Ex­ile from main­stream

Gay films are cur­rently all the rage in Tin­sel­town – as long as they’re not too gay. Brian Fin­negan looks at how ho­mo­sex­u­als are far­ing in Hol­ly­wood and asks if an openly gay ac­tor will ever get to be the lead­ing man

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Cover Story -

T MIGHT JUST be the most im­por­tant film in the his­tory of gay rep­re­sen­ta­tions in Hol­ly­wood.” So said one gush­ing re­view of the Jim Car­rey/Ewan McGre­gor com­edy which opens in Ire­land this week. The near­est thing to a main­stream gay rom-com, it fea­tures un­apolo­getic char­ac­ters and a smat­ter­ing of full-on sex be­tween its lead and sev­eral men, but this film’s jour­ney, from its pre­miere at Sun­dance more than a year ago to its the­atri­cal release, tells a less pos­i­tive story about the gay state of play in Tin­sel­town. A tale as packed with dou­ble stan­dards as it is with para­noia, it re­veals a glass ceil­ing that no one seems to be able to crack.

In re­cent decades, there have been a num­ber of films hailed as chang­ing the face of gay rep­re­sen­ta­tions. The first of th­ese, Jonathan Demme’s Philadel­phia (1993), tack­led Aids and ho­mo­pho­bia and won a best ac­tor Os­car for its star Tom Hanks. The grav­ity with which it was greeted, along with Hanks’s Os­car speech, in which he thanked a gay teacher for in­spir­ing him to be an ac­tor, pointed to a new era for the in­dus­try in which ex­ec­u­tives might green­light films with sym­pa­thetic, lead­ing gay char­ac­ters on the ba­sis that mid­dle-Amer­i­can audiences might ac­tu­ally pay to see them. In­flu­en­tial critic Roger Ebert called it “a righ­teous first step”.

How­ever, that era never ma­te­ri­alised. It took an­other 12 years be­fore Ang Lee’s Broke­back Moun­tain had every­one singing about a brave new gay Hol­ly­wood once more.

In the mean­time, the very po-faced Philadel­phia iron­i­cally ush­ered in the decade of the GBF, or the “gay best friend”, a time when lov­able char­ac­ters came out of the closet to sup­port the fe­male leads of ro­man­tic come­dies. The apoth­e­o­sis of th­ese movies, My Best Friend’s Wed­ding (1997), a Ju­lia Roberts ve­hi­cle in which the GBF was played by Ru­pert Everett, an ac­tual gay man, briefly pro­claimed the dawn of a time when openly gay ac­tors might be­come A-list stars.

But Everett never made it past the GBF stakes in Hol­ly­wood, ex­cept to play the stan­dard vil­lain with a Bri­tish ac­cent in the ris­i­ble In­spec­tor Gad­get two years later. More re­cently, Everett went on record to say that gay ac­tors should stay in the closet. “The fact is that you could not be, and still can­not be, a 25-year-old ho­mo­sex­ual try­ing to make it in the Bri­tish film busi­ness or the Amer­i­can film busi­ness or even the Ital­ian film busi­ness,” he told the Guardian last De­cem­ber, adding that, more than ever, Hol­ly­wood to­day is “very, very right wing”.

Al­most 10 years af­ter com­ing out killed Everett's Hol­ly­wood ca­reer, Broke­back Moun­tain cre­ated the cur­rent “gay for pay” phe­nom­e­non, where het­ero­sex­ual ac­tors line up to play ho­mo­sex­u­als with stat­uettes in mind. The late, straight Heath Ledger cleaned up dur­ing the 2006 awards sea­son for his per­for­mance in Broke­back, al­though notably he failed to de­liver on his Os­car nom­i­na­tion and the film lost out to the for­get­table racism drama Crash in the best film cat­e­gory. Dubbed “the gay cow­boy movie”, Broke­back Moun­tain dared to tell the story of a star-cross’d man-on-man

Milk,

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