"Silence = Death" was a particularly genius political slogan for AIDS activists in the 1980s. Potently succinct, righteously angry, and, best of all, both literally and spiritually true. The conversations it prompted about systemic gay oppression, political complacency, the importance of frank sexual discussion, and gay liberation -- particularly in regards to the fight against HIV and AIDS -- surely saved countless lives. But isn't it a curious thing that HIV/AIDS in the arts and entertainments still remains so tied to gay-only narratives of roughly a ten year window from the early 80s through the early 90s? Time to tell new stories from fresh perspectives?
Enter DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, one of the first AIDS dramas (that I can recall at least) that is not about the gay community. Matthew McConaughey stars as Ron Woodroff, a hard-living homophobe electrician. When we first meet him he's having a drug-fueled three way with two women behind the scenes at the rodeo. While we're watching him getting it on, he's watching a man getting gored at the rodeo. This opening sequence arguably shoves the entirely less useful 'Sex = Death' argument in your face, but the film quickly finds its footing as an involving drama about a man who doesn't know what's knocked him out and also is too damn stubborn to stay down.
MORE AFTER THE JUMP...
Woodroff's health rapidly deteriorates (McConaughey famously lost 40ish lbs for the role) and at a disorienting visit to the local hospital, he's informed by two doctors (Denis O'Hare and Jennifer Garner, playing unfortunately broad characters - let's call them "Bought & Paid For" and "Compassionate Soul") that he has the HIV virus. He reacts with angry homophobic slurs and informs the doctors that they're wrong. But one of the smartest details in McConaughey's emotionally detailed performance (he doesn't coast on the physical transformation) is that this feels less like true denial than a hostile attempt at saving face; deep down, you can see the horror of recognition since he knows it's true.
Once Woodroff has accepted the diagnosis the film shifts into something like a medical mystery / con-man drama as Woodroff partners up with a local transgendered woman Rayon (Jared Leto, also terrific) to form a "Buyers Clubs". Buyers Clubs were a little discussed but fascinating substory from AIDS history in which affected regional communities would sometimes form organizations to treat their diseases creatively without waiting on the FDA to release drugs trapped in the lengthy testing/approval processes. Loophole: You can't sell illegal possibly deadly / possibly life-saving drugs, but you can sell memberships to private clubs. And then your club members get "free" drugs. At first the medical establishment looks the other way but soon Big Pharma, with millions riding on the success of AZT, begins to target the Buyers Clubs and views Woodroff as a major thorn in their side if not quite a true threat.
The French-Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée, best known previously for the slightly dull royalty drama The Young Victoria (2009) and a very feisty Canadian hit called C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005) about the gay son of a conservative family, lands somewhere in the middle with this new film in terms of its energy. He wisely steps back without a lot of visual fuss, often into medium shots, to let you see the astonishing physical commitment of the actors.
Both stars run with the opportunity, or strut with it in this particular case. Woodroff and Rayon are vain peacocks, albeit of different gender identities and sexual preferences. As the cowboy and the queer perform their separate ideas of Texas masculinity and self-identified femininity (Gender Studies majors, take notes!) they often bristle as they pass each other on their personal runways. McConaughey and Leto sell this tetchy friendship and messy business partnership with everything they've got from their rail thin bodies to their gaunt emotive faces. The film makes an interesting counterpart to Philadelphia (now 20 years old) in that though it again pairs a homophobic straight man with an out AIDS victim, it doesn't congratulate the homophobe for becoming "tolerant". This time it sits back impatiently waiting for him to stop being such an asshole!
That's progress, people.
Still, to both actors' credit, Woodroff and Rayon are never entirely reformed people. They are who they are, self-destructive and self-righteous, proud and loud. Their edges aren't smoothed over for simplistic hug it out uplift even when they're, uh, hugging it out. I'm sure there will be many people who are more well versed in AIDS treatments or history that may bristle at some elements of the movie or omissions from the plot, particularly in regards to its hospital sequences. I'll admit I was confused by the characterization of AZT as something of the film's boogeyman since most AIDS dramas I've seen treat it like a godsend. But in the end I accepted it under the broad umbrella of 'nobody knew what the hell was going to kill people or make them better and everyone was scared shitless').
In the end the medical procedural recedes anyway, leaving only the human drama. What emerges is not a boilerplate 'triumph of the human spirit!' biopic but a clear-eyed glimpse at defiance in the face of indifference, ostracization and death. I loved the arc that the film manages, transforming one of Woodroff's most unlikeable scenes (the diagnosis) into something you have to look back on with admiration. The same misdirected pride that had him lashing out like an ignorant bigot, is also fueling his outspoken fight for life. He won't be going quietly.
Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.
President Obama published in the Huffington Post this evening, urging Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
...millions of LGBT Americans go to work every day fearing that, without any warning, they could lose their jobs -- not because of anything they've done, but simply because of who they are.
It's offensive. It's wrong. And it needs to stop, because in the United States of America, who you are and who you love should never be a fireable offense.
