Philadelphia

Understand that any film we credit with changing the world is a distraction. Films don't change the world. They react to changes in the world. They reflect changes. There are films that can be shown to have had impact, especially in individual circumstances, but for the most part, films are a reflection of the times they are made. The reason for this is that most films, especially big studio films, rely on the financial backing of the ruling class. Some of that is different in other countries or in independent (or, these days, crowdfunded) films, but a film like this, a huge Oscar-bait major studio production, could only get made with the tacit approval of the ruling class.

The ruling class does not allow films like this be made unless they can benefit from it. There are a few ways films like this benefit them: (1) they make them money and (2) they take credit for mass movements' work. Organizations like ACT UP and countless other LGBTQ movements fought for decades for the level of acceptance that would mean a wider audience would ever go see a film like this. Without the hard work of working class activists, from Mattachine to Stonewall to ACT UP, the general public would have recoiled from this. Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, and Bruce Springsteen wouldn't have signed on. Money would not have been put into it, because money would not have been made off of it.

Meanwhile, looking back on this era, more people remember this film than ACT UP. The radical efforts to make this happen fade and the Oscar nominations, which make the headlines, place the credit on filmmakers, actors, and studios. They allow the public to pretend that we did not wrest the concessions from the tight grip of the ruling class, but that they benevolently saw the light. No matter what the actual message of the film is, the presence of the film sends the message of big studio compassion, which is a dirty fucking lie.

As to the contest of the film: this is a film about a violent homophobe being taught that it's okay to touch a gay man with AIDS.

Not to accept gay people (he never explicitly does this, though I guess we can assume he does). Not to fight as a comrade against homophobia. Not to scorn the legal system that oppresses us (no, this film celebrates it). Not to stand up to his homophobic friends. But just to touch a dying man's face. (Nevermind that the gay man's legal fight just made this violent homophobe a lot of money.)

This film touched a lot of hearts. To watch a portrayal, a sympathetic portrayal, of a gay man with AIDS on screen must have been powerful for many people, especially those who never saw themselves on screen. But with films like Parting Glances and Blue, that story was told from the actual queer perspective. This film is a film told from the perspective of a straight man (our homophobic lawyer). This film plants its character arc with the violent homophobe and makes the gay man a prop. It makes all the queer men (and the queer love) in this film a sideshow. We barely see anything of Miguel; we spend more time with Andy's family (who are very loving, supportive, and financially well off). We spend a lot of time watching our violent homophobe watch Andy. We have a painful scene where Andy listens to opera and shows basic enjoyment, and the performance--which is over-the-top Oscar-bait glurge--is so insufferable that it's agony to sit through. Do we even see a real kiss? Certainly there is no sex. The queer love here is tender and kind, but brief, as if the subject matter was just too much for the studios.

Imagine being in the theatre when Joe starts making queer jokes with his wife. Imagine hearing the straight audience laugh along with them. You know it happened.

Note that nowhere in this film did it show the activist community that would have arisen around this issue. Instead, what we saw were the homophobes. The crowd is demonized when it was the crowd that fought for the awareness and compassion that made films like this possible. Note that the main character is a rich lawyer, and his acts of "risky behavior" are still demonized. Note that it barely touches on issues of race, even though it has a lot of room to do so. Note that it seems to relish staring at Andy's body; this misery porn.

This is not the most egregious example of this sort of filmmaking, but it certainly is a notable one. Films have power to move people, and that can't be discounted. This film evokes powerful emotions, especially when Andy reveals his chest. No matter how many problems I have with the way the film is executed, it's clear the filmmakers know how to build to these moments without seeming insincere, without seeming calculated. The sympathy here is real, but it's poorly done.

Pride month: 8/30