hollywood starlet.

Now, before I continue on this rant, another thought comes to mind. And yes, I'll go down a slippery slope. Since there are so few gay movies made, this is supposed to be the first gay western ever made; and since there are many, many gay actors in Hollywood, would it have been too much to ask to find two for these roles? Oh, but that wouldn't be a big deal. I mean, gay people playing gay people. Where would the hoopla be in that? And besides, no gay actor is talented enough/famous enough/could possibly pull it off, right? No, if we're going to make a gay film, a groundbreaking gay film, we'd better use straight people.

Why has no one in the mainstream media studied why gay people can't seem to make a mainstream gay film with gay actors playing the parts?

Yes, I know gay people play straight people all the time in movies, in life, at work--and no one writes on and on about their bravery. Oh, the courage they must muster, right? I mean, if it takes so much courage for a straight guy to play a gay person, then imagine what it must be for a gay person to play straight. How does Rupert Everett or Sir Ian McKellen do it? I seem to have missed the volumes written about the courage of gay actors playing straight.

Look, this may well be the best gay film ever made. Ang Lee is brilliant, and I am a fan of both Ledger and Gyllenhaal, and as a gay man I would pay big bucks to see them make out, so the $10 admission and $75 at the snack bar will be nothing.

But can we stop with the bravery thing?

First of all, they were paid. What would you do for a hundred thousand? A million? A couple million? I'd kiss a Republican woman on-camera for that--hell, I'd even kiss Ann Coulter for a few million. Talk about bravery!

Second...perspective, people, perspective. If gays and lesbians are to be truly recognized as full-fledged humans with all rights afforded forthwith, then we have to stop making such a big deal about things like Brokeback Mountain. Just as I believe we must stop awarding people like Tom Cruise damages and instead say "So what?" when someone says they're gay. We have to progress to a point where being gay is not only not libelous but not newsworthy.

Yes, I've gotten a lot of press out of being an openly gay talk-show host, mainly because I'm one of the few. I'm a rare bird in a rare club. When I become less rare; when there's many openly gay talk-show hosts on major-market radio; when there's lots of mainstream movies with gay plots or subplots; and when courts stop giving people millions for being called gay, then we will have finally gained some perspective.

You know what would have been truly brave? If Ledger and Gyllenhaal had come out swinging. If they had come out and said "Yup, these guys are gay, and we played them, and what's the big deal?" What would have been really brave would have been to green-light this "incredible" script years earlier instead of cowering in the corner. But even they, Heath and Jake, in trying to defuse the issue and get back to the story and the movie, have actually "de-gayed" the film.

During an MSN interview on a junket with Matt Damon for the Brothers Grimm movie, Ledger stated, "The idea I had to make out with Jake...just wasn't the easiest thing to do. It is a beautiful story, a beautiful script. It was definitely a real sense of accomplishment once I finished. I had so much fear for the project and the story and, you know, had to be brave. I definitely came out thinking '[Expletive], I can do anything,' you know?"

Odd that Ledger would find this role most brave. After all, he's played the outlaw and revolutionary Ned Kelly; a "sin eater" who confronts evil in its purest form; a drugged-out skateboard-shop owner; and he's about to play the nefarious Casanova. I would think playing a guy who eats sins would be braver than a fag--after all, you're messing with God and the Devil.

Gyllenhaal has also been out doing the media rounds and has been quoted by everyone from here to Australia as saying things like "These aren't gay guys, they're two souls that fall in love."

Each actor has actually trivialized the gay aspect of the film by removing the word gay from the character description. Instead, they're two souls, two people, two hearts that fall in love, not two gay men. I understand why they are doing that. They're trying to focus on the story, on the movie, and trying to focus the press on what it would be asking and covering if this script were about a man and woman in love. It's a valiant effort, and I applaud them, but it's also misguided. Because by doing so, by deflecting the entire gay issue, they make it an even bigger issue.

Bravery? No. When I look at Brokeback Mountain all I see is fear. In the story, I see the fear of two obviously gay people too afraid to actually commit to their love, so they run off and marry women and live a life unfulfilled out of fear.

I see the fear in two major stars of actually admitting they played gay, as they downplay in the press their characters' sexuality.

I see the fear of movie studios too afraid to make the movie with Gus Van Sant years ago.

I see the fear of countless Hollywood actors who wouldn't take the parts.

I see the fear of a still-homophobic corporate press, which grabs onto the stars' sexuality instead of the script's quality. A press that gives these stars an outlet to gauge their "comfort level" with playing these roles. A press that throws around words like bravery and courage when referring to pampered stars playing well-scripted roles.

I see the fear of theater owners, who already are hesitant to book this film in smaller markets.

I see the fear in filmmakers like Lee who make "gay" movies without the "gay," meaning gay people are deluged with images of heterosexual lovemaking everywhere, but should a gay couple show it on-screen--oh, no, we must hide the sex.

I see the fear in those in Wyoming, who have already spoken out saying there's just no such thing as gay cowboys. (Well, hon, 12 men, 100 head of cattle, three months away from civilization...somebody was getting some.)

I see the fear of the critics, who say things like New York Daily News critic Jack Mathews did when he predicted that it may be "too much for red-state audiences, but it gives the liberal-leaning Academy a great chance to stick its thumb in conservatives' eyes."

Yes, I see a lot of fear around Brokeback Mountain. As for courage? Did it take courage to make it? Did it take courage to play the parts? Will it take courage for the theaters to play it?

Alan Ball, director of American Beauty and creator of the award-winning series Six Feet Under, was asked about straight actors playing gay characters on his HBO series. His answer sums it all up best:

"I'm not a big subscriber to the idea that for a straight actor to play gay now is a huge act of bravery, but I do believe that for a straight actor to not want to play a character because he's gay is a huge act of cowardice."

Seems Hollywood is full of more cowards than heroes. So yes, kudos to Jake and Heath and Ang. But let's get to a point where we can talk about the movie itself, not the sexuality of the characters playing the roles, as Jake and Heath have been trying to do. And let's also get to a point where playing a gay person is not more courageous than playing a child molester or murdering mob boss.

And to all you straight actors who want pats on the back for playing gay: Until you've lived gay, until you've been denied a job because of it, or had to hide in a Hollywood closet; until you've had your jaw smashed or watched a generation of your friends die of a disease while government did nothing (like in the Reagan era), don't speak to me of courage.

It takes courage to be gay and out, not to play it.

of them" " data-page-title="

"It's very brave
of them"

" >
Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Charles Karel Bouley II