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On portraying gay couples in mainstream movies

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 3:47 pm - July 22, 2010.
Filed under: Gay America,Movies/Film & TV,Romance

I have a confession to make.  Last Wednesday, July 14, five months to the day after Valentine’s Day, I ordered the recent release titled (and set on) that day honoring romantic relationships.  I have always like Garry Marshall‘s movies.  And this is his latest.  To top it off, I had just learned that this particular flick featured the fetching Bradley Cooper as a gay character.

Well, on the whole, the movie didn’t disappoint. Despite some treacly exchanges and some groan-inducing dialogue, it was perfectly entertaining (if not entirely believable  – most of the men behaved as women want men to behave).  At moments, it was surprisingly sweet.

What struck me most of all was how it fumbled the gay relationship.  Neither the screenwriter nor Marshall spent much time developing the relationship between Cooper’s Holden and Eric Dane‘s Sean Jackson.  In fact, when the finally get together, they don’t even kiss.  Not even on the cheek.  It seems, at times, that their story was pasted onto the film in order to appeal to gay audiences.  Or just to make it so au courant.

Instead of an actual relationship, we see the very public spectacle of Jackson, a professional football player scheduling a press conference to announce his sexuality.  It’s all about this public relations gesture.  Indeed, his PR agent plays a prominent role in the film.

Contrast this to the truly heartfelt treatment of a gay couple in the 1994 British film Four Weddings and a Funeral.  I don’t recall the word, “gay,” being used even once to describe the relationship between Simon Callow‘s Gareth and John Hannah‘s Matthew.  Instead, we see the two men interact and see particularly the grief of Matthew when he learns of Gareth’s death — and at the latter’s funeral.

The real advantage of the earlier film was that it simply showed a gay couple while director Mike Newell and the two actors did their job in making that relationship believable.  Nowhere did anyone say, “Hey, here’s the gay couple.”  Instead, Newell showed two men relating to each other in a romantic partnership in a movie about romance and relationships.

To be sure, the more recent release allows for a nice “twist” at the end (when we learn that Cooper’s character is gay), but we just don’t feel the reality of the relationship.  We don’t believe this guy cares for Sean Jackson.  The words may be there, but the visuals are lacking.

Jackson can proclaim his sexuality in public, but can’t show it in private.  And yet, Matthew show his affection quite well in private — and in public.

Would it that more filmmakers followed Newell’s example.

FROM THE COMMENTS:  Nick builds on my point:  “Four Weddings and a Funeral was good, because instead of waving the “oh look, we’re gay!” flag around, they focused on a couple who just happened to be two men.”

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48 Comments

  1. On the one hand, gays are overrepresented in film (partially because of overrepresentation in the industry), but on the other hand the representations are usually exercises in trite tokenism. But I suppose a holiday-specific romantic comedy isn’t necessarily the instance where that mold gets broken…

    Plus, I may just feel ripped off on missing out on a Bradley Cooper gay makeout scene.

    Comment by DoDoGuRu — July 22, 2010 @ 4:22 pm - July 22, 2010

  2. Nice post. Some comments:
    The portrayal you saw and the portrayal you want were precisely the point, to me. American audiences flip out when exposed to teh gay, so kisses and signs of (male) gay affection are whitewashed. The recent discussion around the disparity of a gay couple and a straight couple side-by-side in Modern Family speaks to this. Next, the football performer announcing his sexuality has to do with the (not uniquely, by a long shot) American stigma against homosexuality, especially in athletes and movie stars.

    If we want a better movie, we need a culture that’s more accepting. I know you don’t like “the Gay Left”, but this is the kind of thing they work towards: increasing awareness and tolerance is necessary to make chickensh!t studios more willing to admit we exist. There are many paths to that goal, of course.

    And, well, the movie was kind of au courant, no? Politicians and pastors get caught being gay all the time, but we don’t have openly gay male athletes in the bigleague sports in this country (Is there even one?). We have guys who come out later, who write books, etc., but no one pulls the trigger while there is still something to lose. It’s nice to see someone do it, even in the movies.

    Also, to be fair, the whole gay relationship was supposed to be a surprise, a twist at the end, and that payoff would have been non-existent if they had told us previously. That said, I agree very much that it would have been to see even the tiniest kiss at the end. Sadly, if they had shown that, the professional haters at CWA/NOM/FotF/AFA would have come out in force regarding Hollywood’s latest attempt to gaywash our children’s brains into homosexuality, etc etc. I share your love for 4W&aF, but British audiences have different tolerances than American ones do. When you say Jackson “can’t show it in private,” it’s worth considering what were the drivers that led to such a chaste scene.

    Comment by torrentprime — July 22, 2010 @ 4:31 pm - July 22, 2010

  3. torrent, interesting analysis. As I read it, I wondered if the problem weren’t American audiences per se, but audiences in general (at least as film producers see those audiences). As I think back to Four Weddings, I wonder if Callow and Hannah even kissed, but Newell did include enough scenes which showed the two men relating to one another.

