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Macklemore, Warped Queer Advocacy, and Why Dallas Buyers Club is One of the Year’s Worst Films

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Macklemore, Warped Queer Advocacy, and Why Dallas Buyers Club is One of the Year’s Worst Films

A few months back, I was driving out of New York, and Macklemore’s “Same Love” came on the radio. It was the rare Top 40 track with markedly gay-themed lyrics that had nothing to do with Lady Gaga. And it was rap. I’ll freely confess that music is my weak spot as a popular-media journalist, and I’ll admit that I jumped to some serious stereotyping conclusions when I heard the song. Though it didn’t have, from what I’ve gathered, Frank Ocean’s cool poetic stylings, I instantly assumed “Same Love” was by Ocean, because, ya know, he’s the most popular queer rapper. Perhaps the lyrics marked some hypothetical experiment—an instance of a (mostly) out artist using words like “if I was gay” to reimagine the experiences of growing up closeted (or questioning) through the eyes of a contrived straight person. Regardless of what this knee-jerk reading might say about my inability to discern one rapper’s musicality from another’s, it all felt, well, nice: Here was a queer artist with an explicitly gay-themed song that, while not even particularly catchy, was getting major play on a major radio station. Inevitably, I quickly learned that my Frank Ocean song wasn’t by Frank Ocean at all, but by a white, straight rapper who was ostensibly sticking up for me and his gay uncles. To crudely summarize a swirl of conflicted feelings, suddenly the song wasn’t so nice, and, definitely, wasn’t so cool.

These feelings came to a head during August’s MTV Video Music Awards, where Macklemore and sidekick Ryan Lewis took home two Moonmen for their well-intended, Kumbaya anthem, including one for Best Video with a Social Message. They capped off the night with a performance of their song, featuring the gay crooner of its chorus, Mary Lambert, and surprise guest Jennifer Hudson. Admittedly, seeing the motley crew of a white rapper, a plus-sized lesbian, and a black songstress take the stage to preach about equality can’t be all bad, but there was still something wildly off-putting about the entire spectacle. Specifically, it didn’t feel like something that was actually for my benefit. Black, gay rapper Le1f assumed the extreme post-show position, and gave vitriolic voice to skeptics’ thoughts by taking to Twitter, lambasting Macklemore, a man of straight, white privilege, for capitalizing on a song about gays. Le1f had other bones to pick too, claiming that Macklemore ripped off his material, but his rant came down to who gays want their advocates to be. While I largely agreed with Le1f, my partner didn’t, and he laid out his reasoning in terms a kindergartener could grasp: “When many of the Green People don’t like the Blue People, and won’t collectively change their minds, they need education from one of the Green People who sticks up for the Blue People.” That’s fair enough, but frankly, it’s not good enough for me. In the world I want to live in today, Le1f would be the advocate getting kudos for social messages, not a latter-day Eminem doing his best Blind Side Sandra Bullock, collecting back-pats for standing in front of the minorities he’s coddling.

Macklemore

If Macklemore’s so-called advocacy is of questionable healthiness, then the woeful Dallas Buyers Club is downright toxic. The film is based on the true story of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a skirt-chasing Texas homophobe who, in 1985, was diagnosed with AIDS. On paper, the film appears to be a testament to the fact that AIDS has never discriminated—that it’s never been just a “gay disease.” And those opposed to the argument that Woodroof isn’t the best representative for a story like this will likely retort that this is only one story, Woodruff’s story, and doesn’t need to reflect the plight of all those afflicted. The thing is, just as the gay community has definitively taken ownership of the slur “faggot,” we’ve also staked a certain claim to the history of this “gay disease,” as it’s shaped so much of what constitutes our collective social identity. Last year, we were lucky enough to be gifted with David France’s How to Survive a Plague, a wrenching documentary about real gay men driven to self-medicate like Woodroof, and a film that, for a gay man like me who came of age post-crisis, stirred up tremendous respect for the fighters who literally changed how this plague was treated, medically and culturally. However, while France’s film managed to garner an Oscar nomination, it was probably seen by a tiny fraction of those who’ll catch the star-driven Dallas Buyers Club, the first popular, “prestigious,” awards-baity AIDS film since Philadelphia.

