STEREOTYPES — Because nothing can be a movie now unless it’s already been a theme park ride, comic book or a series of action figures, Warner Brothers is about to unleash He’s Just Not That Into You upon the world. Which, for those keeping track at home, is a movie based on a book based on a line of dialogue from a cable show that aired almost six years ago.
This is a romantic comedy that is neither romantic nor comedic. The women are either flighty airheads or delusional stalkers, and for a movie set in Baltimore, there’s only one black character in the main story that has any lines. And he’s a waiter! Who speaks twice! Presumably all the other black folks were busy selling crack to Bubbles on The Wire.
While Not That Into You may be the only movie in existence that will cause you to think, “Oh, Ben Affleck, you’re better than this,” the film’s real sin is in the portrayal of its gay characters.
In a movie all about love and dating, with a full nine leads trying to navigate the rocky shoals of relationships, there’s not a hint of a gay relationship anywhere on the screen. Though discouraging, that isn’t necessarily a mortal sin. What is a problem, however, is how the few gay characters that are on screen are forced to behave: in the flameyest, lispingest, “fiercest” stereotypes imaginable. If black actors were forced to endure Stepin Fetchit, then this minstrel show of homosexuality can only be construed as Mincin’ Jazz Hands.
The main offenders are Drew Barrymore’s trio of co-workers at the Baltimore Blade– a made-up gay newspaper that Barrymore’s character works at for– oh, just go with it. Like any economically-minded movie, these secondary characters double as twofers, with a Latino Gay (Wilson Cruz) , an Asian Gay (Leonardo Nam) and a Pasty White Gay (Rod Keller). Remember, the filmmakers already ticked the black box by casting the waiter.
These sibilant-free sissies all curl around Drew to hear her latest dating woes, greeting each sad revelation with a different gay cliché rejoinder: “Oh, girl!” “Heyyyy!” and “Oooohhhh!”– all while they suck their teeth, too. And that’s it for these three. They don’t even talk about their own relationships, even as they might relate to dear ‘ol Drew. Nope, they just sit shiva around the sad sack, serving as a sassy sounding board.
The only other gay characters are seen briefly at an open house hosted by Kevin Connelly’s real estate broker character. Again, they serve only to advise a lovestruck hetero dope. While they do use their own experiences to counsel Kev-Kev in this scene, it’s only to illustrate that “gay signals” are completely different than “straight signals,” so, really, they can’t be any help at all. Because, you see, in the gay world, according to this film, if you look at someone for less than three seconds, it means you’re not interested. If you look for more than three seconds, then you want to screw. And, in a masterful stroke, the sex-crazed experts pivot seamlessly to neutered eunuchs, offering Kevin a cookie, a grandmotherly hug and warm admonishment of, “Oh, honey, no.”
So while the heterosexuals of He’s Just Not That Into You obsessively seek romantic partners, we have no basis of love, longing, passion or relationships; we’re just relentless fuck machines, hunting ceaselessly for dick-dick-dick-dick-dick-dick-dick! Best not to ask for anything else other than a pithy one-liner and maybe if these shoes go with that belt. We’re just your Mincin’ Jazz Hands, here to delight you with our fey ways and our finger-snapping sass-talk before jauntily sashaying out of the way for the real people to have real relationships.
Like I said, it’s bad enough that there’s not a single gay relationship on display, but to have a cavalcade of such clumsy stereotypes is just embarrassing. You wouldn’t have an Italian character slurping down spaghetti while professing love for his mother right before going out on a mob hit. You wouldn’t have a Mexican character sneaking into the country to find work as a gardener in-between frequent naps under his giant sombrero. And you wouldn’t have an Asian character with giant buck teeth figuring out sums on a huge abacus while snacking noisily on puppy stew. So why do gays have to slap on the gayface and do a faggoty song and dance just to get some screen time?
And to add insult to injury, all of this is from a media enterprise born from Sex and the City, a show with a loyal gay following. This is the thanks they get for such fervent devotion over the years? Who do you think bought DVD set after DVD set? Who do you think was lining up on opening night for the movie? Who did you think was willingly going along with the ridiculous charade that Sarah Jessica Parker was both attractive and endlessly fascinating?
While it would have been nice to be tossed a token cog in the giant, steaming machine of relationships, the least the Not That Into You team could have done would have been to not portray us as the same silly faggots playing the same Paul Lynde role as 30 years ago, as if we’re going to burst out of your wife’s closet, wearing her pumps and sundress and screaming “I’m the secret squaaaaaaarrreee!!”
We’re not meeting for clandestine rendezvous on shipping piers and in dimly lit corners of the park, or for a hastily gulped drink in a windowless bar. (Well, not exclusively, at any rate.) We go on dates, good and bad, we have long-term girlfriends and boyfriends, we can get married, we have kids. We belong at the grownupss’ table as the fully functional, fully human adults that we are. Not as some outdated, femme clown who entertains the room before slinking out the back door.
It could be worse, though. We could be the only black guy in Baltimore who’s just a waiter.
Dixon T. Gaines is a writer and editor formerly based in New York and who now finds himself in Los Angeles.
Wilson Cruz, who plays Nathan in the film, sees it another way entirely.
“I didn’t swish, my wrists were intact and I think I spoke without a lisp,” he tells Queerty, adding, “I wasn’t playing a stereotype. I’d love to know what I did that was stereotypical.” Asked if there was pressure to “gay it up” for the camera, Cruz says, “No there wasn’t. The actors came in and did what they wanted.”
Cruz, who’s starred in Rent, Noah’s Arc, and yes, My So-Called Life, doesn’t “think they were all queens in this movie. I certainly didn’t think I was being queenie. I think he [Nathan] was likable and friendly, but queenie, no. Some of the other characters, perhaps.”
And here’s one point you can get on board with: “I don’t think it’s really fair to say that every gay character in every film or movie is supposed to be the defining depiction of who we are as a community. No character can do that. I think that I played him [Nathan] as honestly as I could. I reacted in the film as I would in life, and I don’t think I’m a stereotype. We aren’t all Tom of Finland. And if we are honest with ourselves, none of us are. … Sometimes people look at a character these days and say, ‘Well he was effeminate. And that’s stereotypical.’ Well, guess what, some people in our community are effeminate. And I don’t necessarily think that’s the end of the world. Not all of my characters are effeminate.”