    As to my criticisms of the Gay Left, please note that I have long praised (perhaps not on this blog so your criticism is noted) the efforts of GLAAD to include more gay characters in mainstream entertainment.

    Good point about the twist. Do hope you caught that I acknowledged that in the post. Perhaps, the answer would have been to have Cooper talking about his relationship (but in gender neutral terms) on the plane, hinting that he had been happy with his latest, but circumstances made things difficult.

    Still not sure that Americans would have objected to a gay kiss at the end. Maybe the producers feared it. Or maybe the actors were unwilling. (I find it amusing how many of my actress friends are willing, sometimes eager to take lesbian roles, even to kiss another woman, while my straight male actor friends change the topic if I bring it up.)

    Comment by B. Daniel Blatt — July 22, 2010 @ 4:42 pm - July 22, 2010

  4. American audiences flip out when exposed to teh gay, so kisses and signs of (male) gay affection are whitewashed

    I don’t think that’s really true. I think studio people assume or pretend that American audiences flip out, which seems to be the point of the article you linked.

    Comment by DoDoGuRu — July 22, 2010 @ 4:45 pm - July 22, 2010

  5. As a straight guy, I always find gay relationships from Hollywood lacking. I mean, they seem forced, and a way for actors to prove how “versitile” they are because OMG THEY PLAYED A GAY! But even then, it seems to be more about the “GAY KISS” versus actually making me believe in the romance aspect.

    My problem with Brokeback Mountain (I know, I know – I’m sorry) is that I didn’t believe in the love story behind the two and it failed at that. If they made me feel like the love was there, then I’m like, ok, I understand the conflict and longing.

    Four Weddings and a Funeral was good, because instead of waving the “oh look, we’re gay!” flag around, they focused on a couple who just happened to be two men.

    I want to believe that American audiences can handle gay couples in movies, but let’s face it, most movies are so poorly written nowadays that they won’t be able to do it right. I feel like they might as well throw in some guy wearing blackface to top off the ridculousness of it.

    Comment by Nick — July 22, 2010 @ 5:08 pm - July 22, 2010

  6. from another splendid ‘bugger’ from the Funeral Blues recitation

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_a-eXIoyYA

    Comment by rusty — July 22, 2010 @ 5:26 pm - July 22, 2010

  7. American audiences flip out when exposed to teh gay, so kisses and signs of (male) gay affection are whitewashed

    I tend to agree.

    In my opinion, one of the best portrayals ever of a gay character, on TV anyway, was… is that of Capt Jack Harkness on BBC’s Dr Who spin-off Torchwood. The “gay issue” was presented up front, yet was not done in the typical “Oh My God You’re Gay” reaction. It was portrayed as honest,real, matter of fact, and wasn’t portrayed as anything other than an occasional eyebrow raiser. Capt Jack was / is a serious flirt, and had a number of dalliances, both on screen and implied. During the third season, he became involved in a long term relationship* with one of the other main characters in the show, who we really didn’t know was gay or bi… but there it was… and it worked. That is usually reserved for extra characters who get added to the cast just for that purpose; see StarTrek DS-9 and the Dax and Lenara kiss. Capt Jack and Lanto’s relationship was / is (more on the “is” thing in a second) the most refreshing rendition of gay relationships I think I’ve ever seen on any medium.

    [ SPOILER ALERT ]

    That said, there was one moment that really stunned me. There was an episode that explained how Capt Jack became Capt Jack. He inadvertently fell into a crack in time, was thrown back to WW2, and ended up in an English ballroom full of soldiers, many of whom were flying out on a doomed mission the next morning. Yes, it’s SciFi – There’s always time travel in SciFi. There he meets the man who would provide his identity, the real Capt Jack. We learn our Capt Jack had stolen the identity of this soldier sometime after his death. Of course, when that happened, the our Jack was just stealing the identity of a complete stranger. Now they meet.. and there is tension, sadness. The original Jack is a very nice (and hot) guy, yet our Jack cannot tell his of his fate, that he’s going to die. They are stuck in the hall as the Germans are in the middle of a bombing raid. Toward the end of the episode, during what will be the final slow dance of his life, original Jack’s girl walks out on him because he won’t commit to a long term relationship. He is all alone, In a move that shocks everyone, including me, our Jack walks up to original Jack… and they have the most deep sensuous, meaningful kiss I’ve ever seen on TV… Period!

    And I, a gay guy, was stunned, that they showed it!.

    Comment by Sonicfrog — July 22, 2010 @ 5:27 pm - July 22, 2010

  8. I’m guessing from the discussion about relationships that there are very few if any lasers, explosions, spaceships, car chases, magic, spies, wizards, pirates, sword fights, knights, robots, shootouts, cowboys, monsters, mutants, disasters, plane crashes, time travel, aliens, ninjas, or zombies in this film…which is to say, why was it made again?

