Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I Love You Phillip Morris: Cisgender White Male Images Dominate Media On LGBTQI Issues

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Philip Morris is a movie about a con man that discovers that he is gay (Jim Carrey) and falls in love with his cell mate (Ewan McGregor).  It played to great reviews at Sundance but is now having issues finding a buyer.  “According to producer Andrew Lazar, it is no longer on the market and the production company plans to announce a theatrical deal "very soon." But during the festival, the filmmakers said they intended to continue editing the film -- turning its premiere into a de facto work-in-progress screening -- so it remains unclear how the newer version will play.”

Whether distributors will admit it or not, movies that have a gay or lesbian relationship at the centerpiece of the plot have a harder time not only receiving recognition but making it through production.  Part of the purpose of media is to reaffirm dominate ideas and therefore the images that are most often reproduced are reflective of our heterosexist society.

Within the struggle of attempting to attain legitimacy for movies that have gay and lesbian characters what we see repeated continually is the discourse of just like you.  The GLBT community has much invested in gaining acceptance by making the world understand that any difference is socially constructed however, the problem arises in that the you referred to in the statement just like you is straight, white, affluent, able bodied, cisgendered  and most often male. 

When we look at movies like I Love You Phillip Morris, Brokeback Mountain, Love Valour and Compassion, Kiss Me Guido, Home At The End Of The World, It’s My Party, Aimee & Jaguar, As Good as It Gets, Ben Hur, and Milk, the common theme is whiteness and affluence, thus creating bodies of colour as invisible.  Even in movies where POC  are represented like Angels in America, The Birdcage, and Philadelphia, they are either presented as homophobic haters or caricatures  of what it is assumed POC behave like.  Consider the ridiculous gay maid in The Birdcage and what it says about a Latino identity.  Even television shows like Ellen, Queer as Folk, Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, The L Word, and Will & Grace still predominately present a gay and lesbian identity as white and affluent.  Regardless of which media outlet that you turn to what is clear is that a careful image has been crafted to present a unified identity.

Whose stories get told are very much reflective of the fact that we have socially privileged certain bodies in our society.  It is understood that if  same gender love is presented as white, it will be easier to garner more sympathy because whiteness controls all of the agents of socialization.   Gains for the white members of the GLBT community do not necessarily translate to gains for POC that identify as same gender loving.  Marriage has been the big organizing push of the white run gay community and yet POC have identified HIV/AIDS, followed by hate crime and violence as their primary concerns.

Even the persistence in reclaiming the word Queer and fag speak to a level of disrespect of the feelings of POC.  Many black gays and lesbians prefer to be addressed as same gender loving.  While I cannot speak with full authority about a community with which my only connection is race, their erasure from  conversations in  gay and lesbian circles is certainly based on racial grounds. Despite the fact that the world is still filled with homophobia what white gays and lesbians continually fail to own is that they still function with white privilege.  Their whiteness allows them to control conversation, decide organizing issues, and choose who and what represents them. 

There are many POC who have made outstanding contributions to gay organizing and yet their efforts have been whitewashed in an attempt to display the suffering and the bravery of the gay white male.  When are we going to see a movie about Sylvia Rivera, Audre Lorde, Bayard Rustin, Lorraine Hansbury, or James Baldwin?  Why are their contributions deemed less worthy? 

I have repeatedly said that part of the disconnection by heterosexual black community stems from an inability to see themselves reflected.  Rather than appropriating images of our history, seeking to highlight the ways in which POC have contributed to the struggle for gay rights and are impacted by homophobia could be a key element in increasing support.  I see homophobia as an evil that must be eradicated because I believe in the equal humanity for all however, I am fully cognizant of the fact that not everyone can make connections when all they see is the reproduction of dominate ideology that has served to historically create them as other.  The celebration of gay culture, lives and history should be an ongoing effort, but it is incomplete if it does not include all people.


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