That's why Congress needs to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, also known as ENDA, which would provide strong federal protections against discrimination, making it explicitly illegal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This bill has strong bipartisan support and the support of a vast majority of Americans. It ought to be the law of the land.
Americans ought to be judged by one thing only in their workplaces: their ability to get their jobs done. Does it make a difference if the firefighter who rescues you is gay -- or the accountant who does your taxes, or the mechanic who fixes your car? If someone works hard every day, does everything he or she is asked, is responsible and trustworthy and a good colleague, that's all that should matter.
ENDA is set for a cloture vote by the full Senate late in the afternoon on Monday (Faiz Shakir, a Reid spokesperson, estimated the cloture vote on ENDA will take place around 5:45) and a final vote would be likely on Wednesday.
All Senate Democrats and four Republicans have signaled support for the measure. Reid expressed confidence last week that the votes are there.
Back in September, we reported on John Banvard, a 95-year-old World War II veteran who recently married his partner, 67-year-old Gerard Nadeau, a Vietnam veteran at the Chula Vista Veteran's Home in California.
On Friday, ABC News's 'Second Tour' digital series, which profiles the lives of military veterans, did a feature on the couple's historic wedding. It was the first ever same-sex wedding ceremony for the veteran's home facility.
Watch (warning: autoplay), AFTER THE JUMP...
In a recent interview with VladTV, New York rapper R.A. the Rugged Man's answer to the question of whether or not he's a Macklemore fan quickly grew into a mild diatribe about the wider issue he has with some rappers pushing a 'gay agenda' in Hip Hop culture. HipHopDX reports:
R.A. likened the discussion of homosexual issues to a political ploy. "Politicians use the black community for votes; they use the Hispanic community for votes; they use the homosexual community for votes; they use women for votes; they use everybody they possibly could for votes. In politics, that's what they do, and Hip Hop is politics too."
"Macklemore, he can be sincere (in his song 'Same Love') with what he's saying about...'Oh, if I was gay, I would think Hip Hop hates me,' but what's really going on is that they're using that popular, political agenda to move their careers forward," said R.A. "And they might be offended by me saying that, and it's no disrespect to Macklemore, but that's just how I feel."
R.A. went on to discuss Frank Ocean, who publicly came out last year. R.A. doesn't buy that it was a heroic or brave move, merely a marketing strategy:
"And it's the same thing with [Frank] Ocean. 'Oh, I'm gay.' Okay, you came out of the closet, but it's a week before your album drops. [Frank] Ocean, it's a political campaign that's promoted from Def Jam..."
"If Frank Ocean wanted to come out two years before his album dropped, eight months after his album dropped....the timing was strategically placed...because a big percentage of the entertainment industry and media is run by [the] homosexual community," said Rugged Man. "Which I'm not saying there's nothing wrong with that, but these people, they're smart."
Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...
Responding to a picture posted on Miley Cyrus's Twitter account showing the 20-year-old pop star celebrating the Halloween spirit with a prop skeleton, right wing radio host Rick Wiles lamented Miley's transformation into the "poster child" for the "Synagogue of Satan."
"Any wonder whom she serves as her soul's master? Sadly, I think Miley is merely the latest young talented person to make the deal with Lucifer. I am thoroughly convinced many pop culture music and movie stars sold their souls to Satan in return for fame and money."
Right Wing Watch reports that Wiles was later joined by pastor Joe Schimmel in an analysis of the singer's VMA performance in August, with Schimmel asserting, "she's basically, at least symbolically, showing how to have sex with some Satanic figure."
Listen to both snippets (and check out Miley's "satanic" photo) AFTER THE JUMP...
New York hedge-fund billionaire Republicans Paul Singer, a major Romney supporter in 2012, and Daniel Loeb are funding a new Human Rights Campaign initiative to further LGBT rights internationally, reports NYT columnist Frank Bruni, who spoke with Singer at his offices in midtown Manhattan.
In this case, he was announcing a new project to be funded, at least at the outset, by him and other conservative donors but to be run by the Human Rights Campaign, an L.G.B.T. advocacy group in Washington, which is much more closely affiliated with Democrats. The initiative will be dedicated to fighting the victimization of gays and lesbians internationally. But it will also show that there are Republicans — not a majority, but an increasingly impassioned minority — who are intent on progress and justice for L.G.B.T. people. They won’t surrender that cause to Democrats, and they believe that Republicans who do so are resisting a future that’s both just and inevitable.
And the international initiative has a fascinating wrinkle. In addition to training L.G.B.T. advocates outside the United States and publicizing the failings of especially repressive countries, it intends to name and shame American religious zealots who sponsor antigay campaigns abroad. So Republican money may wind up challenging a constituency within the party. (We’re most definitely not in Kansas anymore.)
In Singer’s view, gay rights are consistent with a Republican philosophy of individual liberty, and gay marriage is “an augmenter of social stability, family stability and stability in raising kids.” In other words, it’s conservative.