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12 March 2010, 2:00 pm 2 Comments

Cinespastic: Stereotypes. Fabulous!

This post was submitted by Ben K.

Image from The Birdcage

The happy couple in The Birdcage

The other day I was watching The Birdcage, a movie I have loved since seeing at the theaters nearly 15 years ago.   Based on the French film La Cage aux Folles (which is also quite entertaining), the American adaptation brought together the classic comedy duo of Nichols and May, with Mike Nichols directing, and Elaine May writing the screenplay.  I am a big fan of Mike Nichols, as he has directed some of my favorite movies (The Graduate, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Working Girl- just for starters).  I should also mention that La Cage aux Folles is also a very popular musical, returning to Broadway this spring.

I really enjoy most everything about the film, to be honest- I think the screenplay is hilarious and the acting perfect.  I will never forget seeing the it in the theater.  I was at a sold out screening and have never heard a film audience laugh so hard and so much throughout an entire film (is that okay though?).

So, you get it, I love this movie, and make no apology for doing so.  While it isn’t a regular discussion among friends, I know that most of them feel similarly about the film.  But, I have one friend who hates it- I mean HATES it, and this is a friend with a great sense of humor.  He finds it disgusting and offensive, and thinks it turns gays and gay relationships into nothing more than a modern day minstrel show.

I understand his point.  The movies have been crafting an image of the LGBT community since film was projected on a screen, make no doubt about it.  I’m sure many of you have read or heard of Vito Russo’s The Celluloid Closet, and if you haven’t, I highly recommend it.  There also is a worthy documentary of the same title that stands quite well on its own, but also acts as a fine compliment to a read of the book.

Russo tells a bleak story of empty caricatures and perverse villains, of cautionary tales and unhappy endings.  In many ways, much has not changed.  The Birdcage certainly presents to us a ridiculous walking stereotype in Albert, played by Nathan Lane, but is it ever okay?  I’ve always thought that while the representation is over-the-top, nonetheless a sincerity in the relationship between he and Armand (Robin Williams) plays out in a lovely manner which is both believable, and- I may sound a bit hokey- but just plain nice.

You might hate me now, but that’s fine.  In this instance, I am in disagreement with my friend who hates The Birdcage.  I understand his point, but I find it both extremely funny and I’m not offended by it- not to mention that I know a few queens teetering the line of turning into Albert, which I fully support.

And hey, I’m not so sure that queer cinema is doing much better than Hollywood.  The worst stereotypes seem to be coming out of many of the ridiculous movies made by gay filmmakers for gay audiences.

But I’m wondering if feeding into a stereotype outweighs the comedy or the quality.  Granted, this is not a new film, but the questions remains for the larger cinema in general.  I found it interesting that some African-American journalists took issue with Precious for very similar reasons.  After a certain point, does it matter how good a movie is when it reinforces negative stereotypes?

The tension between upholding artistic integrity and walking on eggshells to not offend is not always easy.  Do we all need to lighten up or start yelling more?  There is much to say on the subject, so please do.  I have much more to say on the point, but I’m going to be quiet now and let you talk.  Go ahead- yell at me, agree with me, tell me what you think……

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  • GrrrlRomeo said:

    Is Albert not real? Well he’s a character, and he’s actually being played by a gay man. But that aside, I certainly know gay men who act like Albert, and I love them.

    What I think is not okay is that gay men act like certain types of gay men aren’t okay. Think of the message it sends to constantly look down on these stereotypes…that it’s not okay to be as out, “in your face gay,” theatrical. It’s not okay to be gender non-conforming or cross-dress.

    I don’t think of gay characters like Albert as stereotypes but archetypes. There is actually nothing negative about them. Those who look down on them I suspect do so because they think effeminacy is degrading.

    The problem with stereotypes isn’t that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. We just have to remember that Albert is not all gay men. And there have been a number gay characters who aren’t flamboyant at all. Instead of looking at them one at at time, consider there’s the Birdcage, Philadelphia, Brokeback Mountain and many other movies. It shows a range of gay characters. So there’s really no need to get rid of the one type.

    Besides, gays invented camp humor. We own that. It’s something from gay culture that gays created. It’d be a shame to disown it.

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