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Challenging Sexuality in Movies “Brokeback Mountain” by Ang Lee and “Boys Don’t Cry” by Kimberly Peirce Research Paper


Introduction

The two movies “Brokeback Mountain” and “Boys Don’t Cry” essentially reveal the nature of intolerance and hatred that still pervades rural America today. Audiences sympathized with the main characters in the stories because they were victimized for their sexual choices.

Brandon in “Boys Don’t Cry” and Jack and Ennis of “Brokeback mountain” are all people living double lives. They reside in conservative societies, and have to disguise their sexual preferences in order to fit in. By exposing the struggles, elations, mistreatment, and death of these individuals, the movies have challenged conventional notions of sexuality.

How sexuality is challenged

Falls City – a Midwestern, all white rural community – is the setting for the movie “Boys don’t cry”. Berardinelli (3) believes that “people who live in such environments know very little about the gay community”; hence their “tendency to become homophobic”. The main character in the movie –Brandon Teena- makes a lot of friends in the community. She charms her way around, and spends a lot of her time with two particular individuals – Lotter and Nissen.

This is the reason why it becomes quite horrifying when these friends turn against Brandon and kill her. The audience now thinks of the main character as a betrayed and misunderstood person. “Boys don’t cry” succeeds in portraying the other side of sexuality by focusing on a very complex individual. Brandon Teena is at first uncertain about the hostility that she might receive from the people of Falls City.

This is the reason why she chooses to hide her biological characteristics through various tactics. Thereafter, she feels left out and alone. As the movie comes to an end, one then identifies with her horror and anguish when her friends rape her. It is her untimely death that stirs up the highest level of emotions among audiences. By the end of the movie, one views Brandon Teena as a holistic and real human being who happened to live in a place where very few people understood her.

This motion picture did not sensationalize or exploit all the deep issues at play; it focused on telling the story of the main characters as accurately and as flawlessly as possible. The scriptwriter did not give any psychological explanations about Brandon’s ‘deviance’ (as some would like to perceive her).

Similarly, “Brokeback Mountain” also portrays fully developed and well rounded characters through Jack and Ennis. Viewers are expected to understand them as they are, rather than try to figure them out through the scriptwriter’s forced interpretations (Ramos et. al 59). These two motion pictures illustrate the multi-layered components of being gay in American rural communities. None of the individuals has been mythologized either; everyone has flaws in sexual relationships as well as in other social interactions.

All too often, American indie movie makers have moved too close to the conventional. Most of them emerge as lectures and are often used as propagandistic tools. “Brokeback Mountain” and “Boys Don’t Cry” do not fall prey to this trap as they are not intercepted by the author’s personal opinions. In this motion picture, the love story of two gay men is presented to the rest of the world, and by the end of the story, one feels the pain associated with the heartbreak that Ennis and Jack encountered.

The universality of their emotions and their ups and downs even causes one to associate the movie with popular love stories like the “Titanic”. In most gay-themed creations, authors normally have a tendency to talk about the gay rights movement; this does not occur in “Brokeback Mountain”.

Jack and Ennis are two seemingly normal men who fell in love with each other. The two individuals want to be together but are prevented from doing so by the fear of estrangement from their community. When Jack suggests to Ennis that they can start living together at a ranch nearby, Ennis vehemently refuses. He is afraid of the intolerance in his neighborhood and also worries about his family.

The two men cannot be together even after Ennis divorces his wife because he is attached to his children. Eventually, one gets the idea that they are meant to be together but cannot be owing to their circumstances. Their less-than-perfect relationship makes it quite believable (Ramos et. al 45). In fact, these predicaments are quite common in heterosexual relationships as well thus explaining why the movie resonated with both people from all walks of life.

Viewers are able to know about sociological components through Brandon Teena and through others’ reactions to her. Matters such as sexual identity and the sociological versus biological roles involved in it are highlighted in this main character’s life choices.

The importance of role playing in modern life has also been emphasized through this movie because not only does Brandon walk, talk and look like a man, she also develops feelings for members of the opposite sex. Gorton (14) illustrates that “audiences can identify with this character because they get to see just how difficult it is to live and behave like a man when one is biologically a woman”.

