Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Media: Passing (race and sexuality)

A documentary, a drama and an action-comedy are all offered on streaming services.  Do they have anything else in common?  Actually, a great deal.




Let's start with PASSING.  This is a first rate drama offered by NETFLIX.  Rebecca Hall directs this adaptation of Nella Larsen's 1929 novel.  Ruth Negga stars as Clare who is passing in NYC -- she's African-American and she's passing for White.  In NYC, she stumbles upon her friend from Chicago Reenie (Tessa Thompson) who is doing some passing of her own.  She's assumed White in a store where she picks up a racist doll that two White women have dropped.  She's in a hotel cafe where she is nervous about being found out.  That's where she bumps into Clare.

Reenie goes with Clare to her hotel room and they relax up until Clare's husband John (Alexander Skarsgard) arrives.  He's happy to meet Reenie and he assumes she's White.  He goes on to share that he teases Clare that she's getting darker and may turn into a Black person (the n-word is used).  He further shares that he can't stand people of color, nor can Clare who won't even have them as her maids.  

Reenie is rightly insulted and quickly departs.  

Clare doesn't want to let go that quick and, really, neither does Reenie.  So the two women continue to see one another while Clare is in NYC.

It's a penetrating film that gets under your skin quickly.  It's also shot incredibly well. It's the sort of drama that we probably all hoped for back when the US had an active and thriving independent film scene.  Rebecca Hall really accomplishes something with the film and all the actors mentioned are first rate.  Our only complaint is that there is not any real magnetism coming off of Brian (Andre Holland), not when with his wife Reenie nor when he's with Clare.

PASSING is a first rate film.  Although not nearly as ambitious, RED NOTICE is nothing to dismiss.  This tight action-comedy is also streaming on NETFLIX.  Rawson Marshall Thurber wrote and directed the film.  We're much more impressed with his screenplay which shows real skill in transitions as well as in twists.  (His directing is not bad and on par with his earlier film WE'RE THE MILLERS.)


Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot, Ryan Reynolds and Riu Arya make up the main cast and they bring so much life to their roles that the film comes alive in ways you might not expect in this genre. It's a fast and pleasurable ride.


And then there's the documentary:  MAYOR PETE which AMAZON PRIME is streaming.  MAYOR PETE is directed by Jesse Moss and documents Pete Buttigieg's failed run for the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential nomination and, in fact, many more of Pete's failures.

This is a cringe-inducing documentary.  Is Pete a human being?  He may be now but he wasn't then.

Your heart goes out to Chasten Buttigieg throughout.  That's Pete's husband (this fall, the two became parents).  Do you remember the way the media beat up on Dr. Judith Dean in 2004?  She was the spouse of Howard Dean and some in the media felt she wasn't doing enough for Howard's campaign while others felt that her removal from many elements of the race had nothing to do with her being a practicing doctor but instead with her having no real enthusiasm for her husband's run.

Of all the spouses of also-runs in the 21st century, we tend to believe that Judith had it the worst -- or we did until 2020.  That's when we thought Chasten had it the worst.  However, the documentary really makes the argument that the media wasn't the issue, it was Pete.

Chasten's ready to face the media, wanting to, ready to be part of the campaign.  It's Pete that can't come across.  

Which is a real shame because the media really pimped Pete, they wanted him to be a major contender and if he hadn't kept Chasten in the wings, Pete might have been able to have been a real competitor.

Pete apparently had a limited notion of what gay was and of what he would allow We The People to see.  


We're back to that topic.  In PASSING, Reenie turns on Clare.  Is it because Reenie disagreed with Clare for passing as White?  Possibly.  But there's also an undercurrent to the film: Reenie seems to be passing as straight.  She seems to be attracted to Clare, something more than friendship.  Take her reaction when she finds Clare relaxing with Zu, for example.  Take the way she embraces Clare.  Or the way she looks longing at her throughout.  By the way, what we're talking about?  It's long been a part of the historical debate about the novel -- whether Reenie is sexually attracted to Clare (and, yes, we read the novel several years ago which may have impacted our take on the film).  

If Reenie is bi-sexual or a lesbian passing for straight, that would explain why, as we noted earlier, that Brian lacks magnetism.  That would explain why Reenie might end up with him.  They really don't have much in common (he's concerned that their children know what the world is really like for people of color and Reenie never wants to discuss it and actively stops Brian when he attempts to speak the truth).  If she is passing as straight, that offers other dimensions and explains why she may have killed Clare.  Again, she judges Clare for passing but we first meet Reenie when she's passing for White.  She hates Clare doing the same and, if she's sexually attracted to Clare, that would explain why she might have killed her.



Passing for straight?

It's also an issue with RED NOTICE.  Ryan Reynolds and Dwayne Johnson are constantly making homoerotic comments to one another.  This isn't that surprising because jokes like that exist among the working class and, within the entertainment industry, are a staple among crew members.  It can just be men trying to be funny.

