Case in point for the need of a CineManArt:
“Nothing in “Dallas Buyers Club” is, per se, wrong. But it’s becoming clear in Leto’s press rollout that the film is dedicated to portraying queer people as desperate and in need of rescue. Far more pivotal in moving the ball forward than a single “buyers club” providing unregulated medication to AIDS patients and run by a straight man were the coordinated efforts of gay people to bring the fight to the government’s doorstep. But in “Dallas Buyers Club,” to use Leto’s politically incorrect term on “Fresh Air,” a “transgendered” person is automatically a victim, unaware of how she could help herself and existing entirely outside political discourse. It seems hardly an accident that Rayon, the most prominently featured queer person in the movie, is entirely self-destructive, continuing to abuse intravenous drugs long after diagnosis. We can safely blame her, if only a little; her experience can be explained according to terms we understand, including pity, mild revulsion, and distance. Leto, on “Fresh Air,” said he got into character by standing in Whole Foods and watching people stare at him with “that condemnation, the judgment, and those sorts of things.” The movie treats queer people as objects of scorn with no agency on their own terms.
And it’s of a piece with a long history. Queer folks in Oscar-adorned films rarely fight back, unless it’s out of malice. They’re victims of circumstance and need straight people to advocate on their behalf. They’re, of course, sexless, usually obsessed with thwarted or impossible love. They’re on the fringes of narrative even when they’re protagonists, because they are unable to act in their own defense. These characters exist to make straight people, like the actors who play them, feel good about themselves.
Not every queer character Hollywood has ever created falls into this trap. Though their fates are tragic in a way that ratifies mid-2000s American prejudices and though the film’s desexed marketing was problematic in the extreme, Ennis and Jack in “Brokeback Mountain,” respectively played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, fight for their love and the chance to live life on their own terms (if in a manner proscribed by time and place). “Milk,” starring Sean Penn, explicitly focuses on a political leader with an active and fulfilling sex life. And, strangely enough, “My Best Friend’s Wedding” had a gay best friend character with his own life, thoughts and wit; as played by Rupert Everett, he was nobody’s victim….”