    Comment by American Elephant — July 22, 2010 @ 6:36 pm - July 22, 2010

  9. but then you have Gareth: Scarlotta! Fabulous dress. The ecclesiastical purple and the pagan orange symbolizing the mystical symbiosis in marriage between the heathen and Christian traditions?
    [pause]
    Scarlett: That’s right.

    Comment by rusty — July 22, 2010 @ 6:37 pm - July 22, 2010

  10. but my favorite of Gareth: A toast before we go into battle. True love. In whatever shape or form it may come. May we all in our dotage be proud to say, “I was adored once too.”

    Comment by rusty — July 22, 2010 @ 6:40 pm - July 22, 2010

  11. I’m guessing from the discussion about relationships that there are very few if any lasers, explosions, spaceships, car chases, magic, spies, wizards, pirates, sword fights, knights, robots, shootouts, cowboys, monsters, mutants, disasters, plane crashes, time travel, aliens, ninjas, or zombies in this film…which is to say, why was it made again?

    Because we are talking about the portrayal of realistic gay relationships in movies. I expanded it to TV.

    In Torchwood, not only was the subject of gayness handled in a matter-of-fact fashion, but the character that was gay is the lead of the show. The scene I described, done in the way that it was, could NEVER have been produced by an American production company, as the producers, the guys who provide the money to make the film / TV show, would never have let it be presented on-screen as it was. It would not be aired on network TV either. It is too unsafe. Unless it’s a gimmick! As Dan wrote:

    What struck me most of all was how it fumbled the gay relationship. Neither the screenwriter nor Marshall spent much time developing the relationship between Cooper’s Holden and Eric Dane’s Sean Jackson. In fact, when the finally get together, they don’t even kiss. Not even on the cheek. It seems, at times, that their story was pasted onto the film in order to appeal to gay audiences. Or just to make it so au courant.

    Part of the problem with movies like Valentines Day, is that when you follow multiple story line like that one did, time is so limited to tell each story arch, details that would make the situation believable are skipped; there just isn’t enough time. You tend to lose the ability to tell the story realistically, to sell the plot lines because you don’t get to know the characters well enough to care about them.

    “Brokeback” was made because it contained “gay” as the gimmick, the hook to sell the thing to a target demographic. I thought it was boring, but it had performances by two very competent actors. Their ability to create believable characters made the movie better than it was.

    Again, I bring Torchwood to the discussion because I have never seen a more honest portrayal of gay relationships than in that show. Like all good drama or entertainment, be it TV, movie, or a play; be it set in the past, present, or future, in the East, West, on the Moon (btw, see the movie Moon w/ Sam Rockwell – it’s great). It doesn’t matter if it has lasers, explosions, spaceships, car chases, magic, spies, wizards, pirates, sword fights, knights, robots, shootouts, cowboys, monsters, mutants, disasters, plane crashes, time travel, aliens, ninjas, or zombies or not, or involves time travelers or football players. All good entertainment begins and ends with great characters, acting and writing. And Torchwood is one of the very best examples of the topic of gay relationships in media done right.

    Comment by Sonicfrog — July 22, 2010 @ 7:17 pm - July 22, 2010

  12. And Yes, “4 Weddings” is another example of the topic done right.

    Comment by Sonicfrog — July 22, 2010 @ 7:18 pm - July 22, 2010

  13. My favorite gay relationships was in Apartment Zero.

    Women in Love
    Brideshead Revisted
    Heavenly Creatures
    Cabaret
    My Bodyguard
    The Road to El Dorado
    The Haunting
    Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
    Picnic
    Rebecca
    The Children’s Hour
    The Edge
    Deathtrap
    The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea

    Oh, so many. . . .

    Comment by Ashpenaz — July 22, 2010 @ 7:42 pm - July 22, 2010

  14. o_O

    O_o

    pop quiz!

    1) The best part of Titanic was:

    A) The sinking of the Titanic
    B) The romance between DiCaprio and Winslet

    the best part of The Lord of the Rings was:
    A) hobbits, wizards, elves, dwarves, orcs, ents, mines, battles, war, etc…
    B) Arwen and the metrosexual Aragorn passing a magical Thomas Kincade necklace back and forth like an emotional hot potato?

    Comment by American Elephant — July 22, 2010 @ 7:45 pm - July 22, 2010

  15. My vote for favorite gay character would go to Justin Long (“The Mac guy” from the commercials) as Brandon in Zach and Mira Make a Porno.

    I’m understand that his whole scene was improvised. He shows up at the high school reunion on the arm of the hunky quarterback who no one knew was gay. He’s a weird pretentious snob who does porn in LA and proves to be the world’s worst “arm candy.”

    And yet he clearly cares for his guy in an endearing warts-and-all way that you don’t see in contemporary token gay cinema.

    “I wanna be your gay sherpa,” STILL gets big laughs in my circles.

