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The dark side of
Brokeback Mountain 

The dark side of
Brokeback Mountain 


While Brokeback has certainly exposed mainstream America to the emotional truth of gay romantic love, the torrent of media coverage surrounding the film reveals a deeply rooted repugnancy toward homosexuality

Now that the Oscar telecast is past, the awards have been handed out, and the hoopla over Brokeback Mountain has begun to fade, I'd like to inject a dose of reality into the massive media coverage of this excellent and admirable film.

To my mind, there's no question that Brokeback Mountain is an important landmark in gay cultural history, portraying as it does romantic love between two men so sensitively and unabashedly. Yet its release and much of the publicity surrounding it serve as a reminder that while many heterosexuals may embrace the quality of the filmmaking and the story's inherent emotional pull, there remains widespread repugnance toward homosexuality that's rooted deeply in the hearts and minds of straight Americans, including many professed liberals and hip Hollywood types.

I'm talking about one of the stars, Heath Ledger, telling a publication that he and costar Jake Gyllenhaal had to "work hard to keep from laughing" when they prepared to kiss each other in a scripted scene. It's not something I can imagine him ever telling a reporter about a romantic scene he'd shared with a female actor. (At least he's honest about his discomfort with kissing a man; I'll give him that.)

I'm talking about the likable Gyllenhaal going on the Jay Leno show to promote the movie and saying pointedly that the initial idea of playing a "gay cowboy" was unthinkable, and that years earlier he'd been repulsed when someone had suggested he read the Annie Proulx short story on which the eventual movie was based. (I wonder if reading stories involving violence or emotional abuse also turn him off so fervently.)

I'm talking about the affable Leno falling all over himself to make sure his TV audience knew that he considered Brokeback a "wonderful" film. This despite his endless homophobic jokes over the years during his monologues, particularly his asides with bandleader Kevin Eubanks, when they make it clear that they find the idea of physical intimacy between two men really icky. (Though he doesn't seem to realize it, the unmarried Eubanks's reflexive revulsion to any reference to gay sexuality stopped being funny and started looking suspicious years ago.)

I'm talking about the repeated references in the endless media coverage of Brokeback Mountain to the heterosexuality of director Ang Lee and his male stars, reflecting their apparent need to distance themselves from homosexuality. (Or maybe it's just the publicists and reporters who feel that's so important.)

I'm talking about their constant pleas during interviews, direct or implied, for moviegoers to get beyond their preconceptions and experience the film as a great love story regardless of its same-sex nature. (Put another way: We realize that you find gay love alien and gay sex disgusting, but, hey, this is a movie, so don't let your understandable repugnance keep you from seeing a great flick.)

As gays, we may finally have a mainstream movie that treats homosexual love with the same respect Hollywood has long accorded romance between men and women. But let's not kid ourselves into thinking that most heterosexuals don't cringe and squirm and make faces still when faced with the reality of same-sex love--meaning the sex itself, which is the crux of the issue. And let's not pretend that all the attention to Brokeback Mountain represents a groundswell of tolerance and sexual maturity across America. For all its awards, critical acclaim, and box office returns, Brokeback has been seen in theaters by a tiny percentage of the American people--many of them gay men and women, and straights who were already open-minded--not the tens of millions who bought tickets to see The Passion of the Christ and other blockbusters. (I know, I know--jerks like the Fox network's Bill O'Reilly will probably take a statement like this out of context and use it in one of his televised rants to diminish the importance of Brokeback Mountain, as he's already done with the words of others. But facts are facts, and homophobia is homophobia, with a moralizing hypocrite like Bill "Phone Sex" O'Reilly a prime example.)

Don't get me wrong. I love Brokeback Mountain and I'm delighted that it exists. I think it's a powerful example of what can be accomplished by brave and open-minded writers, filmmakers, and actors, who might have to work through their own ingrained homophobia to embrace the material. And I truly believe it's an important step in the long struggle for gay visibility and recognition. Definitely a positive, along with other recent films like Capote and Transamerica that portray gays and transgender people as flesh-and-blood human beings.

So let's celebrate Brokeback Mountain, its achievements and success. But let's not forget how much antipathy still festers and spreads out there, like a cancer rooted deep in the American psyche, for whom and what we truly are. Let's not forget how much work remains to be done in a battle for equality and dignity that will never end.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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John Morgan Wilson