But these jokes are really what put RED NOTICE over.  And certainly Ryan Reynolds has made a career out of them.  In RED NOTICE, it really does border on queerbaiting.  If someone argued that it crossed the line into full on queerbaiting, we wouldn't argue with them.  

RED NOTICE works around one twist and turn after another.  It's like WILD THINGS in that regard.  The 1998 film had a series of cons taking place.  And near the end, it appeared that we were going to learn that Matt Damon and Kevin Bacon were actually playing lovers (some couldn't handle that at showings and got very uncomfortable when one actor stepped out of the shower).  RED NOTICE wants the same twists and turns and, 23 years later, looks hopelessly out of touch as we find out that Gal and Dwayne are lovers but not Dwayne and Ryan or even a thruple involving the three.

It really is enough for Ryan Reynolds.  The jokes -- on Twitter and social media -- about his longings for a man and the jokes from his characters.  It's getting old.  It's past time for him to either drop it or play a gay man who kisses another man on screen -- not a peck, a real romantic relationship.

For those who don't remember, Ellen DeGeneres came out at the end of the fourth season of her sitcom ELLEN.  The fifth season was all about ABC attacking the show and attacking Ellen herself.  And along comes Ryan in that awful sitcom that ABC replaced Ellen with: TWO GUYS, A GIRL AND A PIZZA PLACE.  To vanish the lesbian character and the lesbian actress, ABC resorted to that hideous sitcom.  Ryan kind of owes the gay community for his role in that.

CRAPAPEDIA defines queerbaiting as follows:

Queerbaiting is a marketing technique for fiction and entertainment[6] in which creators hint at, but then do not actually depict, same-sex romance or other LGBT representation.[7] They do so to attract ("bait") a queer or straight ally audience with the suggestion of relationships or characters that appeal to them,[8] while at the same time attempting to avoid alienating other consumers.[6][9]

Queerbaiting has often been observed in popular fiction such as films and television series, but also has been observed among celebrities who convey an ambiguous sexual identity through their works and statements.[6] It arose in and has been popularized through discussions in Internet fandom[10] since the early 2010s.[11]

Queerbaiting describes too many movies in Ryan Reynolds' filmography.  As FILM DAILY noted:

Deadpool: Deadpool (2016 & 2018)

Portrayed as being undeniably pansexual in the comics, the movie adaptation of the Merc with a Mouth has so far failed to completely deliver upon the same LGBTQI representation of the superhero’s sexuality.

Despite Ryan Reynolds (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) suggesting he wants Wade to have a boyfriend in a Deadpool movie and the suggestion from writer Rhett Reese (Zombieland) that the character’s pansexuality would be honored in Deadpool 2, the only time his sexuality is made apparent is in the occasional loaded one-liner. Still, at least Deadpool 2 has managed to debut the first LGBTQI superheroes in film even if Deadpool isn’t quite one of them yet.

If he'd only made BUYING THE COW (he wakes up drunk convinced he had sex with a man -- ha ha! apparently -- and he decides to come out of the closet -- ha ha even more!), Ryan Reynolds would owe movie goers a real gay romance film.

He's basically become Robin Williams -- who was problematic for the LGBTQ community -- and no one has bothered to notice.

He needs to lay off the jokes and the one-liners unless/until he can play a gay character with an active love life.  (Meaning none of that b.s. where Cam and Mitch have a quick peck but Phil and Claire are forever being shown in bed together about to have sex.)

It's insulting.  It may have passed for progressive 23 years ago.  It doesn't today.  Not in the same year that Macaulay Culkin can turn up in AMERICAN HORROR STORY as a gay male prostitute offering Harry (Finn Wittrock) frottage and then explaining that it's "French for rubbing our dicks together."

The LGBTQ community needs tired people like Ryan Reynolds to get off their ass and start doing things.  That community needs it and the American people need it.  We still need to move towards equality.

And that's what so upsetting about MAYOR PETE.  Pete wants to pass for straight.  That's not fair.  When he was running for the presidential nomination, he wanted to pass for straight.  He was reluctant for Chasten to really be a part of the campaign (Chasten even asks in the film if Pete's really going to let him be the only spouse of a candidate in the primary not to be allowed onstage when a debate concludes).  

Pete came out relatively late.  And he almost immediately hooked up with Chasten.  We'll assume it was love at first sight.  We'll also assume that Pete has traditional ideas about relationship (that's not an insult).  All of that's fine.  In 2020, he could step out onstage being an openly gay man but he struggled with being a gay man in a relationship.

Ryan Reynolds needs to look at his role in that.  He and actors like him need to grasp that things aren't so easy.  Thanks to Ellen and others who followed her (as well as those who preceded her), American can conceptualize a gay person even if they don't know anyone who is openly gay.  If we could move from cute little one-liners about same-sex relationships to actual film portrayals of relationships, people like Pete would feel they could be not just themselves in public but who they are with their partner in public.

MAYOR PETE is a hard film to watch.  It did make us appreciate Pete more (not his politics, he's far to the right of us).  And we really felt for and rooted for Chasten.  Mainly, it made us ponder the damages of passing -- something all three films made us think about.

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