    Best wishes,
    -MFS

    Comment by MFS — July 22, 2010 @ 9:37 pm - July 22, 2010

  16. MFS, that scene is one of the best in the movie…and Brandon Routh is adorable, so its nice to see him play gay.

    My favorite portrayal of any gay characters recently has been Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist. They are just who they are, gay teenagers who play queer punk music and try to help their straight friend get a better girlfriend. The movie is awesome on so many levels.

    Comment by darkeyedresolve — July 22, 2010 @ 9:53 pm - July 22, 2010

  17. I always liked the gay couple in “Flirting With Disaster” because they were just as neurotic as everyone else in the film. I also love “The Opposite of Sex”, but more for the Christina Ricci and Lisa Kudrow characters than for the gay ones.

    Comment by Draybee — July 22, 2010 @ 9:58 pm - July 22, 2010

  18. Not a movie, but a lovely minute for anyone who’s known the comfort of partner who thinks “He’s a mess, but he’s my mess.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Njv9CtLHG1o&feature=player_embedded

    Comment by Rob Tisinai — July 22, 2010 @ 10:56 pm - July 22, 2010

  19. Excellent suggestions, Draybee. I just saw “Flirting with Disaster” for the first time last weekend and completely enjoyed it. I haven’t seen “The Opposite of Sex” since the late 1990s, but I still have a very positive impression of it.

    Although I’ve rented numerous gay-themed movies from Netflix (or movies that feature prominent gay characters), most were forgettable (or worse), with a few notable exceptions. One movie that wasn’t specifically a gay movie but which featured a decent depiction of a gay couple was “All Over the Guy” (which also featured Christina Ricci and Lisa Kudrow, albeit in rather minor parts). I also enjoyed “Death at a Funeral,” where the dead man’s closeted status was a large part of the fun.

    Among the specifically gay-themed movies, one of the ironies is that as sexual orientation has waned as an issue in American culture, the movies about gay people haven’t necessarily improved. I was not especially impressed with “Brokeback Mountain”; as far as Ang Lee is concerned, I much preferred “The Wedding Banquet.” Unless I’m forgetting something, the only specifically gay-themed movie which I have given five stars on Netflix was “Longtime Companion,” which I had worried was going to be overly sentimental and emotionally manipulative, but which struck me as an incredibly honest portrayal of a particularly difficult point in time. I also like a lot of the other groundbreaking gay movies such as “Making Love,” “The Boys in the Band,” and “Personal Best.” Although “Making Love” and “The Boys in the Band” both were filled with gay stereotypes, I thought they treated those characters with more sensitivity than many more recent gay-themed movies have.

    Comment by Kurt — July 22, 2010 @ 11:02 pm - July 22, 2010

  20. AE asked:

    pop quiz!

    1) The best part of Titanic was:

    A) The sinking of the Titanic
    B) The romance between DiCaprio and Winslet

    the best part of The Lord of the Rings was:
    A) hobbits, wizards, elves, dwarves, orcs, ents, mines, battles, war, etc…
    B) Arwen and the metrosexual Aragorn passing a magical Thomas Kincade necklace back and forth like an emotional hot potato?

    The answer to both parts would be (A)…. Yet, if the story and characters of both movies were not engaging, at three plus hours, would you have seen either.

    Lets face it. As amazing as the special effects are nowadays, they are still no substitute for good story telling and engaging characters.

    You want proof?

    OK.

    How ’bout the latest Clash Of The Titans?

    Or Transformer II

    Or the wretched G. I. Joe Movie…… Yetch!!! Although any movie featuring the magnificent pouting blow-jobable lips of Tatum Channing can’t be all bad!!!!!!!! :-)

    Comment by Sonicfrog — July 23, 2010 @ 2:59 am - July 23, 2010

  21. darkeyed and MFS, need to watch those movies. Rob, seems I’m finally found a screen portrayal of myself, well at least in a commercial

    Comment by B. Daniel Blatt — July 23, 2010 @ 3:23 am - July 23, 2010

  22. My problem with Brokeback Mountain (I know, I know – I’m sorry) is that I didn’t believe in the love story behind the two and it failed at that. If they made me feel like the love was there, then I’m like, ok, I understand the conflict and longing.

    THANK YOU!!

    Hell, Timothy Dalton and Anthony Hopkins were more believable.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — July 23, 2010 @ 3:24 am - July 23, 2010

  23. Sonic,

    You’re talking character development, they’re talking chick-flickery. Darth Vader was an interesting character, Brokeback Mountain was a chick-flick.

    Comment by American Elephant — July 23, 2010 @ 5:29 am - July 23, 2010

  24. Sonic,

    It is my understanding that Torchwood was better received in the US than Doctor Who. I love Tochwood, Donna went all puddly with the Captain Jack/Captain John kiss kiss bang bang scene, and if I played for the other team, yeah, John Barrowman would make the top 10 list of ‘dream guys’. (My tastes run more to Naoko Mori and Eve Myles though, gods, that Welsh accent on Ms. Myles…)

    It was also my understanding that Fox (which has taken a lot of risks with their FX series) wanted to import Torchwood, including the characters, and straighten Jack out. Why they felt the urge to break the character I don’t know, but fortunately it will never materialize.

