What is an Inaccurate Representation of Male Homosexuality?

After reading Brokeback Mountain, I was interested in how the book portrays male homosexuality. I’m interested in the portrayal of male homosexuality in the book and the film connected to some recent articles about The Golden Globes that took place this past Sunday night. 

When The Golden Globes nominations were announced, there was quite a bit of backlash against James Corden’s nomination for his role in the film The Prom. For those who haven’t seen The Prom, Corden plays a gay Broadway actor who goes to a small town with some other Broadway performers to help a high school girl go to prom with her girlfriend. The backlash surrounding Corden’s nomination had to do with the fact that he is a straight man playing a gay man and, therefore, many argued, played his gay character in an “‘offensive'” and “‘stereotypical'” way (Zac Ntim, Insider Magazine). 

I have several questions relating to this criticism. Yes, Corden does play his character in a flamboyant way that calls upon inaccurate stereotypes of gay men, and it probably would have been better if the part had been played by someone who identifies as gay. However, many people who are critical of Corden’s performance fail to mention that the director, Ryan Murphy, is a gay identifying man. It seems as though Murphy’s role as the director of Corden’s performance should place some of the criticism on Murphy or should make people think about what it really means to portray a gay man in a film. 

Looping back to Brokeback Mountain, we talked a bit in class about the connection between “masculinity” and how it relates to the images of cowboys. A cowboy in America is someone thought to be strong and weather-beaten. These are stereotypical characteristics linked to the idea of “masculinity.” Proulx does not portray Jack and Ennis as flamboyantly gay men. Instead, they appear to embody those stereotypical “masculine” traits that one might not associate with homosexuality. These same traits seem to be echoed in the bits of the film I’ve seen. 

The film was well-received when it first came out in 2005. I wonder if it was easier for audiences to swallow because Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal are straight men and because they didn’t act flamboyant like James Corden. I would think that even though these films are separated by many years now that people would have been just as upset that two straight men were playing two gay men. However, since the portrayals are so different, one considered more “masculine” than the other, maybe viewers didn’t see anything wrong with Ledger and Gyllenhaal’s performances because they don’t act “un-masculine.” 

As you can see, I don’t really have any answers to my questions, but I do think it’s essential to think about what should be considered the “correct” way to portray male homosexuality in books and films. It seems as though there should not be one right way, other than to have someone who identifies as whatever one is trying to portray, play that part.

4 thoughts on “What is an Inaccurate Representation of Male Homosexuality?”

  1. Hi!
    I really like how you connected the actors from Brokeback Mountain to actors today. The backlash against James Corden and his role as a gay character in the film “Prom” was definitely over dramatic, however, that seemed to be the goal for the film as a whole. Unfortunately by focusing on whether or not the actor is gay or not takes away from the message in the movie. While Corden is not gay he’s a big name that helped give attention to the movie. What adds to it is the fact that Corden is known for his “gay” mannerisms on his talk show and by the press. The whole debate as to who should be representing who in films has sparked a lot of controversy. An actor’s job is to act, but what is their job in terms of representation?

  2. I would like to open this comment by saying I truly, truly despise James Corden. There are so many things wrong with him that playing a pastiche of a gay character almost gets backburner’d , but I definitely disagree that Ryan Murphy passing an ok on it gives it a pass (I also dislike Ryan Murphy…)

    My reasoning behind this is simple: a director’s vision for a character and an actor’s internalized thoughts playing are different. Even if they overlap and approve the final performance, I feel like there’s often this touch of empathy that goes missing. I think Brokeback Mountain is great for this because two straight men convincingly pulled off a quiet depiction of male homosexuality (which in media is comparatively rare) without coming across as mockeries. There’s obviously no such thing as a correct depiction, but I do think there are depictions that are sensitive to nuance, and others that are stereotyping and playing into (primarily straight) audiences’ heads about what are ‘gay’.

  3. This is such an interesting question! To elaborate on your point I do think it is important to focus on the authors/directors of these two mediums. “The Prom” has a gay man directing straight actors, and the novella “Brokeback Mountain” has a (straight?? I don’t want to assume) female author creating gay, male characters. Furthermore, the movie “Brokeback mountain” casts two straight men and is directed by Ang Lee, who is also a straight man. Perhaps it is a difference in masculinity that makes “Brokeback Mountain” more acceptable… although I can’t quite put my finger of a definite answer.

  4. Yeah this is an interesting question that comes up a lot with straight people playing LGBT characters and/or able bodied people playing disabled characters. I can see why people have that reflex to say that these roles need to be filled by people who actually are LGBT or disabled, because it’s harder for those groups to get jobs in Hollywood. On the other hand, I don’t think it should matter who plays the character as long as the depiction itself is accurate. I tend to try to separate the actor from the character, because it seems counter-productive to say able-bodied people can’t take a role that could end up serving as a helpful depiction for people with that disability. A good example of this is Bryan Cranston in “The Upside,” which is a movie that actually pushes against harmful depictions of disability as something to be pitied, at least in my opinion.

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