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Movies reap awards for pushing boundaries
Updated: 2006-01-18 09:10

Are this year's Golden Globes a watershed?

Some people, like Joe Solmonese, president of the gay-rights group Human Rights Campaign, thinks so since six awards went to movies with gay or transsexual central characters.

Director Ang Lee, right, is joined by producer James Schamus, left, and co-writer Diana Ossana, center, as they pose with the award they won for best dramatic motion picture for 'Brokeback Mountain,' at the 63rd Annual Golden Globe Awards on Monday, Jan. 16, 2006, in Beverly Hills, Calif. [AP]

"It was a historic night," he told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "I think it says a lot about where we're going as a country."

"The more people live out and openly and honestly, the more we are simply part of the everyday fabric of Americans' lives," he added. "I think that's what not just the release of these movies demonstrates, but the fact that they won the awards that they did."

But Janice Shaw Crouse of Concerned Women for America, a women's group that applies Biblical principles to public policy, maintained: "Once again, the media elites are proving that their pet projects are more important than profit."

Crouse and some 18.7 million viewers saw approving heads nod throughout the Beverly Hills ballroom Monday when Felicity Huffman accepted her best drama actress award for her performance as a pre-op transsexual in "Transamerica" by saying:

"I would like to salute the men and women who brave ostracism, alienation and a life lived on the margins to become who they really are."

The cowboy romance "Brokeback Mountain" won four Golden Globes, including best dramatic picture, while Philip Seymour Hoffman won best dramatic actor as gay writer Truman Capote in "Capote" in addition to Huffman's recognition.

Still, there's been some resistance serious and not so serious to the films. "Brokeback" was pulled earlier this month from a Utah theater. Comedian Larry David, who co-created "Seinfeld" and has aligned himself with liberal causes, wrote a humorous op-ed piece for The New York Times, averring: "I just don't want to watch two straight men, alone on the prairie, fall in love and kiss and hug and hold hands and whatnot ... Not that there's anything wrong with that."

The Golden Globes are chosen by the relatively small Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which has about 80 members, compared with the 5,800 film professionals eligible to vote for the Oscars.

"Brokeback Mountain" has grossed $32.1 million according to Sunday box-office estimates; "Transamerica" has pulled in less than $1 million in limited release; and "Capote" has made $13 million.

Those figures will likely grow after the Globes, which remain a solid harbinger of Oscar voting. And Academy Award voters have also been receptive to homosexual roles, most notably to Tom Hanks in 1993's "Philadelphia."

Since then, gay characters have become a far more frequent occurrence from Kevin Kline in 1997's "In & Out" and Robin Williams in 1996's "The Birdcage," to the reality TV series "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."

Hilary Swank won her first Oscar in 2000 for her performance as Teena Brandon, a teenage girl who cross-dresses, posing as a boy named Brandon Teena in "Boys Don't Cry."

Those characters' sexual orientations were central to the story, while in "Capote" the author's is incidental to it.

"When people can be honest about their lives and their sexual orientation as just one part of their life, then we can move past the unknown and allow people to just be real," said Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "I think that's what these films have significantly helped America see.

"They're stories about real people. They're neighbors, they're co-workers, they're friends, they're family members. That does, I think, over time translate into advancement for equality and against the defamation we face."

Tom O'Neil, a columnist for the awards Web site TheEnvelope.com, believes that unlike many early gay-themed films, that "Brokeback," "Capote" and "Transamerica" are more heroic in their portrayal of gay characters.

He said that this is, in fact, a watershed moment for film that Hollywood is eager to help tear down any perceived remaining injustices. And if anything, he says, the negative response has been minimal.

"It may be that what we're learning with `Brokeback' and the lack of backlash is that this fight may have already been won," O'Neil says, "and that we may not be giving the red states enough credit."

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