'Brokeback Mountain': It's the Subjects, Not the Story

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Brokeback Mountain has been in theatres for weeks and is still a hot topic in the media. Commentator Betty Baye says that the story isn't as important as its subjects — something black Americans should be familiar with.

ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon. Next time on News & Notes, Congresswoman Barbara Lee is on a mission to end poverty. And she says her colleagues better jump on board. She'll tell us why America must look after her poor. That's next time on News & Notes from NPR News.

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GORDON: The latest issue of Time Magazine features an article on the film Brokeback Mountain." With this kind of mainstream attention, some are wondering, have gay Americans finally reached a point of acceptance on the big screen? Here's commentator Betty Baye.

Ms. BETTY BAYE (Commentator): There are lots of black folks in the movies and on television today. But I'm old enough to remember the days when, if the T.V. Guide bought news that some black person was going to appear on, say, on The Ed Sullivan Show, every Negro with a television set tuned in. And every Negro without a T.V. found someplace to be that had one. When Sammy Davis, Jr., Lola Falana, Nipsey Russell or Bill Cosby showed up on the Johnny Carson show, Negros stayed up late to watch.

Such appearances were seen as signs of racial progress and that T.V. producers and advertisers had discovered that black audiences were worth cultivating. Surveys did show, after all, that black people tended to be fiercely brand loyal to advertisers who paid them some attention.

And today, I'm wondering whether or not the movie Brokeback Mountain might be evoking similar feelings among gay Americans that they've arrived. Though it cannot honestly be argued that gays have been absent from Hollywood, I dare say that if gays had taken a leave of absence, that Hollywood might have died in the birthing process. Gays weren't absent, but they sure were hidden and not until years later did the world learn that many of Hollywood's and early television's leading men were as gay as Paris.

But that fact was carefully hidden to protect careers, advertisers and also to protect the fantasies of millions of female fans, that Rock Hudson, for example, really was the macho man of their dreams. As for Brokeback Mountain, I didn't make it to its opening night here in Louisville. But friends say there were long lines at The Baxter. That's the favorite movie house locally for the mature audiences.

And those long lines at The Baxter I'm told were filled with many joyful, openly gay couples being openly affectionate, hugging and kissing I'm told. When I went to see Brokeback Mountain Monday, the crowd was more subdued. But the theater was still unusually full for a weeknight.

I enjoyed the movie, but I must confess that I left The Baxter wondering if not for the twist of the two main characters being gay cowboys, would Brokeback Mountain be stirring up such a fuss? Would the movie be being talked about as if it's the best thing since sliced bread and undoubtedly a shoo-in for Oscars? I mean, I guess what troubles me in this case is the deliberate hype, perpetrated by the spin machines to strongly suggest that Brokeback Mountain contains lots of hot sex scenes between two men.

And if I was gay, and I'm not, I wouldn't necessarily think of Brokeback Mountain as the great breakthrough movie that many suggest it is. It's a fine movie. It's better than average, in fact. But I believe that gay people will really know that they've arrived when their special relationships aren't treated as oddities for which movie audiences have to be conned into seeing by promises of soft porn. Sex isn't what Brokeback Mountain is about.

GORDON: Betty Baye is a columnist for the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky. This is NPR News.

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