When was the last time you saw something overtly racist in a mainstream movie?
Okay. There’s probably a lot of institutional racism in American cinema. I’ll go ahead and admit that I probably don’t even notice a lot of it, what with my white privilege and all. If I were taking notes, I might notice how often the people in power are white, or how class plays out on the screen–I’ll go ahead and confess that I haven’t been paying that much attention.
But really–when was the last time you heard an off-color joke (pardon the pun) with racial content in a movie?
Now ask yourself the last time you watched a homophobic joke play out on the silver screen.
I was particularly bothered this afternoon when I watched Smart People. It’s a decent movie, and I was actually struck at one point by the way a gay character (hey! That’s Roy from The Office!) was handled, well, pretty unremarkably. But then I had to sit through a sequence of You must be gay. That’s why you’re not attracted to me. Let’s talk some more about how gay you are.
And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is absolutely the rule, not the exception.
Not counting documentaries or biopics, just about all the movies I see manage to squeeze in some good ol’ fashioned gay jokes. Oooh, or trans jokes- those are even edgier! My bar is so low that I find myself relieved when a movie doesn’t take a queer joke as far as I expected. These are ridiculously low standards.
So… at what point does queerphobia cease to be the safe joke? It’s true that this isn’t the only joke–fatphobia is always funny, and misogyny still creeps in when you least expect it. But for every Milk or Brokeback Mountain, there are five movies that make me cringe.
When do we get to start being human beings, not caricatures? When do we stop being the brunt of the joke?