GLBT characters prominent in new films

by Beacon Staff • February 15, 2006

"It was insane," Marie Nikiforova, a freshman film major and employee at the Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge, said of her experience.,The opening weekend of Transamerica in Boston brought tales of sold-out theatres and stories of long, frozen lines for tickets back to Emerson College.

"It was insane," Marie Nikiforova, a freshman film major and employee at the Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge, said of her experience. "It's playing in the biggest auditorium and the lines for it were absolutely crazy."

Though it may be focused on a man about to become a woman, there is little surprise when a film complete with a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nomination for leading lady and "Desperate Housewife" Felicity Huffman finds support at urban cinemas.

The striking thing is that this is now the third time recently that a film centered around a GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual) character has been met with not only a warm embrace from critics and citation committees, but also box-office success.

Philip Seymour Hoffman's universally hailed portrayal of the flamboyant mid-century author Truman Capote also gained renewed attention in early 2006, months after its October release date. Fresh off its own Golden Globe award, Capote director Bennett Miller's window into several years of the writer's life has already taken in about triple its reported $7 million production budget.

The film's increasingly strong bid for Oscar nominations in the categories of best picture, director, lead actor, supporting actress (Catherine Keener) and adapted screenplay (Dan Futterman) prompted Sony Classics to enter into an early re-release plan.

The film opened nationwide at the beginning of February and is currently playing on more than 1,200 screens.

And then, of course, there is the cultural juggernaut Brokeback Mountain, now even the subject of queries for President Bush during question-and-answer sessions with the public ("You would love it," a man at a Kansas State University forum laughingly told the commander-in-chief in January. "You should check it out").

Director Ang Lee's Western about the same-sex romance between two ranch hands has been stuck with the "the gay cowboy movie" label and yet has managed to herd in theatre-goers to the tune of $66 million and growing.

As this article is being written, the film is eclipsing 2003's Lost in Translation, becoming the greatest earner ever for mini-studio Focus Features.

Over the past month, box-office sales surged dramatically for the film, catapulting it to the number one spot for the weekday period, in between the blockbuster weekends of more mainstream pictures like Glory Road and Underworld: Evolution.

The recipient of four Golden Globe awards, including best dramatic picture (not to mention the eight Oscar nods), Brokeback Mountain and the tales of its two counterpart films could easily be seen as an example of the power of televised award shows.

The media has begun to conclude that something deeper and much more profound seems to be going on, however, both in the entertainment industry as well as our culture at large.

As The Christian Science Monitor recently wrote, "In this sense . Brokeback Mountain is a zeitgeist-capturing moment for Hollywood. But, ultimately, its timing may well be a matter for the sociologists."

And the sociologists have pounced, along with nearly everyone else, prompting endless radio and talk-show discussions, the latest of which being Oprah Winfrey herself, who grabbed a sit-down with the central cast.

But this story, which is further perpetuated with every new box- office feat or award, runs deeper than money or even three films, or at least that seems to be the verdict of Emerson College students.

Recently, a random, completely unscientific sampling was taken of students, who were asked their thoughts on this triple threat of GLBT box-office muscle and awards clout. When Brokeback Mountain's box-office success was brought up at a recent meeting of Emerson Alliance for Gays, Lesbians, and Everyone (EAGLE), Margot Cronin-Furman, a freshman theatre studies major, said that "the studio marketed it not only as a gay movie but as an American love story. The success of the movie can be attributed to that."

When asked about the combination of marketing with the seals of approval added by each new doting awards group, Michelle Anzovino, a junior writing, literature and publishing major said "people are a little more willing to accept that now so that it's not just 'the gay cowboy movie.'"

The discussion's focus came back to how honest the film felt for moviegoers, particularly the GLBT audience.

"I felt a whole range of emotions while viewing it," Jessica Ganon, a freshman writing, literature and publishing major, said in her glowing review. She added that she had heard about a screening in Wyoming in which local gays and lesbians said the film "was very accurate and very well done."

Others, such as Tiffany Begin, a freshman broadcast journalism major, thought about the movie's impact on the masses.

"I think it's awesome . maybe people will see these movies and say 'hey, these are people too' and maybe change their minds on some important issues," Begin said.

Carrie Rudzinski, a freshman film major, focused her thoughts on Hollywood.

"I think it's really great that the industry is opening up, that's where it starts," she said.

When asked about any kind of backlash or anger beginning among right-wing groups and the religiously conservative, Rudzinski said, "I think you just have to be open-minded to the themes."

She added, "I don't usually see scary movies, but that doesn't mean I think they can't be good films or successful films."

While several said they did not see any extra hype going into films like Capote just because they had gay characters, Dan Rofsky, a freshman writing, literature and publishing and film studies double major, said he is against what he called "an overcompensation for gay rights."

"It's similar to Halle Berry and Denzel Washington both winning in the same year 'to send a message,'" Rofksy said, referencing the 2003 Academy Awards.

Some saw the two historic leading actor wins as an artificial move to be more inclusive to blacks in the film industry.

"That would be detrimental to the gay rights movement," Rofsky said of the possibilities that the wins will be viewed as pandering to the community.

The Academy Awards announcement brought word of 15 nominations in total for the three aforementioned films. These included best picture nominations for Capote and Brokeback Mountain, which carried the day with eight citations.

Possible Oscar wins, along with all the accolades, for these films could usher in a new era of GLBTfriendly filmmaking.