    As to Ianto, I believe it is in ‘Children of Earth’ that he says he’s not gay, it’s just Jack. Whether that’s denial or the honest truth, we’ll never know. We do know he defined himself as heterosexual prior to Jack.

    If you’ve not seen ‘The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances’ that’s where Jack first appears. For English viewers his initial comment about Alphie’s ‘bum’ may have raised more eyebrows, since John Barrowman was more well known on that side of the pond, but Jack’s pansexual nature is spelled out later in the episode.

    One other thing about Children of Earth and Jack/Ianto. Jack’s been stuck on Earth for a little over 100 years. He’s loved, he’s lost, he’s had kids, he’s had grandkids. But it’s losing Ianto that finally drives him away. That stuck with me, it meant he loved Ianto in a way he hadn’t loved anyone before.

    (Sorry, Big Torchwood fan here)

    Comment by The_Livewire — July 23, 2010 @ 10:07 am - July 23, 2010

  25. But AE, that’s the same thing.

    Look at the Twilight series. Totally chick flick. But people really like the newest movie. Why, because, unlike the first two, the characters are more than two dimensional. The Harry Potter movies are a stones throw away from being nothing but a series of chick flicks. Yet they succeed because both the writing and the actors are well above par.

    Comment by Sonicfrog — July 23, 2010 @ 10:45 am - July 23, 2010

  26. Live… With the exception of maybe two, I’ve seen every episode of both Russel T Davis series, including the intro of the good Captain. Oh, and I believe it was “Alge’s bum” that jack liked so much.

    PS. For those not familiar with English names, Alge is short for Algernon.

    PPS. Live, FOX did not pick it up, HOWEVER! There will be new Torchwoods in the spring / Summer of next year! BBC Three and the American company that runs Starz have signed a new 10 episode deal!!!!!! That is why I was doing the “was / is” thing in my first post.

    PPPS. Matt Smith’s camp is making some noise that he will leave the series after the next season.

    PPPPS. Live, would you agree that Children of Earth was some of the best SciFi ever to appear anywhere. The third part, when the government counsel was discussing how to deal with the “problem” was the most creepy / coldest / chilling thing of that series… because it felt so accurate portraying the way decisions are made!

    Comment by Sonicfrog — July 23, 2010 @ 11:00 am - July 23, 2010

  27. Justin Long’s character in Zack and Miri Make a Porno made me laugh like hell.

    As for Torchwood, Jack’s a character that you believe is flexible in who he loves because he’s been around the galaxy, is indeterminantly old, and is done as a matter-of-fact. It’s not as if his character is flying the “gay flag” like he would if he was in a US show. The fact that he’s had male, female and alien lovers is normal to me.

    On another note, the fact that John Barrowman didn’t get the part of Will in ‘Will and Grace’ because he didn’t look “gay enough” still is interesting to me.

    Comment by Nick — July 23, 2010 @ 11:04 am - July 23, 2010

  28. I still think Big Eden was the best of this genre. I also liked All Over The Guy and Mambo Italiano for the comedy.

    Comment by John — July 23, 2010 @ 11:09 am - July 23, 2010

  29. Oh I agree on Children of Earth completely. Donna was horrified when we saw that they’d stopped calling them children.

    The two moments that struck me the most were a) Gwen’s little monologue about the Doctor, and b) When Andy takes off the safety vest and joins in on assaulting the soldiers. To me that was the character saying “I can’t support the government on this, I am a human being first, a cop second.” I cheered.

    I have the Children of Earth soundtrack here at work. The piece ‘Jack in a Box’ when they’re filling the cell with concrete still ties me in knots.

    My favourite Jack line, just on delivery alone still is ‘Ladies… your ratings just went up.’

    Comment by The_Livewire — July 23, 2010 @ 11:20 am - July 23, 2010

  30. Does Torchwood come on BBC-America? Sounds familiar.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — July 23, 2010 @ 11:53 am - July 23, 2010

  31. Most of the time, gays in films or even television series are token characters; heck, this phenomenon exists in current comic books as well (see Obsidian from DC Comic’s Justice Society of America (late Infinity Inc) or Northstar of the X-Men (previously Alpha Flight). All they do is mention their sexuality, lecture other people about their plight, &/or say something sexually over the top. Gays have become token characters like the black character, Asian girl, or some other minority without any real character development.

    I just don’t care for gay portrayals in the entertainment for this reason; I don’t want to be lectured or shown something that usually has nothing to do with the main plot of the story. When there’s a main gay plot, it usually is lacking any real substance other than a coming out story.

    I used to like chick flicks when I was younger, but I have gone more toward science fiction, horror, or action films when I go the movies, read a book, or read a comic book. The last chick flick I liked was 1993′s Sleepless in Seattle.

