The upcoming release of "Bruno" on July 10, starring Sacha Baron Cohen as a "flamboyantly gay fashion reporter" is prompting a lot of discussion and an MTV stunt involving Eminem and Bruno that needs to be seen to be believed. If you have not seen it you are probably living under that proverbial rock.
So here we go again - another round of navel gazing and debate about whether or not this film is good, bad or defamatory. Or all of the above. Like every other subjective thing in entertainment, it is all about context and intent. As I explained to a New York Times reporter the other day about the film, our community will have many opinions. This is still shocking to some journalists, although this reporter was well aware. My standard anecdote - that if you asked ten gay men when they thought of "Jack" on Will and Grace, you would have four hate him, four love and two that are are him. But let's talk about Bruno.
This film - like all of Sasha Baron Cohen's work - is something I call "extreme humor." Taken as far as possible - and then some - his films often manage to have it both ways. He manages to skewer homophobic stereotypes by playing them so over the top, all the while perpetuating them with some segment of his audience. Much like Kevin Smith's work, in particular the ever so NOT subtle homo-eroticiscm of Jay and Silent Bob, these films are meant to provoke and this one will for sure.
As I read more and more about Bruno - a film I am guessing I will see all alone unless someone wants to join me in DC (firstname.lastname@example.org) it will be important for me to be in the audience. My goal is to see it not in a gay enclave but in the 'burbs. I want to see if the teenage straight boys are laughing with us or at us. It is fairly easy to tell the difference. That will be my gauge for how this film may impact conversations about our community. It feels like we live in a day and age where some in our own community will condemn this (with some good reason) and others will find it a hilarious celebration of the sissies they love (also with good reason). I tend to fall in the middle. I love and embrace those men in our community for whom fabulous is a noun but also understand that the sexism that lies beneath all of us fuels so much bias, within and outside out community. But to deny the existence of stereotypes is naive, rather we should embrace them and let the larger culture know we are a big enough for the butch and the sissy, the sensitive and the tough. I often feel like a big 'ol queen trapped in a boyish lesbian's body so I have no fear of that dynamic tension.
It will be interesting to see the reaction. I vividly remember seeing "Silence of the Lambs" in a Maryland suburb when it came out in the 90's. Never mind Jodie Foster in the lead, never mind it won Oscars. What struck me was that a film filled with grotesque violence against women and a major character who is a transsexual serial killer, there was only one moment that the audience was visibly (and audibly) disgusted. That was the moment Jame Gumb (the trans killer) stepped back from the camera and exposed a nipple ring. Seriously.
The reaction to Jay and Silent Bob was more nuanced - we seemed to be in on the joke a bit more and the country had changed. But Bruno is about as in your face as
one can get, so we'll see what the reaction is to a film about an over the top stereotype mincing his way across the screen.
From what I can tell the people who should be most offended by this film are Southerners, who once again are treated as one-dimensional stereotypical bigots. And the people I worry the most about feeling the fall-out of this film are our LGBT brothers and sisters in the Southern part of this country, who are, more than any of us, still the butt of the joke on more than one level.