You have no doubt heard of Brokeback Mountain , the movie about two "cowboys" (who actually herd sheep!), married men with children, who hide a lifelong homosexual relationship from their wives, children and friends. Did you notice the announcement of Hollywood's Screen Actors Guild's awards before the movie was fully released to theaters?
In fact, the movie was prereleased to just five carefully selected theaters in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, chosen for their likelihood of drawing large crowds.
The statistics on the high per-screen take in earnings was then included in write-ups on how popular and successful the movie was, which in turn garnered more interest and more success, as the movie was selectively released in ever wider markets. It wasn't actually fully released in theaters until late January, even though it has been in the news since early December 2005.
You may have also noticed the numerous entertainment news articles on the movie, gushing with glowing praise for all aspects of the film, predicting it would win Golden Globe awards (which it did) and eventually, Oscars.
Wrote Claudia Puig of USA Today over a month before the movie was released to all theaters: "With its epic feel, powerful performances and heartbreaking story with a timely theme about gay love, it would seem to have everything voters at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences look for. Signs indicate that this might be the right movie at the right time" ( "Brokeback Rides Into the Mainstream," Dec. 14, 2005).
Eve more likely to bite the apple
Puig reported on an owner of two California theaters, who related that he screened the film in his Los Angeles venue, but he delayed showing it in a different, more conservative, city until enthusiasm for it had built around the country. He opined that women would be more likely to see it than men would.
Puig cited the film's producer, James Schamus, who said, "The culture is finding us," implying the present-day society is seeking out entertainment with this theme.
But later in the same article, Schamus is quoted as saying, "It's nice when art can be used to really transform people's understanding of what it means to be a human being and what it means to be accepting of other human beings." (Read "gay person" for "human being.")
Puig adds, "The film might find its place in history as a cultural landmark" (emphasis added).
So, which is it? Is Brokeback intended to shape the public's view of gay love or is it intended to reflect the public's acceptance and tolerance of gay love?
It's both. Let's go back in time to December 2004 to a New York Times piece (and the Times is certainly not a conservative paper) by John M. Broder about the beating that gay rights proponents took in the November polls when 11 states passed prohibitions against same-sex marriages. Broder reported that the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the largest gay and lesbian advocacy group in the United States, announced it was changing its approach on how to promote a gay agenda.
Having suffered a serious setback in the legal arena, the group said it would put more emphasis on telling the personal relationship side of gay couples. HRC Board member Michael Berman said, "We need to reintroduce ourselves to America with the stories of our lives" ("Groups Debate Slower Strategy on Gay Rights," Dec. 9, 2004).
Creating a gay culture
HRC's communications director, Steven Fisher, said that in the coming months they would communicate "the struggles of gays in their families, workplaces, churches and synagogues ... When you put a face to our issues, that's when we get support. We're not going to win at the ballot box until we start winning at the water cooler and in the church pew" (ibid.).
"Win at the water cooler" means, of course, that it would be the topic of casual conversation. Back to the present, Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracker Exhibitor Relations, Inc., said of Brokeback , "It's the water cooler movie of the moment" ("Despite Subject, Brokeback Finds Success," Dow Jones, Jan. 17, 2006).
So, HRC is achieving what it targeted only a little over a year ago.
Whether cognizant of it or not, a film producer and the chair of the University of Southern California's School of Cinema and Television described Brokeback in the terms that the HRC laid out for achieving their agenda. He said that the movie "humanizes" the icon of the cowboy—by portraying him as gay. Numerous reviews and ads for the movie describe it as a "love story," continuing the theme of portraying this issue in terms of personalities and relationships.
Brokeback took Golden Globes for best movie drama, best screenplay, best original song for a motion picture and best director. It failed to win the best actor and actress, but they were taken by the leads in Capote (about homosexual Truman Capote) and Transamerica , in which a woman played a transsexual male. So, those categories also furthered HRC's objectives.
The Golden Globes are awarded each year by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), a group of journalists who work for foreign press outlets. Brokeback's prerelease was timed so as to enable it to qualify for the awards for 2005.
HFPA's mission statement reads in part, "To establish favorable relations and cultural ties between foreign countries and the United States of America by the dissemination of information concerning the American culture and traditions as depicted in motion pictures and television through news media in various foreign countries" (www.hfpa.org/). So, their Golden Globes this year announce to the world through Brokeback that America accepts gay romance.
Brokeback Mountain seems to have found a winning strategy in the culture wars for hearts and minds. The movie's production, release, marketing and awards are all coordinated in such a way as to imply that the movie reflects America, while at the same time, it clearly seeks to shape America. WNP