    Comment by Sebastian Shaw — July 23, 2010 @ 11:56 am - July 23, 2010

  32. When I saw “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” I thought it was a horribly immoral movie with the women cheating on her fiance. The people were attending weddings and not even respecting the concept of faithfulness. Now, it is almost quaint. I didn’t even recognize the gay characters, but it did seem like they were possibly gay.

    I’m wondering, since men are men for the most part. Men in general do not like romantic movies so why the emphasis on a genre that gay men might not even want to see themselves.

    Comment by anon32353 — July 23, 2010 @ 12:20 pm - July 23, 2010

  33. Sebastian (nickname irony alert)

    I look at Northstar from the opposite direction. in the comics code days, his orientation was subtle, but had to be. Reading it as a kid, I just took it in stride. “Ok, Northstar’s gay, that’s pretty clear. He’s still a stuck up snob with one redeaming quality, the love for his sister.” I was irritated that he was ‘given’ to the X-writers so they could fill their ‘gay superhero’ quota. I’ve read comments that some readers expect Northstar and Anole to hook up (“they’re the only gay men on Utopia” goes the argument) but the roles they share now are that of mentor and student. To me that’s more of a ‘positive role model’ message than the much older Northstar sleeping with the barely adult (at best!) Anole.

    Now if Northstar had (after his coming out) in Alpha Flight changed his uniform to pink, started talking with a lisp, and flirting with Madison Jeffries, that would have been as offensive to me as you find your reading of Northstar. It would have changed him from a ‘SUPERHERO who is gay’ to a ‘GAY superhero.’ The character development would have been lost.

    (Aside, before Marvel went all crossover crazy in the 90′s they seemed to be building towards something with him and Aurora. The Aurora persona seemed to accept him, while the conservative Catholic Jean Marie was having issues. unfortunately that interesting development was lost)

    Comment by The_Livewire — July 23, 2010 @ 12:37 pm - July 23, 2010

  34. #13: “My favorite gay relationships was in Apartment Zero.”

    That explains a lot, Ash.

    For those who haven’t seen it, Apartment Zero is a suspense thriller set in Argentina. (Spoiler Alert) The main character is a socially awkward, gay nerd named Adrian who owns an old movie house and has a mother in a nursing home that is suffering from dementia. He advertises for a roommate and meets hot, mysterious Jack, who moves in. Adrian becomes obsessed with Jack who appears to be sleeping with every woman and gay man in their building. Jack ends up killing a woman in the building that he’s having an affair with and Adrian helps him dispose of the body (Jack essentially uses Adrian to help cover up his crimes by pretending to love him and making a pact to go to California together). There is a struggle with a gun back at the apartment and Adrian kills Jack. Final scene: Adrian has Jack’s corpse sitting at the dinner table and pours both of them a glass of wine as though they are having a romantic dinner together.

    It’s actually not a bad movie, in a fu*ked-up sort of way.

    Comment by Sean A — July 23, 2010 @ 1:16 pm - July 23, 2010

  35. http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=bdDSqgZ87fM
    Supposed 2 B good

    Comment by rusty — July 23, 2010 @ 2:39 pm - July 23, 2010

  36. @34. “That explains a lot, Ash.”

    Doesn’t it! There was no gay relationship in that movie, but rather a sick psycho obsession.

    I love the movie though and it is special to me because when the movie was made my grand-parents still had a residence in B.A. I had spent the summer with them (winter there) and I met both Colin Firth and Hart Bochner at a reception. And Bochner was the most gawjus man ah evah laid eyes on. Sadly, I doubt I left a memorable impression on him…..

    Comment by David in N.O. — July 23, 2010 @ 2:45 pm - July 23, 2010

  37. Livewire, I learned much later Alpha Flight’s Northstar–from his inception–was created to be gay; however, due to the Comics Code & a majority of the comics bought by kids, Marvel did not want to overtly say he was gay. I missed those signs when I read the book originally; however, as an adult, I caught the subtle cues I missed such as the men in his mansion in Quebec. I also like Northstar’s arrogance & his ties with the Quebec Separatist Movement which resulted in many terrorist acts. This created great tension with being a Canadian super-hero group, Alpha Flight, although his real identity is secret given his superhuman speed. What I like about all these qualities is his being gay was not the focus of his life & it made his character all the better.

    Northstar went downhill when he came out arround Alpha Flight #119 (?); the story is just bad. It’s preachy & lectures the readers. From this point, he was the token gay character. I did not care for Northstar’s joining the X-Men either. Right now, I think the X-Men books are a mess for several reasons with scattershot ideas & contradictions between books. I feel like I’m reading Legion of the X-Men instead of X-Men at this point.

    In regards to Aurora, she is an interesting character with a split personality; her more conservative Jeanie-Marie persona is the perfect conflict for the more liberal Aurora. Jeanie-Marie also did not access to Aurora’s powers. John Byrne was going somewhere with this subplot with a new third personality, but it was dropped when he left the book. I also liked the conflict with her brother when Jeanie-Marie scolds Jean-Paul for using his mutant powers for personal gain (Northstar used his powers to become a Olympic skier).