Brandon had to tie up her breasts and dress up in masculine attire in order to convince her friends and lovers that she was male. Members of the audience are likely to be confused at some point in the movie because everything about Brandon- her voice, her gestures, and movement-are highly convincing. Role playing for people with alternative sexual persuasion is a common concept and it can be easily understood as their only way out of the “entrapment they feel” (Gorton 13).

The fluidity with which she handles these tensions depicts just how difficult it is to live that kind of life in Midwestern communities. Role playing is not just limited to the boy who is trapped in a woman’s body; it also takes place in “Brokeback Mountain”. While Ennis and Jack did not have to cover up their biological characteristics in order to match their psychological inclinations, they still had to disguise their attraction to one another away from the public.

Role playing was therefore a way of dealing with “the resentment that the public or their family may have had towards their union” (Lee 32). They had to go for fictitious fishing trips in order to spend time with one another. None of their spouses found out about the extra marital affair directly from the two, so this was something that had to be closeted. Jack and Ennis played the role of husbands, but “what they really wanted to do was to live together” (Lee 34).

The two motion pictures represent a step in the right direction; homosexuality had been a rarity in Hollywood creations for a long time. A historical analysis of gay representations in film reveals very humble beginnings. At first, being gay was something that solicited a certain level of amusement.

None of the characters in the 1930s movies were out rightly gay; some of them had masculine and feminine characteristics. Audiences never thought much about this depiction because it did not challenge conventional knowledge of sexuality. In the early to mid twentieth century, most Hollywood pictures refrained from the subject of homosexuality because civil society and religious movements had accused the industry of perpetuating immorality amongst the masses.

Later on, that is, in the 1960s and 70s, homosexuality elicited disdain, pity and even mockery in films. People who lived that lifestyle were to be feared rather than respected. Most of them were portrayed as dangerous psychopaths, who would commit heinous crimes. In essence the movies were demonizing gays secretly. Ramos et. al (40) affirm that Hollywood’s “pedagogy is frequently invisible and unconscious”. It did not occur to scriptwriters that they were real people who were incredibly dynamic.

These depictions were quite inaccurate, but they created images which stuck in viewers’ minds. Movies became one of the few platforms for introducing gay people to the rest of the world. Hollywood dictated “how people came to understand and think about homosexuals” (Packard 12) As Ramos et. al (40) explain “individuals are often not aware that they are being educated and constructed by media culture”. In the 1990s, depictions of gay characters became common; even though most of them appeared to be one dimensional.

For instance in the movie “My Best Friend’s Wedding”, a gay character known as George is depicted as “a very flamboyant individual who laughs very loudly and likes to listen to feminine songs” (Shapiro & Sampiller 11). One does not really get to identify with George because he seems to be this “weird and bemused person” (Shapiro & Sampiller 11).

Gay representation in movies was still marginal for many film makers in the 2000s because of a myriad of reasons. Directors, creators and the like needed to think about how advertisers, audiences and investors would react to their productions. Since there were so many people involved in the industry, many producers tended to shy away from the topic altogether.

They feared offending these important stakeholders and thus perpetuated homophobia in a way. “Brokeback Mountain” and “Boys Don’t cry represent a different direction in film because they directly confront homophobia. Avoidance of the topic does not in any way cause the matter to fade away, but confrontation of homophobia causes people to understand the root cause behind the phenomenon. The two films deal with homophobia in new and refreshing ways.

The main characters are not just defined as victims; they are “real citizens with real aspirations, dreams and motivations” (Chesire 10). The fatal flaws in other people’s characters such as Lotter and Nissen in “Boys Don’t cry” show that most individuals fail to understand groups with alternative sexual orientations and this pushes them to commit horrendous crimes. Likewise, Ennis and Jack wanted to be together but the homophobic reactions that would come out of their union prevented them from realizing this aspiration.

These movies therefore get audiences to really think about their underlying values. The films were revealing the homosexual lifestyle to the world and thus “desensitized audiences towards the same” (Cheshire 14). No overstatement of homophobia has been brought out in “Brokeback Mountain”, but the daily disdain for gays in rural America is still quite prevalent in the movie. Ennis and Jack are ashamed of their actions; others sneer at them and criticize their union indirectly.

The movie is a powerful argument against homophobia because the family members around Ennis and Jack would have been a much happier lot if the two had chosen to stay together from the start. They were pushed into heterosexual unions that left them unfulfilled.

