I was looking in the Radio Times earlier, and I noticed that Brokeback Mountain is being shown on Channel 4. This is film that annoys me. In fact, it isn’t the film that annoys me, it is the way it has been received. It is labelled as a “gay cowboy film” when is it nothing of the sort. Just to clarify, I really liked the film, I thought it dealt with some really important issues, however, these issues had very little to do with homosexuality. The film, for those who haven’t seen it, is about two cowboys who work on an isolated mountain looking after the sheep during the winter. Set in the 1960s, it is a story of how the two fall in love. Now on the surface it is about a “gay” relationship, but when one thinks about it, the fact that they are two men is inconsequential. The story is about forbidden love, about how love knows no boundaries. The “boundary” the story chooses to explore is one of gender. However, the characters in the film were not gay (although Jake Gyllenhaal’s character may have been). They were just two men who fell in love.
The reason the reactions to this film annoy me is because this film is one of the few films of our time that actually deal with a minority well. What could have been a story about love, has been labelled a story about homosexuality, meaning it is treated as a “gay film”. Film and television are terrible at handling minority populations. There are only really two ways they have minority characters.
The first method is the use of “token” characters. They place a character in a film/show in order to demonstrate how tolerant and politicly correct they are. These characters are often extremely stereotyped and serve only to reinforce these stereotypes in people’s minds while contributing little to the story.
The second method is to have a character who does belong to a minority, and then focus on this fact whenever they appear on screen. Again, these characters are almost always stiffly stereotyped meaning these characters are often false and impossible to identify with. This is often taken a step further when the whole film or series is based on a minority group. These shows/films will often only show the worst parts of a community or focus on the differences between that community and the audience’s rather than the similarities.
What we need, and what perhaps Brokeback Mountain did, are minority characters who appear with no fanfare, or special mention, but merely as people. We need to see black people, Muslim people, gay people, without the label attached. We need to see them as people. What I want to see, is a film that has minorities in, but does not dwell on this fact, and does not place minority characters in just for the sake of it.
For an entry on another the latest (and last) Heath Ledger movie ‘The Dark Knight’, check out this post.