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Will Smith's Hancock: Using "homo" as an insult hurts gay people

Filed By Guest Blogger | July 03, 2008 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: Fourth of July, homophobic behavior, independence day, movies, slur, Will Smith

Editors' note: Damon Romine is the Entertainment Media Director over at GLAAD. Check out GLAAD's blog Cinequeer for more updates about queer images in the entertainment industry.

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Will Smith + July 4th weekend = box office success.

Unfortunately, the millions of audience members who take their family to see Smith's Hancock will have to hear the obnoxious, drunk anti-hero utter an anti-gay slur.

At approximately 24 minutes into the film, while Jason Bateman's PR whiz works to rehabilitate the superhero's tarnished image, he shows Hancock three comic book images in an effort to inspire him. But Hancock rejects the traditional image of costumed superheroes as he responds to each one: "Homo. Homo in red. Norwegian homo."

The audience is prompted to laugh and there is no response to or retribution for Hancock's remarks. Bateman's character, the father of a young son, could have easily spoken up instead of giving Hancock a pass

Better yet, would it have changed the story if that brief interaction had been left on the cutting room floor? No one would have missed the line if it wasn't there, but an unfortunate choice was made to go for the cheap gay joke. In that moment, young gay people in the movie's audience are put in the position of being ridiculed by a character they are expected to regard as a hero. People go to films to escape reality -- or schoolyard taunts -- not to pay ten bucks and be ridiculed some more, especially not by someone the Los Angeles Times calls "the most likable actor in the world."

Rated PG-13, Hancock is being marketed to families, teens and young adults. This film certainly presents an opportunity for parents to explain to their kids that the usually entertaining character of Hancock is not modeling good behavior. But let's get real: Hancock's use of the slur sends a problematic message that it's okay to discriminate using such hateful words. Every day, people -- both gay and straight -- are taunted and verbally harassed in their schools and in their communities with these kinds of words, creating an environment that's hostile, uncomfortable, and often unsafe. To have a heroic character -- and by extension actor Will Smith -- use and approve of this kind of language is simply unacceptable.

Sometimes anti-gay language shows up in dramatic narrative to reveal a character's true colors or to convey a message. But there's a big difference between using it to highlight a character's anti-gay attitudes and making a cheap, unfunny shot at gay people.


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As much as i would prefer a world in which all our entertainments were scrubbed of uncomfortable homo-references that might build yet another generation of hate, I can't side with a vigilance aimed at weeding these kind of references out of movies or books or music that are privately generated for the public. I think the thing to do is to highlight them when we find them and to avoid buying tickets that will support it, and to make it clear why we are not spending our money on it.

As a painter, I would hate to be told by a client "Make me a painting, but don't put any orange in it because I sure do hate orange." That kind of "tailoring" ought to be reserved for the garment industry where the fit of the product is a big part of the artistry.

Delicate is the balance between freedom of expression and censorship.

The thing that I find odd and disappointing here is that Will Smith did not demand that the line be removed from the script. He understands the overlap between his persona as a celebrity and the roles he chooses to play. I'm surprised he didn't say no to that line. Surely the writers could have easily replaced it. Maybe he was thinking that this type of gay humor is now mainstream and therefore not injurious. If that is what he thought, he was rather wrong.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 3, 2008 12:00 PM

OK, with 12,700 entries in the internet when you google "Will Smith gay" he is either hiding or compensating. However directed by Peter Berg and written by Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan, they were hardly going to pick on Jews, Asians or the Irish. Look, this is a fantasy comedy about a drunken superhero...who cares what he says. I do, because it is lazy of them, lame and yet another reason to read a book. Now, if he had said: Homo, Jewish Homo, Irish Homo, Asian Homo he would at least have an edge.

I don't really think that a movie like this can really qualify as "art," and whatever art related to this movie that happens (photography, cinematography, music), I'm sure it is all tailored with many conditions as restrictive as "don't use orange."

No one here, at least so far, is advocating that the government step in and shut up the filmmakers, so I don't see how FOS issues apply.

But I do agree, Father Tony, that this says as much about Will Smith as it does the filmmakers. He probably has a lot of pull around there, since this movie will probably pull in four times the audience it should just because of him.

Robert~ Haha, that would at least be creative.

I dunno about this ... if Will Smith was homophobic, I don't think he would have made Six Degrees of Separation --- not only did he sympathetically play a young gay man [who can cook ... :-) ... but is a pathological liar ... :-( ...], but even did a scene where Stockard Channing walks in on him receiving a blowjob from another man. (Hollywood rumor hazzit that Smith did Six Degrees against staunch warnings from a career mentor named Denzel Washington.)

I hear that Hancock is a hero with PR issues, and this insensitivity to GLBT political correctness might be indicative of the character's more general insensitivities. To judge, I'd have to see the movie, and to see the movie I'd have to pay ten bucks, and you just advised me not to pay the ten bucks.

