A few months ago, we saw it as a “promising” development that Neil Giuliano, a former Republican Mayor of Tempe, Arizona had been tapped to be president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). Well, that hasn’t prevented them from overreacting to critical comments made about a gay movie. Now that organization is calling Today show movie critic Gene Shalit’s review of Brokeback Mountain “defamatory.”
In a press release on Thursday, GLAAD faulted Shalit for calling Jake Gyllenhaal’s Jack Twist a “‘sexual predator’ who ‘”tracks Ennis down and coaxes him into sporadic trysts.’” While I’m no fan of Gyllenhaal’s performance in the flick, I think Shalit’s comment is a little extreme, but clearly not defamatory. He was just offering his view.
His view is neither “ignorant,” “irresponsble” nor “offensive” as GLAAD also claims. It is GLAAD who is being irresponsible in suggesting that Shalit called Gyllenhaal’s character a “‘sexual predator’ merely because he is romantically interested in someone of the same sex.”
After all, Shalit is the proud parent of an openly gay son about whose coming out he wrote lovingly in The Advocate in 1997. The Today show movie critic noted how his son recalls the concern his father showed for “his physical safety and the consequences to his career.” (The younger Shalit came out in 1973.) In that piece, he offered some sage advice:
Many parents lie awake at night wondering if they played a role in the sexual orientation of their children. I think they should go back to sleep. Each child is an individual.
While acknowledging in and “editor’s note” that Shalit had an openly gay son, GLAAD did not mention The Advocate article in their news release.
While, I believe Shalit’s criticism miss the mark, many critics, even good ones, have been known to read things into movies which are not there. It seems Shalit is doing that here. (Maybe the character reminded him of a man who pursued his son. Or maybe that’s how he saw their relationship. Or maybe he, like I, didn’t find any chemistry between the two men. Who knows?)
Since GLAAD can provide no evidence that Shalit made the “sexual predator” remark merely because Gyllenhaal’s Twist was pursuing another man, this group is simply reading anti-gay animus into Shalit’s review. While Shalit may have misrepresented one character’s actions in the movie, GLAAD has clearly misrepresented one film critic’s negative review.
Just because somebody is critical of something gay doesn’t mean they hold negative feelings against all things gay. We don’t advance a positive image of gays by labeling any criticism of any gay (or lesbian) person (or character in a book or movie) as “defamatory” or “ignorant” merely because we disagree with it. Before making such accusations, we should first have solid evidence that the person harbors anti-gay sentiments. As I found tonight in a google search (taking less than a minute), Gene Shalit clearly does not.
GLAAD is being way too thin-skinned here. One mark of progress gay people and lesbians have made since Shalit’s son first came out is that many critics treat the release of a gay movie just as they would any other flick, feeling free to criticize it when they find fault with it. As one who is not as enthusiastic about the film as other gay moviegoers (and a good number of film critics) have been, I understand that others may not share my views on the film. It would seem that fans of the film, which, judging by its web-site, GLAAD clearly is, could appreciate that others see the film differently than they.
Gene Shalit may have offered an unusual observation about the film, but there’s nothing defamatory in his remarks. Me thinks it’s GLAAD who should be apologizing to GLAAD for their over-the-top release rather than encouraging its readers to ask “both the Today show and Mr. Shalit [to] apologize.”
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com
UPDATE: On its home page this morning (Sunday, January 8, 2006), the Advocate refers to Shalit’s “antigay review” of Brokeback (as part of its link to “Today’s Top Story,” an article on the review (basically excerpting the GLAAD release)). While I agree that his comment was bizarre, this magazine should know better than to call the review antigay. Bizarre word choice, yes, but clearly not antigay. (H/t: Ethan.)