On Hollywood’s (Not-Always) Subtle Homophobia

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The excellent Hollywood biopic, Milk, has unwittingly exposed a subtle form of homophobia–“a post-ironic, post-homophobic homophobia,” as the Washington Post puts it–that remains a fixture of the Hollywood media circuit. Today the Post has compiled a disturbing account of interviews given by male actors who play gay men in the movies, and who are invariably asked by journalists and talk show hosts what it was like to kiss another man (with the obvious subtext: wasn’t it kind of nasty?).

Exhibit A is a conversation between David Letterman and Milk’s James Franco, in which Letterman asks him what he was thinking going into a minute-long kissing scene with Penn:

“I didn’t want to screw it up,” Franco told Letterman.
“See, if it’s me, I kind of hope I do screw it up,” Letterman shot back. “That’s what you want, isn’t it?”
“To screw it up?” Franco asked.
“I mean, do you really want to be good at kissing a guy?” Letterman said as his audience howled with delight.

Even worse was an interview Chris Potter, an actor in Showtime’s Queer as Folk gave to MSNBC: “Soon as they say ‘cut,’ you spit,” he sneered. “You want to go to a strip bar or touch the makeup girls. You feel dirty. It’s a tough job.”

The Post makes the obvious point that female actors who kiss each other always shrug, if they’re even asked about the experience. Personally, I’ve been thinking about the days of Shakespeare, when there were no female actors, and England was ruled by a queen. How did those men approach the job? In some ways, it must have been more normal.

At any rate, this latest Milk froth underscores how there’s still work to be done, even in supposedly gay-friendly quarters. If it has got you angry, consider skipping work today. This morning was the official start of the awesomely-named “Day Without a Gay,” in which gay folk are encouraged to call in sick and spend the day volunteering and organizing “to show our continued commitment to fighting for our rights.”

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

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In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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