Da Vinci, Lincoln and Liberace: Why “Straight-Washing” Homosexuality In The Media Needs To Stop

After recently reading an interview with David S Goyer (writer of “Batman Begins” among others) on his new TV show…

Daniel Bowen

Contributor

uktv_da_vincis_demons_2

After recently reading an interview with David S Goyer (writer of “Batman Begins” among others) on his new TV show “DaVinci’s Demons” on AfterElton.com (a gay centered entertainment site) as he tried to argue that his show won’t shy away from the historically factual homosexual lifestyle Leonardo da Vinci is strongly believed to have led, it struck me just how much homosexuals, of which I am one, have had to put up with in the last couple of years when it comes to lack of homosexual media representation and in particular this idea of “straight-washing” homosexuality from our film and TV screens.

Though the show “DaVinci’s Demons” has yet to air, David S Goyer’s comments as he tried to defend his apparent “straight-washing” of Leonardo da Vinci rubbed me the wrong way, and for good reason, because he used the same kind of rhetoric and defensive speaking  secret homophobes, or at least those trying to prevent the advancement of homosexual representation particularly in the media and political world have been using for years and years. Though I do not know Goyer personally, and though I have yet to see the show, something about the interview and the trailers for the show set to air in a few months makes me strongly believe that though he claims the show doesn’t “straight-wash” anything, in reality, by the comments and marketing so far it seems very, very likely that it will in fact “straight-wash” a lot.  +

Though I will start this article discussing these comments about this new show, this article plans to cover a lot of the anti-homosexual moves the media has taken in the last couple of years, and this is just a starting point to try to convince those still unconvinced or ultra defensive that this kind of thing is currently a problem in the media and why it needs to stop.

Tom-Riley-as-Leonardo-Da-Vinci-1024x682

David S Goyer begins his defense when asked why the show has already raised criticism from those in “gay community” or in reality, any one who knows the history of da Vinci by arguing the following statement…

“DaVinci was arguably one of the famous if not the most famous people in history, who was involved in all of these aspects. So I think it’s a little odd that there’s so much debate about his sexuality, which should be kind of irrelevant and definitely seemed to be irrelevant during the time, and the era, and the place that our show takes place”.

… and this is an example of exactly the kind of rhetoric I am referring to. Though the comments may sound convincing, in reality they are highly ignorant and misguided. In particular when Goyer states that his sexuality was “irrelevant” and especially “irrelevant during the time” it is simply insulting. First of all, when is any one’s sexuality ever irrelevant? Sexuality is an important part of every persons life, whether heterosexual, homosexual or other, and I am sure, had da Vinci been exclusively heterosexual Goyer wouldn’t have felt the need to call his sexuality irrelevant… it is only because he was considered homosexual or at the very least bisexual that Goyer feels the need to call his sexuality irrelevant because he doesn’t want the criticism he deserves to get by making one of “the most famous people in history” heterosexual as apposed to homosexual. Secondly, considering Goyer even admits in the article that da Vinci was at one point in his life arrested for participating in gay sexual intercourse, the fact that he believes sexuality was irrelevant at that time shows he has no sympathy for the struggles of gay men and women throughout history. The sheer fact that at this time in history homosexuality was an arrestable offense shows that sexuality was certainly not “irrelevant during the time”.

Of course, if the show were to portray no use of sexuality what so ever and be open to readers opinion his views on this matter may be more valid and acceptable, but when the marketing and trailer makes a huge point of the heterosexual love making between da Vinci and a female character as one of its key selling points (as seen below in the trailer) then Goyer has no defense when accused of trying to overally “straight-wash” a, at the very least, bisexual important historical figure.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1zVl6p3yFs

The show promises however not to completely shy away from this important and sadly still controversial side of da Vinci’s life, but seeing as Goyer later goes on to say…

“I think that particularly when your readers actually see this show I think our approach is a bit more nuanced than might first appear.”

… it is clear that the majority of the homosexual sexuality used in this show will be suggestions in the dialogue and winks to the audience that know the history of da Vinci’s life, especially considering how very in your face and un-nuanced the heterosexuality has been so far in the trailer.