OTOH, I agree that humor like this sends mixed and complex messages to young minds, who, even if this is just one stroke in the sketching out of the protagonist's whole character, probably won't decypher all the subtle nuance, but will absorb it tacitly simply as "It's cool to make fun of someone by calling him a homo."

I saw this movie during previews and thought it looked pretty interesting. Honestly, it seemed like the only Smith movie since Independence Day that I would actually spend money to see. After reading this article I will not go see this movie. After reading this article I will tell all of my friends not to see this movie. However, after reading this article I am more suprised at the gay community -- only a few people have made the effort to comment on this issues.
The gay community rules Hollywood -- from wardrobe and hair, to writers, directors and of course actors. However, our shared internalized homophobia prevents us from mobilizing and truly speaking out.

Michael Richards gets thrown under the bus for his rant against blacks. Mel Gibson will never live down his comments about the Jewish community. Yet when it comes to LGBT issues we seem to shrug it off. Will Smith should be in a position where he is forced to think twice about accepting such a role for fear of being blacklisted by the gays. Until we are empowered enough to understand the influence we actually have in this world folks will continue to insult us...and we will continue to take it.

It's time that we start thinking differently.

I saw this movie during previews and thought it looked pretty interesting. Honestly, it seemed like the only Smith movie since Independence Day that I would actually spend money to see. After reading this article I will not go see this movie. After reading this article I will tell all of my friends not to see this movie. However, after reading this article I am more suprised at the gay community -- only a few people have made the effort to comment on this issues.
The gay community rules Hollywood -- from wardrobe and hair, to writers, directors and of course actors. However, our shared internalized homophobia prevents us from mobilizing and truly speaking out.

Michael Richards gets thrown under the bus for his rant against blacks. Mel Gibson will never live down his comments about the Jewish community. Yet when it comes to LGBT issues we seem to shrug it off. Will Smith should be in a position where he is forced to think twice about accepting such a role for fear of being blacklisted by the gays. Until we are empowered enough to understand the influence we actually have in this world folks will continue to insult us...and we will continue to take it.

It's time that we start thinking differently.

As a society we tend to lose sight of the fact that there are legalities, and there are moralities.

Legislating that no one use the word "homo" would be a Free Speech issue, and I and everyone else should be opposed to it, because it goes against our nations principles.

But putting the pressure of society to bear on discouraging people from using derogatory language is a laudable goal.

I saw the movie today and at the time he said it, he was in his a**hole stage. Wait, I didn't call him that. Forgive me. Please. (See the movie.)

So I have a few issues with this post.
1) This is a movie where Will Smith is playing an a**hole. Why are putting giving this any substance?
2) Someone commented comparing this to Michael Richards' and Mel Gibson's bigoted tirades. WTF -this is in no way even remotedly close to either.

I saw the movie and I wasn't offended. And I encourage others to see it.

Phxblueboy: You might note that the post was made by an officer in GLAAD.

Like HRC, GLAAD is an organization that many in the GLBT community have mixed feelings about, me included, but I won't go into those issues here.

What I will point out is that GLAAD's raison d'ĂȘtre is to complain ... and get people worked up about ... slurs like this.

Sometimes GLAAD does good work. But apparently there are times when they don't have all that much to go on the warpath about, and in the name of the organization justifying its own existence (and God-only-knows how many dollars in paychecks), we end up with picky crap like this.

'Nuf said, I think.

Marc Paige | July 4, 2008 11:07 PM

Just saw the movie. The "homo" comments were obnoxious. Thank god, nobody in the audience found them funny. I think the audiences are ahead of Hollywood at this point - they're so over this type of cheap homophobia. Don't see the movie.
Aside from the cheap anti-gay shots, it's not very good.

Aside from the cheap anti-gay shots, it's not very good.

And that will be more of a reason not to see it than a few "homos" for most of us.

But "homo?" Pshaw. It wasn't that long ago he'd have said "faggot" or "queer." Homo is nothing.

A.J., you may have issues with GLAAD, but the point is not to stir up issues, it's that we need to take slurs of all kinds out of our lexicon. I don't know why people bandy around the word "faggot" (sorry, I'd say f-word, but you wouldn't know which one) when they'd never in a million years call a black person the n-word. It's no different, it's a slur.

I cringe whenever I hear a young person say, "That's so gay." Since when did being gay equate to being lame? And they can try the argument, 'Well, that's not really what I mean' but essentially, that's how it boils down. That's really not the kind of association I want.

I'm not really alarmist in general, but I think the point is that until we gain more acceptance, we don't need any more bad press.. don't need huge movie stars making it okay to call people a homo or fag or whatever. It's not okay. It's no more okay than if Will Smith were up there making fun of some Asian people.