So the San Francisco Chronicle headlined that gays broke down and cried when Crash won the Best Picture Oscar. So what! All you drama queens so brokenhearted over Brokeback Mountain, get over it!! Blow your nose on your sleeve, and note that the bucket is half full, for crissakes! Weigh reel life against real life! Maybe one film about guys in love didn't take an Oscar, but, honey, this was a year they will be talking about for at least a generation. This is big, this is up there with Hattie McDaniel in 1940, and you know how many years passed before Sidney got his! Listen sob sisters, pull it together! More ink has been spread in rags all over the country about gays in film this one year than any since Vito Russo threw open the doors of The Celluloid Closet.
The Oscars aren't above politics any more than the Lambda Book Awards. But don't smell conspiracy where, at best, there was benign neglect. A few days before the awards, even previous Oscar winner Emma Thompson admitted in a TV interview that she hadn't seen all the nominees. By then the votes were in! Judges don't read all the Lambda Book Award nominees either. Votes are cast ( like the Academy ) based as much on name recognition and bottom-line sales as worthiness. Crash had an ensemble cast as well as a hot-issue plot. Racism in America is no trivial matter. Each Crash actor would have a number of loyal Academy voters.
In addition, an LGBT troika of films further pulled friendly Academy votes in three directions. Brokeback wasn't up there alone. Voters also had to choose between it and a more acerbic Capote. No doubt, each garnered substantial votes from the other. The more lighthearted Transamerica wasn't a factor in the Best Picture category.
The cowboys were, after all, just another in the long line of 'never can be' romances stretching back to Shakespeare that have been the mainstay of films since Chaplin. Monty Clift and Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun are a classic example of the formula. Miscegenation, class, and even species have kept movie lovers apart since before the talkies. Susan Hayward and Joan Crowford got rich on being the gals from the other side of the tracks who roamed the back streets. King Kong; a couple of mermaids; a bunch of extraterrestrials; and even a horse and dog or two for Roddy McDowell and Elizabeth Taylor also filled the pattern. Now that adultery, race, abortion and class distinctions are passe as societal taboos to be incorporated into movie plot lines, gay guys seem to be left as the taboo du jour. Even lesbians seem to have a sub rosa acceptance, perhaps because all those politicians have acknowledged their gay
daughters ( Cheney, Gingrich, Mell, etc. ) , but not their gay sons. Or maybe it's just because lesbian-simulated sex has been a turn-on in male-dominated mainstream film since G.W. Pabst's Pandora's Box in 1929.
Probably the best chance for making a case for anti-gay conspiracy in the industry would lie with the distribution of Brokeback. The right-wing talk shows touted that moviegoers were voting with their dollars, and that queers weren't the flavor du jour of the masses. Not quite so. True, films used to be judged on merit, and word of mouth often brought growing audiences to a slow-starting film. But within the last decade, opening weekend box office seems to determine the fate of any film. If the buzz is big enough, it may get a second life on DVD. But ( in part because it was an indie ) Brokeback opened in fewer venues; therefore, it had smaller audiences and made less money than a dozen other films of less quality. The chains didn't want to take it on, and to that extent a 'little conspiracy' might lie. But the conspirators were not anti-gay so much as fearful of their bottom line.
Director Ang Lee was right. Brokeback is 'a very ordinary movie.' It is about love and the obstacles that society interposes between lovers. What is extraordinary is the way that much of the press and the public recognized the theme and how it resonated with them. They were rooting for the little cowboy version of Seabiscuit to come from behind and win the race. Given the plot and the difficulty making and distributing the film, the real prize was that Brokeback was in the race at all. The wider dialogue engendered by the press and sympathetic moviegoers will bring more racers to the gate.
Silly drag queens; sexless gay guys and gals; and gutless queer flicks will go the way of Stepin Fetchit. They had their day, and, at least, leant visibility. But since Donna Deitch made Desert Hearts 20 years ago, the traditional love story with same-sex partners has been edging towards acceptance in America. Brokeback, with more money behind it and flashier stars ( not to be sexist, but male stars ) , has advanced the cause. So wipe off your tear-stained mascara. We're not in Kansas anymore—we're skipping down the yellow brick road!
Copyright 2006 by Marie J. Kuda