Maybe you are still unconvinced, or maybe you believe there is simply nothing wrong with changing the sexuality of a famous and beloved character in order to attract a larger target audience but, if you are heterosexual, try to consider this point of view from a homosexual perspective.  Say for example homosexuals were in control of the media and changed the sexuality of a well known and beloved heterosexual character into a homosexual character… would you then not be insulted by this? Say for example a film was made with a gay Clark Kent/ Superman or a gay JFK… would this not insult you, especially considering it is completely inaccurate to the history and the legacy of the character. Would not da Vinci himself be insulted to know that his homosexuality was to be straight-washed this way, especially considering he himself even broke laws and was tried in his time in order to participate in a gay relationship? But, if anything, this issue is much more important to homosexuals in the audience, especially considering the lack of famous historical characters who were gay compared to heterosexual famous figures. Straight-wash even a couple of our homosexual famous figures and we are left with very little representation at all.

LINCOLN

This is not an issue, like I said previously that hasn’t come up before, and in fact there is a recent, very high profile Academy Award nominated (and likely winning film) which could be considered as “straight-washing” a famous gay historical figure. Though I am aware of many Americans who get insulted when this highly likely statement is even whispered, as a gay man I myself am insulted by anyone who would consider it an insult to suggest someone might have been gay so I am just going to go ahead regardless.  Though I have yet to see this film because I live in the UK and we generally get films much later than in the states, Abraham Lincoln, the central figure in the film “Lincoln” (obviously) is highly considered by many historians to have been a closeted gay man living in a time when the vast majority of gay men and women had to be closeted for legal reasons. I have heard though, much to my disappointed,  that although this film was written by a gay man known for his seminal gay works, Tony Kushner (Angels in America) who himself has been stated as believing Lincoln was likely a gay man, the film features no gay suggestions or themes what so ever.

In defense of the film Lincoln, I can kind of forgive Kushner for “straight-washing” this very important historical figure. He has said, because the film resolves around a very important and specific time in American history, that Lincoln doesn’t have the time in this period of his life for any sort of sexuality what so ever, so although I would have liked to have seen this element of his life addressed, as long as there aren’t any steamy scenes with Mr Lincoln and Mary Todd (which I highly doubt there would be considering) then this film can be forgiven much more than “straight-washing” da Vinci can.  However, I feel that considering Lincoln is about Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to free the slaves and trying to give freedom and liberty to all, linking the film with the homosexual civil rights injustice of our and Lincoln’s generation would have been an interesting comparison to see, so for this reason it might have been interesting to get a feel for what life as a closeted gay man in this time would have been like to experience for Lincoln if he was indeed homosexual, which a lot of historical evidence strongly suggests.

behind-the-candelabra

Other than “straight-washing” perhaps the most famous homosexual historical figures the world has ever known, this year has brought other upsetting revelations when it comes to homosexual representation in film and TV. The much hyped film “Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace” directed by Steven Soderbergh and featuring Oscar winners Micheal Douglas and Matt Damon as homosexual characters was turned down by all the major film studios because apparently the film was seen as “too gay” and because of this is to be released as a HBO TV movie. It is funny how although the media is often criticized as being too liberal or even being itself “gay”, it still cares more about profit and audience figures than it does about representing and appealing to neglected and under-represented minorities.

Perhaps you are of the population who think homosexual people should just be grateful that they have any media representation what so ever, and should just shut up and watch Glee and Modern Family and pretend like the world loves them… but I am not one of those people and I think it’s sad that homosexual people are expected to put up with this kind of behavior or else be accused of whining or participating in the apparent war we have going where we plan to turn every character in Film and TV gay, along with all your husbands and children, and while we are at it have an all out war on Christmas. I wish that people, like David S Goyer and many others would stop being so defensive and proud, and either admit that they are either closeted homophobes, ignorant to the struggles of homosexual men and women, or just straight out admit that the reason they aren’t “gaying up” their films and TV shows is because they will struggle to find an audience. Homosexual people are expected to wait patiently for things and people to “evolve”, while they continue to be denied basic human rights and sadly, through misinformed ignorance generally be considered sexual deviants… and unfortunately for the majority of the time we do just this… we wait.