“Boys Don’t Cry” reveals a character who is persecuted for her sexual choices. She is raped, tortured and killed for that sole reason. Her attackers are detached from the crime and appear to be supported by other members of Falls City (including the Sherriff). In “Brokeback Mountain”, the main characters fail to reach their full potential because they cannot be together.

They lose everything they once had because of this component. Indeed, a series of other films have also focused on “gays as the persecuted minority” (Ante 45). One such example is “Happy Endings”, which is a movie about a young man who remains tortured until he finally finds true love. Most gays do not live happy and fulfilled lives as their label would suggest. A number of them must stay closeted or risk alienation. Ante (5) explains that “their lives are characterized by various struggles that never really get resolved”.

“Brokeback Mountain” challenges stereotypes of homosexual by portraying characters that are nothing like the flamboyant and effeminate ones portrayed in sitcoms and other movies. As such, straight viewers get to understand that gay men are not all the same. The two men meet as cowboys in the fields when herding sheep.

They work hard and hold distinct masculine views about their lives. They love music and beer; which, causes them to engage in occasional fights. Ennis and Jack also use curse words from time to time. Furthermore, the two lovers live in the countryside. These traits challenge stereotypes because they shift attention away from what other movies have sold to the public concerning homosexuals.

Most Hollywood audiences have bought into those stereotypical ideas because “gay—themed motion pictures have been urban centered” (Byer & Shainberg 97). “Brokeback Mountain” changed this setting to a rural one and therefore created a differed perception of the same. In fact, the reason why the movie resonates with so many Americans is that the producers used “‘the cowboy’ as their main characters’ template” (Byer & Shainberg 97).

In this country, ‘the cowboy’ has always been a standard depiction of masculinity and rough individualism. This is a person who is independent and confident and also feeds the nation through his toil. By linking homosexuality to these strong masculine images, heterosexual communities can then realize that not all gay men are loud and obnoxious or effeminate.

Conclusion

“Boys Don’t Cry” and “Brokeback Mountain” both portray complex and well rounded characters that anyone can identify with. The often need to engage in role playing in order to camouflage and gain acceptance, but this keeps them from true happiness. In essence the movies have managed to reveal a substantial portion of the homosexual lifestyle to the public.

They have also depicted gays as persecuted individuals who suffer as a result of their sexual choices. Generally, the movies create a refreshing view of homosexuality because they challenge stereotypes and reveal the pain of living in ignorant and homophobic communities.

Works Cited

Ante, Richard. Gay men and the forms of contemporary US culture. London: Ashgate publishing, 2008. Print.

Berardinelli, James. A film review of Boys Don’t cry. Reel views. 1999. Web.

Byer, Calvin. & Shainberg, Lisa. Dimensions of human sexuality. NY: Brown and Benchmark, 1994. Print.

Cheshire, Godfrey. “Somewhere over the rainbow.” The Independent Weekly, 4 Jan. 2006

Ramos, Chris, Mayeda, David & Lisa Pasko. Celluloid dreams: how film shapes America. NY: Kendall Hunt publishing, 2010. Print.

Gorton, Don. “The Hate Crime.” Gay and lesbian review worldwide 13.3(2006), 13-14. Print

Lee, Ryan. “Probing the Brokeback Syndrome.” Southern Voice 13 Jan. 2006. Print.

Packard, Chris. Queer Cowboys: And other erotic male friendships in the nineteenth century American Literature. NY: Palgrave, 2006. Print.

Shapiro, Adam & Sampiller, Natalie. Homosexuality in movies. 2004. Web.

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"Challenging Sexuality in Movies “Brokeback Mountain” by Ang Lee and “Boys Don’t Cry” by Kimberly Peirce." IvyPanda, 28 Nov. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/challenging-sexuality/.

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IvyPanda. "Challenging Sexuality in Movies “Brokeback Mountain” by Ang Lee and “Boys Don’t Cry” by Kimberly Peirce." November 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/challenging-sexuality/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Challenging Sexuality in Movies “Brokeback Mountain” by Ang Lee and “Boys Don’t Cry” by Kimberly Peirce." November 28, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/challenging-sexuality/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Challenging Sexuality in Movies “Brokeback Mountain” by Ang Lee and “Boys Don’t Cry” by Kimberly Peirce'. 28 November.

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