‘Brokeback’ Politics – Can a Movie about Gay Ranch Hands Change Hearts and Minds?

Cultural shift: “Brokeback Mountain” has the pedigree of a major hit movie: Two hot young stars, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, who are also great actors; an Oscar winning director, Ang Lee; a screenplay by Pulitizer-winning novelist Larry McMurtry (“The Last Picture Show” and “Lonesome Dove”) and is based on an incredibly powerful short story by another Pulitzer prize winner, Annie Proulx, author of the novel, “The Shipping News.”

Hint to the ladies: If your man refuses to go see “Brokeback Mountain” with you, go with a girlfriend. After you’ve seen it, you may want to check up on Mr. Macho’s “fishing trips with the boys” and his annual “trip to Talladega.”

The result of all this talent is a magnificent thing – one of the few truly great films Hollywood has ever produced. It will likely receive Academy Award nominations across the board, and could well score big wins on Oscar night.

It is a bona fide critical success, leading in nominations in most critics’ association awards from coast to coast, and in nominations for the Golden Globes. If it does well at the Oscars, it could become a “must-see” film.

Or maybe not. There is good reason to doubt the suburban and small town conservative enclaves are ready for a movie about gay ranch hands in love.

So “Brokeback Mountain” isn’t for everyone – what movie is? In 2004, for example, despite the fact that millions of us stayed away in droves from “The Passion of the Christ,” Mel Gibson’s S&M epic about the torture and killing of Jesus, the film made $370 million worldwide.

“Brokeback Mountain” could easily make $100 million and more, which would qualify it as a hit by most standards, without selling a single ticket to a NASCAR dad, a homo-threatened “straight” guy or a Christian torture fetishist.

(Hint to the ladies: If your man refuses to go see “Brokeback Mountain” with you, go with a girlfriend. After you’ve seen it, you may want to check up on Mr. Macho’s “fishing trips with the boys” and his annual “trip to Talladega.”)

No movie could convert millions of homo-haters into gay-friendlies, but this particular film will definitely open a few eyes.

Will There Be a Backlash?

Homophobes picketing “Brokeback Mountain” would be roughly equivalent to Nazis protesting “Casablanca” in WWII.

The filmmakers can only be hoping that the American Taliban will hold massive protests against “Brokeback Mountain.” You can’t buy that kind of publicity.

Homo-haters picketing “Brokeback Mountain” would be roughly equivalent to Nazis protesting “Casablanca.” But these are folks who are not known for having either good taste or good sense. If the movie does large business on post-Oscar buzz, they might not be able to resist it:

Janice Crouse, a senior fellow of the conservative group Concerned Women for America, charged Mr. Lee’s movie not only with promoting a “homosexual lifestyle” but with subverting a sacred American symbol. “Their major agenda is to make this normal,” Ms. Crouse told Reuters after the film’s premiere, referring to homosexuality. “They know cowboys have this macho image, cowboys are particularly admired by children. Cowboys are heroes.”

It is normal, Janet. That’s the point.

Cultural Shift

In the movie industry’s early years, African-Americans were only depicted as stereoptypes, usually bumbling, comedic Stepin Fetchits and malaprop-prone, saucer-eyed maids. This began to change in the early 1960’s, coinciding with the final push in the long struggle for Civil Rights. Films like “Lilies of the Valley,” “Raisin in the Sun,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and others gave whites a way to see past the artificial barriers of race and class and reassess longheld conventional thinking. Even more importantly, the movies gave African-Americans a more accurate reflection of themselves and their world in the mirror of popular culture.

This shift toward more realistic depictions of African Americans in film presaged seismic changes in the culture, but the temblor itself did not originate in a screenwriter’s brain – the movies did not cause the change. The re-thinking in Hollywood came as a reaction to a concensus in the national psyche that the time had come to end America’s ancient Apartheid. Hollywood simply reflected (and capitalized on) this cultural shift in real time.

Similarly, if “Brokeback Mountain” becomes a phenomenon in the next few months, it may be a signal that the era of homophobia’s usefulness to the GOP as a political weapon and fundraising cash cow may be coming to an end.

In fact, it may already be over.


  • anonymous
    December 30, 2005 - 8:47 am | Permalink

    oh yeah – that’s a blockbuster I want to see, a movie about gay cowboys. Sure that will be a “smash” hit…

  • Jerome Shipanik
    December 31, 2005 - 6:00 pm | Permalink

    This is the only movie I have paid to see more than once. Its now three times and going again. I will buy the DVD and already have the soundtract. I am on a web site for Jake Gyllenhaal and there are lots of people just like me who can not get this movie out of our heads. So at the age of 70 I feel like 20 again…

  • ET
    March 4, 2006 - 4:25 pm | Permalink

    It’s so sad to see Hollywood glorify and make the deviant behavior of homosexuality mainstream. May God Bless your souls and may you find the love of Jesus Christ who died for all of our sins. And no, I’m not a “homophobe”, but rather believe that homosexuals need to be shown the true love of our God, not the distorted view which satan has us all believe. I do not believe that gays should be mocked. We are all people. Go to God!

  • March 4, 2006 - 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Hey, E.T. Phone home. Now.

  • christine
    May 15, 2006 - 1:45 pm | Permalink

    It’d be nice if you could reframe from calling homosexuality deviant behaviour if you respect gay people. If someone did not believe in christianity i doubt it very much that they would patronise you by explaining that they respect the belief and then turn around and call preachers and the bible a bunch of brain washing material.

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