Netting a Best Actor trophy for Tom Hanks, Philadelphia came out in 1993. Now, here we are, a whopping 20 years later, with an Oscar contender that deals with the same gay-related issues, but positions a homophobic redneck as its flawed hero. No matter how you slice it, this is a dreadful product to be released into today’s culture, let alone the profile-boosting realm of year-end awards. To those offering the justification that this is simply “one story,” I’d clap back with the fact that it’s the only such story the industry has felt compelled to tell in years, presumably because its content won’t fully turn off the red states (or, if I may, the Green People). Therefore, the best advocate that millions of AIDS-infected gays are able to get in a popular, modern film is a man who finds them repulsive. This is profoundly regressive, as even Philadelphia’s ailing protagonist was reflective of the countless victims most commonly stricken with this illness. Another frequent defense of Dallas Buyers Club claims that it’s an exercise in redemption—a test to see if this bigoted hayseed can change his hateful ways when he’s forced to see how the other half lives (and dies). In addition to the scores of reviews I’ve read that hinge their endorsement of the film on McConaughey’s performance (which, when compared to his work in Magic Mike, is merely serviceable), I’ve probably read yet more that praise the fact that Woodroof isn’t fully, implausibly reformed by movie’s end. Some have even said that such is the best part of the film, which is a bit like saying the Surgeon General’s Warning is the best part of a pack of cigarettes. Poison is poison, and a scintilla of truthful acknowledgment is hardly cause for applause.

Dallas Buyers Club

Besides, these same endorsers who are lauding this film for Woodroof’s supposedly realistic arc are failing to acknowledge the typical, Blind Side-y Macklemore-isms he engages in. In the movie’s most cringe-inducing scene, which all but warrants the subtitle, “The Help for Gay People,” Woodroof confronts the homophobia of an ex-buddy who shunned him after his diagnosis, forcing the guy to shake the hand of Rayon (Jared Leto), a transgender woman and fellow AIDS sufferer who’s basically Woodroof’s clichéd lapdog. This saccharine moment of contrived understanding is the sort that’s been plaguing audiences of color for ages—an act that seems benevolent on the surface, but is primarily used to boost the likability of the “normal,” Aryan lead. In terms of role and characterization, Rayon herself feels plucked from an era predating Will & Grace, proving, in this familiar dynamic, to be far more of a tragic, outsized stereotype than Greg Kinnear’s Simon in As Good As It Gets, even suffering—spoiler alert—a drug-induced death that further paints her as a pathetic deviant. And while Leto offers a fine performance (despite the weight loss, which, as per usual, has netted far more press than it deserves), he represents an entirely separate advocacy problem, which involves actors like he and James Franco taking jobs that make them merely adequate queer cheerleaders—straight males tackling gay turns in Alexander and Howl, and still remaining accessible to the hetero majority running the world.

It’s 2013, and I don’t want baby steps. I don’t want James Franco and Macklemore telling me it’s okay to be gay. I don’t want to see Jared Leto go frail and wear a dress for a role I could have seen when I was 12. And I sure as hell don’t want to see the first major movie about AIDS in 20 years to be about a goddamned queer-hating hick. I want to see Le1f, Frank Ocean, and others like them performing unapologetic songs and speaking for themselves at awards shows. I want to see more actors like Zachary Quinto and Neil Patrick Harris getting lauded for their “bravery” in roles that aren’t pandering to anyone. I want more from my art, I want better advocates, and more than anything, I want more people, and colleagues, to acknowledge the problem. One of the very few pieces I’ve read that truly takes Dallas Buyers Club to task is Peter Knegt’s IndieWire report on the film out of Toronto, an article that covered a lot of the issues discussed here. A chief point Knegt made is that Dallas Buyers Club being made by a “straight white dude” (Jean-Marc Vallée) isn’t really the problem. And yet, in a way, perhaps it is. As Knegt observes, plenty of filmmakers have effectively crafted works about demographics to which they don’t belong. But if this year is any indication, bracing truth and vitality seems to flow unencumbered when those of a given group are able to tell their own stories. This is the year of The Butler, 12 Years a Slave, Fruitvale Station, and Mother of George, films that, regardless of their end-stage successes, are the works of black people not settling for white people traditions. This is the sort of non-complacent progress I hope for—ya know, the Blue People not feeling content with the Green People hogging their soapbox.

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAcftIUE6MQ

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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