Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Taking Out The Gay

A few months ago on cable television I saw Moneyball, the movie starring Brad Pitt about a baseball manager's quest to use facts and statistics, instead of instincts and reputation, to build a team. At the time I knew the movie was based on real events and I thought what a wonderful film, a great story and aren't Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill amazing.

It wasn't until after the movie was over and I was thinking about the main character and didn't I know that name from somewhere?  Billy Beane, Billy Beane; where had I heard that name before? And then I Googled it to be sure: He, famously, was one of the first professional athletes to come out as gay after he retired. Nothing of that is alluded to in the movie. In the film he's a single dad with a daughter on good terms with her mother.

The same is true of Robin William's character in Awakenings; the movie about a neurologist's experience with mentally ill patients experiencing moments of lucidity. The movie is based on Oliver Sack's book by the same name and chronicles his experience as a ground-breaking neurologist. While he writes candidly about his experience with love as a gay man in his new autobiography, in the movie he has no sexuality, straight or gay.

It strikes me as strange that nothing in the press, not even in the gay press, is mentioned about the neutered film portrayals of these unambiguously, famously gay men. This is strange considering the hue and cry that went up with Ron Howard's production of A Beautiful Mind starring Russell Crowe that reduced John Nash's bisexuality down to a passing glance.

The life of the 20th century's most famous bisexual, Howard Hughes, was similarly straightened in Marin Scorsese's The Aviator starring Leonardo DiCaprio, showing only one brief interaction with some effete men.

Awakenings and Moneyball both focus tightly on the main plot of the film, how the hero is trying to affect change, to improve the lives of his patients or the performance of his baseball team. And that would be fine except I can't think of one heterosexual character that was treated the same way.

Most biographical films include a wife or girlfriend or girlfriends to add a third dimension to the main character, to establish legitimacy and create empathy; she or he is interesting and good because these other people outside their work find them interesting and good. But in the case of Billy Beane, Oliver Sacks, and many other gay men and women, empathy and legitimacy are established by taking out their emotional life altogether and reducing their lives to two dimensions.

This not only is a disservice to these amazing people but robs gay people, and indeed all people, examples of smart, strong, driven, successful gay men and women who have made lasting contributions to our lives.

Read BrainPickings excellent review of Oliver Sack's On The Move here:

Saturday, May 02, 2015