    Comment by Sebastian Shaw — July 23, 2010 @ 3:31 pm - July 23, 2010

  38. I’m jumping back in the thread since SciFi is making such strong showing and people seem hungry for gay characters who are more than 2-dimensional.

    Do pick up the USA remake of DUNE from 2000. The tragically underrated Ian McNiece plays Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. To my mind, the Baron was a great character because he was a villain who was gay as opposed to a gay villain. No tokenism here, pro or con.

    The whole story is arguably set in motion by him trying to secure a proper future for his nephews since he has no children of his own. As a bonus, Matt Keeslar plays a shirtless Feyd Rautha battling it out with sweaty Harkkonen slave boys.

    ‘Nuf sed.

    Best wishes,
    -MFS

    Comment by MFS — July 23, 2010 @ 7:09 pm - July 23, 2010

  39. But AE, that’s the same thing.

    Sonic, Sonic, Sonic! You did not just say that Star Wars and Brokeback Mountain are the same thing???? Bite your tongue!

    Look at the Twilight series.

    No thank you.

    Totally chick flick.

    Phew! at least we can agree on that!

    But people really like the newest movie.

    When Michael Medved watched it to review it, he said he was the only person in the audience who wasn’t a 14 year old girl. People dont like it, 14 year old girls like it.

    The Harry Potter movies are a stones throw away from being nothing but a series of chick flicks.

    Bite your tongue again! …No! harder!

    Yet they succeed because both the writing and the actors are well above par.

    They succeeded because dating and relationships were kept to the bare minimum necessary to bring girls into the theater while the vast majority of the movie was actually ABOUT cool stuff. :)

    Comment by American Elephant — July 23, 2010 @ 7:20 pm - July 23, 2010

  40. I tend to get frustrated with tv shows that have gay characters just so they can say they have gay characters. I like the characters to be interesting characters who just happen to be gay rather than gay characters they try to make interesting.

    I completely agree with the assessment of the handling of gay relationships in Torchwood. I think in general Russell T. Davies writes gay characters well.

    I think another good example of gay characters on Torchwood was the episode where Tosh develops a relationship with a woman (who ends up being an alien since it is Torchwood). But I think that was when I realized that Torchwood really did gay relationships well and did them in a way that seemed natural and not “hey look at our show, we have GAY people on it!”

    I actually think books tend to do a better job with well developed gay characters than TV and movies, but it is a different medium.

    Comment by just me — July 23, 2010 @ 9:04 pm - July 23, 2010

  41. From #2, ‘if we want a better movie, we need a culture that’s more accepting’? WTF?
    No, I’d dare to say, if you want a movie with better depictions of gays, couples or not, then give the moviemakers examples of such ‘better depictions’.
    I seriously wonder here, how we decry the lack of representations of good, wholesome, fulfilling gay relationships…when we know as a truth that these are not the norm in our culture, at best, that they are given little more than lipservice by most gays and at worst, at times regaled as the conservative gays’ and heterosexuals’ efforts to ‘normalize’ gay relationships.
    Such relationships are also the…ah, skip it. Pissing into the wind here…

    Comment by rodney — July 24, 2010 @ 5:14 pm - July 24, 2010

  42. MFS,

    interesting point on Dune. I’d honestly forgotten his sexuality, because he was such an evil bastard.

    If you can get the DVD, it includes some interesting parts cut from the American televised cast. There’s an entire subplot showing the Emperor’s daughter is just as, um, politically gifted as the rest, but it’s cut out completely because of excessive boobage. (Her bald consort is hot, if not your type.)

    Comment by The_Livewire — July 25, 2010 @ 1:38 pm - July 25, 2010

  43. I happen to think gay characters make no sense in the media. Exactly what is gained? Will it sell more tickets or repel sales? Do they advance the story or are they merely a gimmick? Maybe they only have a place as a gimmick. While I detest Birdcage, on subsequent viewings, it isn’t bad. There is much more potential on the female side of the gay issue. That’s where the real interest remains.

    Comment by Anon387823 — July 26, 2010 @ 12:51 am - July 26, 2010

  44. Anon,

    It depends on the intent of the person and the purpose of media.

    [begin social engineering rant]
    Having a character of any particular ‘type’ in a production can have two purposes. The first is to raise awareness of that ‘type’ either in a positive or negative context. Comics have been doing this for years, either by introducing ethnic ‘legacy’ characters (Ryan Choi as the Atom, Jamie Reyes as the Blue Beetle, or one could argue, Psylocke) or as new characters (Jubilee, Loa, Indra in the X books, technically Ravager and Static). The downside is when something happens to that character, many people rage against it as a slight against ‘their type’ (Jubilee being depowered as a slap against Asians, Ryan being killed the same, putting Storm and Black Panther together with a healthy dose of Retcon, hooking Dani and James up ‘because they’re both Indians’)

    Indeed, the writer of the character ‘Freedom Ring’ had specifically intended for him to die in his writing. Ironically, him being gay had nothing to do with his fate but later he felt bad that he had culled the herd of one less gay character. This actually annoys me more. If the intent was to make “a well-rounded character who just happened to like dudes” then it loses its intent when he laments the death of the character just because he was gay.

