Why I Hate Brokeback Mountain…

So this is a post that’s been sitting in the back of my mind for a long time (years and years) and since I’m making the attempt to get back into blogging regularly I figured I’d pull it out of the back of my mind and shove it onto the blog.

I hate Brokeback Mountain.

This has nothing to do with it being a queer movie. It has to do with the fact that the narrative around Brokeback Mountain has been one of love and railing against the unfairness of a heterosexual world. The tragedy of it all, the romance of it all.

The infidelity of it all.

My main issue around this is the fact that if you had two men of color, especially black men, engaging in a clandestine affair with one another to the ignorance of their wives? I doubt there is any way in hell it would be called a romantic movie at all. It would have been called a movie about folks on the down low. The commentary would have been dissected on Oprah and in the media as a betrayal of women, as the reason that HIV is so prominent in the African-American community and a whole host of things that men on the down low get accused of all the time.

But somehow in this instance it’s become this ultimate romantic movie with this horrible tragic ending. The characters of the wives are rarely brought up in discussion, when most people discuss the film the fact that the characters are married is barely touched upon in terms of betrayal. It’s discussed in terms of the way that they are trapped by an unfeeling society and expectations.

Perhaps as men on the down low are? Trapped by fear of rejection and ignorance of their existence not to mention a dollop of self-hatred. Yet somehow the cute white boys are a tragic love story while the millions of men who are involved in down low culture are vilified.

This isn’t a defense of being on the down low. I don’t agree with keeping relationships secret when they may effect other relationships whether that be physical or emotional. My issue is the way that the framing of this movie has happened.

As a love story I believe the movie fails. As a commentary on the different ways we view sexuality when it’s tied to race it says a whole lot.

If you want a good movie about being gay in America that deals with race and family expectations and is even directed by Ang Lee try The Wedding Banquet.

P.S. – I could also bring up the fact that I think that in the original short story two of the characters (including one of the main pair) are actually latino. Not so in the movie

P.P.S. – The Wild West has always had a very large queer undercurrent and this was not the wild west even it was 1970’s Montana where people were at the time living openly as gay couples. Yes, even in Montana.

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3 responses to “Why I Hate Brokeback Mountain…

  1. Naamen, old buddy, I think you’re a bit guilty of hating the movie for being something it’s not, rather than hating it for being something it is. Or, to put it another way, you’re critique is that it’s not telling the story that YOU want it to tell. I’m not sure how valid that is. It’s not Annie Proulx or Ang Lee’s job to address race in this particular story (and for the record, it’s making a bit of a leap to think that Ennis is Latino in the story–his last name is Del Mar, but there’s no other indication that he’s not white, which would probably mentioned if it were so), especially given that you yourself mention that Ang Lee does it another film of his. Not every story has to be about race.

    You do make a good point about the wives, although I think this is addressed at least a little bit in the Ennis narrative–he pretty clearly feels bad about Alma, and at one point says something along the lines of ‘this isn’t her fault.’

    I’m not saying you have to like the movie, and you’re entitled to your opinion that it doesn’t work as a love story (I respectfully disagree, but like I said, it’s your opinion). But I don’t like the idea that we should force someone’s work of art to be about the issue that we want to be. Hell, if you think there’s a missing narrative here, maybe it’s your job to write it. Responding to someone’s work with a creative work of your own that tells a different side of that story (the natural example being the Caribbean/feminist recasting of “Jane Eyre” in “Wide Sargasso Sea”) is one thing that artist’s do all the time.

    Miss you pal,

    Justin

    • Justin,

      I totally agree that I don’t have the right to tell a creative person what story that should be telling, no argument here BUT I think that by placing your creative work in the public sphere means I have a right to engage with it critically. It’s like having your work reviewed, the review may not be interrogating your work the way you want but the review is still a valid perspective on the work. That being said I’m not actually being that critical of the work itself in this post as much as the narrative that surrounds it. I’ll honestly admit that I do not like the film and that compared to a lot of other more independent works that had actually queer involvement in their production I find it lacking. I also don’t enjoy Annie Proulx’s writing that much. My main critique here though is the way that Brokeback Mountain gets held up as opposed to the content of the film itself.

      I’m annoyed that the discussion around Jake and Ennis never mirrors the conversation that would invariably happen if they were of color. My main issue is with the fact that Brokeback Mountain gets so much praise in comparison to films that tell similar stories and are ignored or vilified (and I think that a lot of that has to with the normative male position both Ennis and Jake occupy, neither is what one would call “feminine” or “non-masculine” in any way as well as other factors but that’s another post). And there’s also the fact in the end they both die which has been used in Hollywood for decades to deal with/make glbt character acceptable on film. Now I have no idea if that’s what Proulx was thinking when she wrote that end and I doubt it that’s probably just the ending that felt right to her but it still plays into a larger ongoing discussion of queers on film.

      Anyway I think it’s less that I want Ang Lee and Annie Proulx to make the movie I want and more that I’m looking at the elements that made Brokeback Mountain a stunning success and the ways the conversation around the movie interacts with our dominant ideas of the men of color and queerness.

      Miss you to man – hope NYC is treating you okay,
      Naamen

  2. I think white artists are not aware enough that releasing art into the public is political. Whether it’s white professionals in the film industry saying “relax, it’s just a movie” or a white writer saying “relax, it’s just a novel,” white artists think their words can somehow divorce them from social responsibility. As if telling us it means nothing just makes it mean nothing. They move on to more movies and minorities are left with the aftermath of newly formed and reinforced stereotypes.

    More particularly, and maybe it’s my limited experience, but what gay man can be raped into love and owning his feelings? The love on Jake’s character’s part is extremely aggressive and there is something about male aggression linked to romance (Twilight) that captivates our culture. There are statements to be made, and aesthetics to be appreciated, but the work of arts don’t exhibit the awareness to explore or critique the phenomenon. the aesthetic is accepted as acceptable, just another romantic trope for writers to draw on.

    When there are so few depictions of gay love in the mainstream, filmmakers have the “right” to tell their stories, but they must take responsibility for their social irresponsibility. They make this stuff with the intention to say something to people; they must take responsibility for EVERYTHING” they say, intentional or not because they are professionals. But instead, they pull out a dysfunctional narrative (thanks Charles Baxter for the term) and deflect responsibility.

    The writers had Chuck from Gossip Girl nearly rape Blair and were confused why people were upset. They defended it, saying he was going through things and will continue making Chuck and Blair the destined lovers. And the people in authority positions are arrogant and entitled. They don’t exercise the sound judgment to consider the opinions of the minorities they represent.

    White culture hails Invisible Man as the novel of the black experience because it most conveys to them an emotion which is self-centered. And when the gay community spoke up about how inaccurate the film portrayed gay sex (represeed or not) the industry had excuses. It’s the gay film for straight people, and straight people view it as a gay love story, even if the gay community doesn’t really claim it. But who cares? Straight people will claim it for them.

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