Friday, January 06, 2017

On This Date In ISBL History:CBS Films Straight-Washes 'Pride'

As Carlos and I are in sunny Miami for business and pleasure, I thought I’d do something I’ll call “On This Date In ISBL History” and repost some things from back when the blog was new, and newish … this was originally published January 6, 2015:

CBS Films Straight-Washes 'Pride'

It was hard for a gay when I was a kid. I mean, I didn’t see myself on TV — there was no Will & Grace and Ellen or Cam and Mitchell, no Queer As Folk or Looking. The only remotely gay-ish characters were generally played by Terry-Thomas onscreen or Paul Lynde on television, so I thought being gay meant I had to wear paisley and ascots and velvet smoking jackets and talk with a lisp and call myself a “confirmed bachelor.”

That wasn’t me, but those are the only images I saw because The Gays were often scrubbed from movies since it was assumed that Mr. and Mrs. America didn’t want to see that kinda stuff when they went to the picture shows.

So it was common for gay characters and gay stories to be scrubbed clean of The Gay; gay characters were changed to straight, or the fact that they were gay in the books on which the films were based, was simply left out of the film adaptation altogether.

Like Corporal Fife in Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line. In the book by James Jones, you find Fife bunking in a shelter tent next to Private Bead, and the two decide to, ahem, “help each other out” one rainy night. Not so much in the film.

And what about Justin McLeod in The Man Without A Face? In Isabelle Holland’s book, the disfigured lead character was definitely gay, but when it came to selling the book to Hollywood, and noted homophobe Mel Gibson, who would direct the film and play McLeod, the character was suddenly heterosexual.

And we cannot forget the character of Ruth Jamison in Fried Green Tomatoes. In Fannie Flagg's 1987 novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe there is a very clear intimate lesbian relationship between Ruth and her girlfriend Idgie but suddenly in the film Ruth is hung up on a boy.

Even Ben-Hur was supposed to be gay! When it came to writing the script for the chariot epic starring Charlton Heston, Gore Vidal made note of a romantic connection in Lew Wallace's 1880 manuscript between Ben and his friend Messala. But, according to a letter Vidal received from Heston, he and director William Wyler wanted the gay erased from the script. Heston would not be playing gay.

Paul Newman’s Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was alleged to be gay, grieving the suicide of his ‘friend’ Skipper’ but the film remains ambiguous; Newman’s Brick is just a drunk.

And what about Celie in The Color Purple? In the film, Celie and Shug steal a kiss, though Whoopi Goldberg, who played Celie, says the kiss was simply about “love and tenderness ... It has nothing to do with lesbianism. It has to do with, her eyes are opened, now she understands." Funny then, that Alice Walker's novel takes the relationship a lot further than a kiss.

See what I mean, though? The Gays have been straight-washed from films for years; made straight, or maybe just made lonely and desperate for affection so they might share a kiss or a hand job to stave off the isolation. But times have changed, right? There are all kinds of gay characters in films; hell, there are entire films made about The Gays, and it’s a good thing.

But then, please to explain this: an LGBT film, with real LGBT characters, based on real-life LGBT people, has been closeted for its DVD release in America.

The film is a British import, Pride, based on the true story of a group of English gay and lesbian activists who stood in solidarity with coal miners during a 1984 strike. But the artwork, and the synopsis, for the film have been straight-washed for the American public for some reason.

The original synopsis for release in the UK, says:
“PRIDE is inspired by an extraordinary true story. It’s the summer of 1984, Margaret Thatcher is in power and the National Union of Mineworkers is on strike, prompting a London-based group of gay and lesbian activists to raise money to support the strikers’ families. Initially rebuffed by the Union, the group identifies a tiny mining village in Wales and sets off to make their donation in person…”
But the synopsis on the US DVD box says: 
“PRIDE is inspired by an extraordinary true story. It’s the summer of 1984 and much of blue-collar Great Britain is on strike. For one tiny Welsh village, the strike brings unexpected visitors – a group of London-based activists who decide to raise money to support strikers’ families and want to make their donations in person.”
And what about the artwork? The UK version — at the top — clearly has a sign about LGBT support of the miners, but the US version — at the bottom — has the sign removed; erased. No gays.

A rep for CBS Films, which acquired US rights, said the company is looking into the situation — which reads as ‘Oops, we got caught and now we’ll back-pedal” — and makes note that their website for the film keeps the LGBT in it.

How is it that we’re in 2014, and a major film-distribution company wants to straight-wash the gay references from a film that is based on a true story about gay people? And don't think the irony of straight-washing a film called 'Pride' is lost on anyone.

We think we’ve come so far but we’re still being marginalized by some folks who wish, maybe, we didn’t exist; at least when it comes to making them some money.

We saw this film on Showtime recently and the film is very gay, and by that I mean, it is the story of a group of LGBT activist who stood up for, and with, the miners.

But you’d never have known that by the CBS Films description.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

That was an excellent movie. I saw it twice when it came out. Both for the story and because it took two viewings to be able to understand everything they were saying. Bloody accents!

John Gray said...

We moved into a tiny rural welsh village ten years ago
We knew no one
A real test for two gey men.....

I can honestly say that despite one homophobic reaction, we have been totally accepted by the our wedding a 96 year old resident brought us a card and present
My plan........? I had non except treat everyone as i would do my chips on gay shoulders

It worked

John Gray said...

Yes i can associated with the plot of PRIDE so well

Helen Lashbrook said...

We loved this film and were totally impressed by the miners and gay activists mutual support; that what we need to do against hate - stand together

Kirk said...

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" really makes no sense whatsoever if you read Brick as a straight male.