Post #8 - Looking Through Another Lens: Growing in Empathy

This month I was able to procure two of the films on our list - The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy. The other two films, Get Real and Longtime Companion, proved impossible to procure. As we get to the films nearer the top of the list, not finding films feels more and more unfortunate, as the films I am seeing are better and better.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy are both remarkable in that their overall energy isn’t confrontational. Many of the gay-oriented films we have watched exist at least in part to communicate: "We are gay. We are here. We matter.” In a world dominated by hetero-centric films, that declaration is significant, but its necessity is also bittersweet. Watching these films, I’ve started to wish gay persons could simply exist without needing to prove the legitimacy of their existence. I’m a white, heterosexual, American male. The world assumes I have a right to be here. Watching these films has given me a new awareness of how wearying it must be to have to prove your right to exist.

The drag queens and transexual woman piloting the bus they’ve named “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” across the Australian outback certainly face prejudice wherever they go. While part of the cabaret trio is concerned with flying the queer flag boldly wherever they go—at one point one member of the group anchors to the top of the bus and lets billow a shiny train above and behind them as they drive—these ostentatious displays are presented comically as the externalization of the trio’s struggle to accept themselves.

Yes, they encounter prejudice, but more so, they make friends wherever they go. Their friends and family accept them and love them as they are. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is about two drag queens and a transgender woman who learn to accept themselves. No one who matters to them cares that the men dress in women’s clothes or that the woman is transgender. Their friends and family cheer their cabaret show. There is no one else around when they finally make their triumphant stand atop a notable rock deep in the Outback. It’s all for them. Once homophobia has been unmasked as hateful, foolish, and backward, as it is in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and once loved ones accept you for who you are, what’s next? Self-acceptance.

“What’s next?” is the question at the heart of The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy as well, and the film tries to be an answer to its own question. The film was made in 2000, and it is about contemporary gay identity. There are a handful of conversations throughout the film explicitly about the need for gay men to be presented as more than simply gay but rather complicatedly human. My two favorite of these conversations include a brief reference to Larry Kramer, the activist whose tireless declaration to his gay community that they were more than their sexuality was met, broadly, with distain, and a brief monologue about the need for more complex gay characters and stories at the movies (in other words, the need for more movies like The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy, *wink* *wink*).

If this need was presented simply as dialog, I wouldn’t be as pleased with this film as I am. The film itself is full of complicated gay characters, any of whom could hold down an entire plot on their own. The cast is packed with able actors as well, which ups the quality considerably. The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy practices what it preaches and shows the way forward for queer cinema. The path it points to is one where gay person’s possess the confidence that comes with self-acceptance. We will all, queer and straight alike, be better off for seeing more “ordinary” gay characters represented in our media.

I’ve done some advance scouting, and two of next month’s films are unavailable, so I’ll only be watching Latter Days and Shelter. In the final month, all the films are available, so I’ll be watching Trick, Brokeback Mountain, Big Eden, and The Boys in the Band.