GLAAD: Media Determined to Find Controversy Over Brokeback Mountain

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Tom Dempsey

Dec 30, 2005, 12:19:05 AM12/30/05
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Dear Friends of GLAAD:

In response to critical acclaim and record-breaking box office, Brokeback Mountain began national release before the holidays. As Variety has noted, critics' honors and media buzz have increased with each passing week, all without a single dollar of TV advertising.

While much of the press coverage suggests that the movie is "controversial", GLAAD's own monitoring suggests any controversy is largely a media creation. In my own appearances on ABC World News Tonight, Access Hollywood and CNN, and in interviews with the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, the Miami Herald, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and others, I've begun asking why media coverage of Brokeback continues to be framed in terms of conflict when none really exists.

GLAAD's media critique has received widespread circulation over the holidays through this op-ed piece (attached below), which has run in papers as diverse as The Detroit News, the New York Daily News, and, most recently, in the December 28 issue of The Arizona Republic. There I argue that Brokeback Mountain’s themes are universal and resonate equally with all audiences, gay and straight. And that any perceived controversy over Brokeback is being driven by a conflict-addicted media.

To experience for yourself the remarkable artistic achievement that is Brokeback Mountain, visit a nearby showing of the movie at your earliest opportunity.

To survey the latest critical and popular responses to what is clearly one of the most important films of 2005, visit GLAAD's Brokeback Mountain Resource Guide on

GLAAD has helped many journalists locate experts to discuss the importance of this film, and put them in contact with real-life gay cowboys who are willing to discuss their own lives in rural America. And requests for such assistance are increasing as the movie continues to roll out nationwide.

GLAAD’s efforts to reach both media professionals and media consumers on this and other issues of importance to the LGBT community are critical if the true stories of LGBT people are to be told fairly, accurately and inclusively in the nation’s news and entertainment media in 2006.

Please consider making a year-end gift to GLAAD through our website by visiting . We're counting on your support to expand GLAAD's media advocacy efforts in 2006.

Best wishes for the exciting New Year that lies before us!

From the December 28, 2005 issue of The Arizona Republic:
Backbreaking bid to create a controversy

By Neil G. Giuliano

As one who spent ten years as mayor of a city of nearly 170,000 people, I know a manufactured conflict when I see one.

So it is no great surprise that some in the media are actively seeking out views and opinions of anti-gay cultural and religious extremists to establish that the new film Brokeback Mountain is a source of great controversy. It's not. It's entertaining and moving, which is what any moviegoer wants after shelling out ten bucks.

Chances are you've heard about this tragic love story between two cowboys who meet while herding sheep in 1960s Wyoming. After only a week in limited release, it's become part of pop culture, the topic of punch lines from Leno and Letterman and a top news story at every turn.

Not just news of its seven Golden Globe nominations and numerous critics' awards, or that it broke two box office records its opening weekend, but news of a "controversy" around this film.

Boy, how we love a story that divides. So in addition to the near unanimous acclaim this movie has received, we're encouraged by the nation's leading newspapers and television news outlets to ponder, "Is America ready for this film?"

Was America "ready" for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner or Philadelphia? Why does America need to be ready for any film? It's a movie, not a mandate. If you want to see an original, powerful and emotionally authentic love story, go see it. If not, go shopping.

When it comes to discussions of gay lives and culture in our society, there is a pre-conceived expectation that there must be conflict. The usual anti-gay talking heads had to be asked if they would be organizing a movement to quell Brokeback fever. While publicly denouncing a film they hadn't even seen, the resounding answer was that there would be no organized effort against this film.

There was no story, and this "controversy" should have died there. But in a world of 24-hour news, even the remote possibility of a possible "culture war" skirmish quickly gathered steam. I had to laugh when I saw a news network framing Brokeback Mountain as a national debate with the headline across the screen, "Christians vs. Cowboys?"

Another news show declared "critics are fuming." With a tease like that you might expect Ebert & Roeper to come out swinging. But the "critic" was an anti-gay extremist so on the fringe he believes gays and lesbians can be "cured." Finding no legitimate film critics with anything negative to say, several news shows gave this individual a forum to further spew his venom.

CNN interviewed conservative radio host and USA Today columnist Michael Medved on why he thinks this film will not be widely embraced, yet even he admitted the movie is "beautifully written, gorgeously shot, [has] outstanding performances...This deserves the praise that it's getting." And I went on CNN to say I had not received the memo that the movie had an agenda, other than being a love story that audiences will be moved by.

The real story is that many people, straight and gay, have an interest in seeing this film. Not everyone, of course. But there is no real controversy, despite the headlines that a major debate is raging. It's the kind of "culture war" engagement that conflict-addicted media love to cover. And they're clearly willing to provide it a little nudge when it has trouble getting started on its own.

Medved even acknowledged on CNN "there is an attempt to create controversy". No kidding.

Okay, so maybe all of this news coverage does provide visibility and expands the discussion of tolerance and equality. Perhaps it will move more people into movie theater seats.

But manufactured controversies can also fuel conflict and prejudice where it might not otherwise exist. I saw that happen a lot as mayor; it really doesn't need to happen over Brokeback Mountain.

Neil G. Giuliano is president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). He is the former mayor of Tempe, Ariz.

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