In case you’ve been hunkered down on Mount Kenya, “Brokeback Mountain” recently opened. No hurricanes destroyed Orlando. No meteorites were reported in Los Angeles.
In fact, the film quietly attracted record-breaking crowds in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. And so it seems that Ang Lee’s film about two cowboys in love is _ at minimum _ surviving. The reason for this is hard to figure out.
Could be that all three opening cities have hefty gay populations? Another option is that right-wing groups, such as Focus on the Family, are all but keeping silent, in hopes that the film just goes away. Or it might have to do with Hollywood hunks Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal and their huge female fan bases.
Whatever the reason, Exhibitor Relations Co. reports that over the first weekend, Dec. 10-11, the film brought in the highest per-screen average for any film release in 2005. And if that’s not enough, “Brokeback Mountain” has already landed awards from the Los Angeles Film Critics Associations and the New York Film Critics Circle.
Even some real-life cowboys applaud the flick. “I think it’s something that’s now just being more understood,” seven-time world-champion cowboy Ty Murray, who is straight, recently told ABC’s Good Morning America. “Hopefully, this movie helps people further understand it.”
But as a gay man from a small town like the one in “Brokeback Mountain,” I find that the beauty of this film lies in its navigating away from stereotypes to convey the power and randomness of love. A welcomed change, I’m sure, for many_ especially gay Americans.
Two years ago, I published a column, “Queer TV: Advancing Tolerance or Fostering Stereotypes?” In it, I questioned whether such shows as “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” and “Queer as Folk” were anything more than ratings ploys. And I wondered what viewers, once they found themselves uninterested, might come away with.
Would these programs help in showing the normality of being gay? Or would many viewers come away thinking that we were indeed “different”?
Hollywood has featured gay characters since the 1930s, usually as the effeminate best friend of the leading man. Their orientation was understood, though not discussed. This continued through the ’50s, when gay characters were portrayed as emotionally troubled and often suicidal.
By the ’70s, both cinema and television started to discuss real-life gay issues.
And during the ’80s and ’90s, gay characters and gay-themed programming moved to the forefront. Still, the way in which they were depicted _ in most cases _ cultivated dated stereotypes.
Now, through movies such as “Brokeback Mountain,” Hollywood is shedding light on the fact that not all gay men are fashion gurus, hairdressers, interior designers, and superior in the arts, but that some might _ God forbid _ be cowboys, herding sheep in Wyoming. And, more important, capable of love-based relationships.
Not all of us gay folk are comfortable with the flamboyance of gay-pride parades. And many would rather sip a Killian’s in an Irish pub than dance to techno in a noisy gay bar. “Gay” has nothing to do with lifestyle. And rather than coming out of the closet to make a declaration of individuality or identity, most of us “come out” so that we can share the gift of love openly with another individual.
So when the numbers are tallied and the awards dispersed, my hope is that “Brokeback Mountain” is seen not only as a monumental moment in cinema history but also as a daring and original attempt to prove that love is not bound by interpretation or stereotype.
(Miles Christian Daniels is a New York-based columnist and documentary-film maker. E-mail: danielsm(at)hmrifken.com.)