Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Mel Gibson is a talented man, a bigot perhaps, but a very talented man. I think the best evidence to support this is his performance in "The Beaver" which, like it or not, any lesser actor would have fumbled.
I had such a problem with the way "The Celluloid Closet" ended, with the thought that the portrayal of gays will only get better and a representation of them is key...not so I say.
So here I've compiled not the list of the historical sins of "Braveheart" though that could go on for ages; but instead a brief examination of Edward II and then a checklist for all the other Academy Award winners in the last two decades.
Edward II is queer, he's a poof, a fairy. Any insulting phrase you want to hurl at him, go right ahead and do so because this representation of gays in cinema is precisely the stereotype that so many are trying to work against. Edward II is so repulsed by Isabella (simply because she's a woman) that he has a hard time kissing her on the cheek, so it's not surprising when the film states that no children will come from their union. While the real Edward II's sexual orientation is up for debate, this much is known, he did father many children from many wives.
Then there's the actual gay portrayal. Instead of being a gay character, the prince is a weak gay character...the only "weak" character in the movie, for everyone else is either self-assured, masculine, or a woman, still stronger than the prince. The other gay character in the movie, the prince's lover, gets thrown out of a window and killed, leaving his would-be long-time lover not that grief stricken. True, the prince does try to kill his father right afterwards; but the next scene we see him in, he's completely docile and over the death. There is no mourning, there is no real emotion, all there is is a large amount of baloney. Let's line up the stereotypes:
the prince loves clothes more than ruling? check
the prince is a complete idiot? check
the prince has no concept of anything kingly? check
the prince is a spineless coward who's too stupid to realize that he is being used? check
the prince is greedy and power-hungry? check
You would think that this list leads up to think that maybe, just maybe, like "Gladiator" did, we would have a son usurping his father; but no, Ed Jr. is too cowardly for that too. There is nothing redeemable about this character, so vile and detestable a cliche as to make us all vomit. You can have a gay person be the bad guy, that's allowed and in fact a more historical version might have been more enjoyable. But Ed Jr. is neither good nor bad nor anything, he's too much of a kiss-ass and a spineless worm to make up his own mind, in this regard he, not Edward Sr., is the opposite of William Wallace, a masculine, straight, self-knowing warrior.
But "Braveheart" isn't the only movie that would have cliches about gays in it, and certainly not the only one recognized by the Academy Awards, so let's take a look at the history from the 90s.
1992 brought us the first year in the 90s that something truly and substantially 'gay' was honored—"The Crying Game". A mystery and a thriller turns into something that blurs the lines of sexuality and we get the first real inkling that the gay life might not be just a stereotype. Naturally the film lost to Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven"; but don't blame the Academy because Eastwood's film is pretty universally loved.
It's not until 1994 when we see it again and this time, it ain't pretty. "Pulp Fiction" and "The Shawshank Redemption" both accuse homosexuals of being rapists. You can argue for both movies saying its more about the individual than the community. True, but the individuals reflect the community and both of these movie portray homosexuals as social vagrants and perverts. That's not very nice...then there's "Braveheart" a year later.
The next year slightly repairs some of the damage with "The English Patient" in which a gay character is accepted fully; but is responsible for an enormous error in judgement and almost kills everyone...so we're getting towards acceptance but not quite there yet.
Ah, 1997, here's where we see the tides turn. "As Good As It Gets" has a gay couple, and Greg Kinnear's performance is so wonderful that it's hard not to fall in love with the movie. Yet, he's a supporting role, someone that we don't get to see a whole lot of, but an honest and complete homosexual character, not bound by a stereotype.
Then in 1999 we get "American Beauty" and the gays have it in the bag. The first win that truly addressed the issue of homosexuality. Naturally, if you look into the story, it's about how being in the closet will literally drive you insane; but it was the first of its kind and the movie itself is pretty flawless. America now sees that the fractured mess of people that are all imperfect are all beautiful, gays included.
From then on, it's silent. We get a few 'gay' seeming movies like "Moulin Rouge!" or "Chicago"; but none of them want to address the still taboo subject...none of them until Ang Lee.
"Brokeback Mountain" is revolutionary, but still makes being gay look pretty terrible. Nonetheless, love is pretty and we now have some realism heaped on. Love is a nasty plate of messy relationships...but it's still love.
Steve Carell's character in "Little Miss Sunshine" is gay...and suicidal. When are we going to get something that's not untruthful or manically depressive?
Finally in 2008 there was "Milk" which was a ballsy movie, one that Gus Van Sant and Dustin Lance Black took a lot of risks in making. It shows gays as human, even amidst the limp-wrist waving and excited drag queens...they are still human underneath and I don't think any other director could have managed to make it feel genuine.
In 2010 we got "The Kid's Are Alright" and "Black Swan". One presents lesbians as a family unit, imperfections and all, and one portrays lesbianism as something of hallucinogenic nightmares. We're still not quite there yet.
Then we get nothing until "Dallas Buyers Club" which kind of over-sympathized with the gay community. The films that the LGBT community needs highlighted in the Academy Awards are the films that the indie directors are making: Xavier Dolan, Gus Van Sant, and sometimes James Franco.
Who knows? Maybe this year, we'll see "Love is Strange" take the top honors; but I doubt it. The point is that with all the representation of gays in film, TV actually seems to have it down better. "Modern Family" is a prime example of this. They escape some stereotypes, acknowledge others, and gently prod the viewers toward the right conclusions, that gays are humans too...and that's remarkable...and that's also something that "Braveheart" fails to do.