uktv_da_vincis_demons_3

When President Obama last year announced his support for homosexuals to be legally able to get married, heterosexuals expected homosexuals to be over-the-moon and thankful, and sadly it seemed so did Obama. The sad truth is that many homosexuals were and in my opinion seemed to completely miss the whole point of what was happening. I for one was one gay guy who was not “happy”. Sure, I was “glad” that finally gay rights were making a step forward, but I wasn’t going to be one of those homosexuals in the media to thank President Obama. This is how I see it… Would you be happy if some big bully came into your home, beat you up, stole all you possessions and then slowly began handing them back to you one by one? No you wouldn’t, and you shouldn’t be. Why should I be “happy”, and why should millions of Americans be happy that they had to wait years for some “straight guys” opinions to evolve, just so he could slowly begin handing out the same rights to them that they should have had since day one, and that heterosexual’s have never had to fight for.  I am glad that movement is finally happening, but I am not going to thank the person that at one point in time believed we didn’t deserve those same rights. This is the kind of attitude and low self esteem homosexuals have been forced to accept, and this is key to the reasons homosexuals generally don’t complain when they are time and time again prevented from being represented in the media.

Many heterosexuals fear the unknown and homosexuality, and seem to think that us asking for and expecting more positive homosexual representation is akin to going to war with the whole of the media to the point that we will only be happy when every main character on every television show is gay. The truth is, unlike the vast majority of heterosexuals, we are happy to watch shows and films led by those with opposite sexual orientations to us, but all we ask, and all we expect is to be treated with some respect and dignity. Is it too much to ask  for more than a handful of shows to feature homosexual protagonists? Is it too much to ask for a show led by a famous “gay” historical figure to actually be homosexual, without “straight-washing” the character so much that it may as well not be Leonardo da Vinci at all?

The sad truth is that the few Films and TV shows we get with central protagonists who are homosexual; “Glee”, “The New Normal”, “Brokeback Mountain”, are usually mocked and made fun of by not only the general population but often by critics. There was a time in 2006 when all gay jokes referred to “Brokeback Mountain” and you almost couldn’t call yourself a comedian unless you had one in your joke book. But the even sadder truth is that these shows which are often criticized for being “too gay” actually are still forbidden by their networks to feature the same kind of intimacy the straight characters on those same shows experience. Gay people are usually criticized when they complain however because apparently we should be thankful that at least these shows feature gay couples, and although these shows are far less the enemy than shows that feature no gay characters what so ever in order to steer clear from the criticism, we shouldn’t accept only half respectable representation.

skyfall-bardem630a-jpg_181559

One of this years most successful movies “Skyfall” seemed to be above criticism, and I personally regrettably have waited this long to express my disappointment in fear of being chased down the street by an angry torch wielding mob, but this film perfectly expresses the views those in Hollywood and the media in general think are acceptable to have against homosexuals. Though homosexuals were asked to be thankful that at least the film featured some representation, what was this representation really? A very stereotypical blonde haired and European villain who used his homosexuality as a weapon and threat to Bond’s heterosexual masculinity. Does the media really think all homosexuals are sexually aggressive, sex obsessed villains threatening to eradicate the heterosexual normative sexuality? But more sadly, does the media think they can get away with this type of insulting stereotype without people  raising an eyebrow… and more importantly, why don’t more people pick up on films which still try to promote the message that ultra-masculine sexuality representations like James Bond, who is, might I add just as sex obsessed and perverse as Silva is (lets not forget Bond approached a woman naked in the shower, without her permission, to have sex with her, when the last conversation they had the woman talked about how she was sold to the sex industry and has been sexually abused most of her life) is the ideal, and these “straight heroes” should be praised and worshiped for tracking down and stopping any homosexual threat they encounter? Sadly though, the majority doesn’t pick up on this very glaring metaphor and instead complain at the mere suggestion that Bond may in fact be bisexual (something Daniel Craig has himself recently denied).

My point is however that though the media would have you believe that homosexuality is well represented and homosexuals should be thankful for the many examples of homosexual representations we have in the media, in reality heterosexuals are still preventing the progress of homosexual representation, and although it is popular to think that homosexuals are trying to wage war on the media in order to have what many consider “too much representation”, in reality it is not the homosexuals but the “heterosexual agenda” that it actively trying to “straight-wash” away even historical proven homosexual figures from our TV screens, while at the same time preventing A List staring homosexual films from hitting our cinema screens whilst continuing to reuse old and offensive gay stereotypes as villains in the most successful blockbuster movies.

This kind of behavior if anything seems to be a step backward not forward, and I would only hope that if people were to catch on to this trend and be aware that this blatant homophobia is still taking place, then someone, somewhere, with a lot more power than I might do something to turn the tides in favour of equality and acceptance, and not boring old ignorance and hatred.