In the February 19, 1986 issue of The New York Times, Janet Maslin said in her review, “Most of ”Parting Glances” functions as a parade of homosexual stereotypes.” On the same day, several other mainstream reviews said basically the same thing. Meanwhile, every gay publication hailed the film as the first realistic portrayal of gay culture they had ever seen in a film. Due to the bad mainstream reviews, the film died a quick death at the box office (anyone remember the Embassy 72nd Street theater?). A generation later, the film is commonly thought of as a classic, a landmark film in the “New Queer Cinema.” When the film was restored and shown at Outfest earlier this year, the festival referred to it as “among the most beloved LGBT films of the last 25 years.”
This memory popped into my head this morning as I read Stephen Holden’s review of “Honeydripper” in The New York Times. I have nothing against Holden (as I didn’t against Maslin way back when). In fact, his taste in movies generally coincides with mine more often than not. But like “Parting Glances,” is this a case of the mainstream media missing the point? Why is it that every African American audience we show the film to is thanking us for its realistic portrayal? Is it that the Jim Crow era is just so loaded with baggage that it is not acceptable to portray a small story within that era without showing the lynchings? Is it that a white writer/director is tackling this subject?
I ask these questions merely to provoke some discussion. The real question is, do people show their own ignorance–and even racism–when they have a kneejerk reaction to a story that, while set in a certain time and place, is trying to get to something a little different from what is expected? Is the viewer the one guilty of stereotyping? I’d like to challenge Stephen Holden to see the film again. Perhaps the power of the individual characters in the film will be clearer once he is more familiar with the film’s own rhythms. And I’d like to challenge audiences in New York and Los Angeles to go check it out this weekend and come back here and tell me your thoughts.
One final thought…
In spite of where and when the story takes place, the story takes one on pleasant journey that shows us that people have to do what they have to in order to survive.
Another thing that I really appreciated about “Honeydripper” is that it is a story about people who are in a situation where people with power can determine if one lives or dies. The cause of the tension is the perpetual injustice from the legacy of slavery. There are a lot of issues that are not focused on, but are clearly visible in the atmosphere. Race is an ongoing issue that good people are not afraid to tackle. John Sayles’ films are out front on that issue.
If Charles Burnett had made this film, would he be accused of stereotyping?
As if to make my case, we just found out the film was nominated for 2 NAACP Image Awards…for Best Independent Feature and for Best Screenplay. Stereotypes??!!!