Heroic Gay Characters in Popular Film: Documentary, Domesticity and Sacrifice

Authors: Pullen, C.

Conference: 41st Anniversary Convention Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)

Dates: 7-11 April 2010


Rob Epstein’s documentary The Times of Harvey Milk (1984, US) and Gus Van Sant’s Hollywood drama Milk (2008, US) offer a complex relationship in the representation of gay political icon Harvey Milk, foregrounding the significance of gay community within national identity. Similarly the appearance of AIDS activist Pedro Zamora in the reality television series The Real Word San Francisco (Bunim/Murray for MTV, 1994, US), and the recent documentary film drama Pedro (Nick Oceano, 2009, US), evoke the essence of the original documentary text, and the heroic construction of the worthy gay citizen in popular cultural dramatised forms. Harvey Milk and Pedro Zamora, in entirely different political and cultural settings, are represented as heroic figures fit for the gay community, the nation, and the world stage. This paper explores gay identity and notions of citizenship, evident in the symbiotic and contextual relationship between documentary form, and further adaptations within popular film. Harvey Milk and Pedro Zamora, are attributed not only with attesting the utopian values of good citizenship, and offer evidence of Foucault’s concept of ‘care of the self’ where individuals sacrifice themselves for the benefit of a civilised society and humanity, but also are represented as domesticated visions of queer society. In a progressing cinematic world where the icon of the sacrificial gay self may be considered as forefront in blockbuster texts like Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005, US), and potentially seen as a replacement for the subordinated and othered gay character which endured through Hollywood’s history, are these representations stimulations of reassurance or revolution? Clearly notions of citizenship, domesticity, political reflection, and ultimately sacrifice, are essential ingredients here. However, this paper argues that is problematic, yet at the same time attractively foundational. The documented, imagined as real, and the sacrificial self as inspirational icon, inevitably forms a powerful new storytelling mode of wider access.


Source: Manual

Preferred by: Christopher Pullen