As praise for the gay cowboy love story “Brokeback Mountain” builds momentum across the country, most residents of Childress, Texas, seem oblivious to the attention the movie is focusing on their sleepy town.
And it is likely to stay that way.
“Brokeback Mountain” will not play at Childress’ one theater, the Lone Star 4. The closest place for Childress residents to see the movie will be in Amarillo, which is about 116 miles to the north. It is also not playing in Lubbock or Wichita Falls, the two other larger cities closest to Childress.
Vince LaCario, owner of the Lone Star 4, said the movie was not scheduled for showing in Childress because of its content.
“We’re a real small community with a lot of church presence,” LaCario said. “I’m afraid it would shake up some turmoil.”
The two cowboys in the movie, Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar, fall in love while working together herding sheep on a mountain in Wyoming in the early 1960s. Jack later visits Childress with the rodeo where he meets and marries a local woman. The two men carry on a long distance relationship for two decades, with Jack driving from Childress to Wyoming to visit Ennis several times a year.
Donna Ferguson, director of the Childress Chamber of Commerce, said she was unaware the town was a major setting in the movie, and she doubts many other people know about it either. Filming of the movie took place in Canada, rather than Texas and Wyoming.
“I don’t think they know it,” Ferguson said. “I haven’t heard a word about it from anyone.”
Ferguson said she is unsure what the conservative residents of Childress, which has a population of 6,874 residents, will think about a gay cowboy love story bringing attention to them. Childress is an agricultural town, and the largest employer is a prison on the outskirts of the city.
“That’s a good question,” Ferguson said.
Christopher Blackburn, editor of the Childress Index, said he had heard about Childress being featured in the movie, but he doubts many other residents are aware of it.
Blackburn said he doubts Childress residents would be offended about their city being used as a setting in movie about a gay cowboy love story, unless the town is placed in a negative light. When told the movie implies that a gay man was brutally murdered on a rural road in Childress County, Blackburn said, “Oh, wonderful. People will probably be a little more negative toward that.”
Ferguson said a few gay and lesbian people live in Childress today, and they seem to live there without any difficulties.
“I don’t think there are many, but there are some,” Ferguson said. “I don’t think they have any problems.”
Ferguson said she suspects most residents of Childress would not obsess about the subject of homosexuality.
“Some of them might, of course,” she said.
Blackburn said he also is aware of a few gay and lesbian people living in Childress.
“You could probably count them on one hand per gender,” Blackburn said. “I’ve known a couple. They didn’t seem to have any problem living here.”
Blackburn said some people in town might be homophobic, but he is unaware of any overt hostility. He describes himself as a “very tolerant individual.”
“From a tolerance aspect, who knows what goes on behind their backs, or maybe even in front of them, in regard to name calling and things like that,” Blackburn said. “I’m sure the younger population is probably more accepting. It’s the older population that is probably a little short about it.”
Perry Davidson, a gay Arkansas resident who was born in Childress, said his first reaction to hearing his hometown was a setting in the movie was to wonder if it was based on a true story.
“I thought, I wonder who they were and did we know them?” Davidson said.
Annie Proulx, the author of the short story “Brokeback Mountain,” indicates on her Web site that she traveled extensively in Texas and Wyoming before writing the work of fiction. The short story was published in The New Yorker in 1997.
Davidson said when he was growing up there were several large ranches around Childress County.
Davidson noted that he never experienced any difficulties about his sexual orientation in Childress when he returned to the town to visit family members, but he doubts the town’s residents would be very accepting of the movie.
Davidson said “Brokeback Mountain” has not yet reached the Fayetteville, Ark., area where he now lives, but he plans to see the movie as soon as it does.
“I can’t wait to see it,” Davidson said.
Ferguson said she expects the fictional movie to draw attention to Childress. The “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” movie, which was released in 1974, mentioned Childress and many people think it was a true story that actually occurred near the town.
“People will call me and ask me about it, and I tell them it didn’t really happen here,” Ferguson said.
Dallas Voice staff writer David Webb was born and raised in Childress, Texas.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 13, 2006.