    The second reason can be to provide positive social role models for the group portrayed. This is what torqued me off about War Machine for example. You had Jim Rhodes, who’s saved the world at least twice, dating Rae, who was white. Jim’s parents were upset at the interracial dating. I thought this was a wonderful twist and would have lead to all sorts of oportunities to address the issue of Race. Jim standing up to his parents would have been a great way to show how we are (allegedly) beyond race, but that it’s not just a ‘white on black’ thing.

    Likewise, Eric Masterson was a brief, if shining example of a left handed role model.

    I mentioned upthread that Northstar being shown as mentoring young Anole, not buggering him because ‘he’s the only other gay guy on the island’ would be another positive role model as it would push forward the concept that being gay doesn’t mean you have to ‘bag’ everything that moves.*
    [/end social engineering rant]

    *And Jack from Torchwood is an exception to that rule. He’ll ‘bag’ anything that’s consentual. It’s just who he is.

    Comment by The_Livewire — July 26, 2010 @ 7:28 am - July 26, 2010

  45. No, I’d dare to say, if you want a movie with better depictions of gays, couples or not, then give the moviemakers examples of such ‘better depictions’.

    Rodney, Rodney, Rodney…

    Utter Crap!

    One of my early media profs, Mr Teeple, used to daily drill the most important thing about mass media into our heads _ Always Remember The Bottom Line!!!!!!!. And he was RIGHT!!!!!!!! It’s not that they don’t know that there are normal, stable gay relationships out there. Of course they do! The problem is…. They Don’t Care! That Doesn’t Sell Tickets!!!!!

    Comment by Sonicfrog — July 26, 2010 @ 11:51 am - July 26, 2010

  46. They can be an element of the bottom line though. Look at Spiderman. Successful films, where the love of MJ/Peter is a very strong subplot. The struggles of their love for each other is a strong subplot.

    A character like Northstar (or Freedom Ring, or Obsidian, or Vanyel Ashkeveron) could easily be a central character, who is gay, without it being smothering. The scene with Vanyel getting silver from his mom for being ‘beaten on by a pervert’ and from his father from ‘beating on a pervert’ (said pervert was his boyfriend/lover/lifebond) would be especially poignant if done correctly, as part of the larger Herald Mage storyline as it was there.

    Heck if done correctly, the Last Herald Mage trillogy would be an awesome movie to make, since the main character isn’t Chosen until halfway through the book, for the first half it’s more ‘Haven, from an outsider’s view’

    Comment by The_Livewire — July 26, 2010 @ 12:23 pm - July 26, 2010

  47. @just me, #40 – Davies is AFAIK openly gay himself, which may account for him writing gay characters so well.

    @mfs, #38: “the Baron was a great character because he was a villain who was gay as opposed to a gay villain.” – I apologise, but I’m not seeing the full implications of the difference here. I would be very grateful if you could clarify the matter, please.

    @ sonicfrog, #26 – I think Algernon should be abbreviated as “Algy” (as in the Biggles books).

    Comment by perturbed — July 28, 2010 @ 7:13 am - July 28, 2010

  48. perturbed,

    There’s a difference, to me at least, to a GAY Character and a gay CHARACTER.

    Harkonnen (and Northstar, and believe it or not Jack Harkness) are examples of the later. Their sexual orientation is a part of the character, but not the defining part. To use Will and Grace, the entire premise of the show was that they were GAY characters (at least in the early episodes, I mean Will and Jack). Likewise (irony) Bulldog’s mysogony on Frasier put his sexuality front and center, making him a STRAIGHT character. (played by an openly gay actor)

    Ellen’s Sitcom suffered from this later on. It stopped being about Ellen, and became about GAY Ellen. Or as one radio show host said “Ellen’s gone from being an unfunny show, to an unfunny show about a l-e-s-b-i-a-n.” (trying to slip that past the filter, the host didn’t spell it)

    Harkonnen’s liking of boys wasn’t his defining point. His being an evil manipulative bastard was. Ellen’s talk show is fun and funny because she’s a talk show host, the lesbian thing is secondary. Jack’s issues (“I don’t have issues, I have subscriptions.”) make him a compelling character. His flaming nature, moderated by Jack being onmi-sexual, not gay, is part of who he is.

    To delve into literature, Vanyel’s conflict in his sexuality is a secondary issue, his effeminate nature is the primary motivator early in the book, and that, while sterotypical, doesn’t hinge on his sexuality. The conflicts he has over Tylendel’s death (his celebacy, people offering him ways to get Ty ‘back’) could be interchanged with a heterosexual character easily. Indeed, his Aunt Savil could be playing for either team, it never comes up.

    I hope that makes sense.

    Comment by The_Livewire — July 28, 2010 @ 8:16 am - July 28, 2010

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