Hollywood, offensive speech and why ‘The Interview’ actually matters

TheIntSome neocons like to argue that the protections afforded by the First Amendment really only apply to political speech — that artistic speech of a non-political nature simply isn’t subject to the same rigorous scrutiny. (Even political speech to them doesn’t include, apparently, blocking traffic or wearing T-shirts on the field at sporting events) And while no one has probably ever referred to what Seth Rogen does as art, the free expression issues raised in the controversy over his new film, The Interview, reach the level of serious discussion.

If you haven’t heard, the comedy — which was supposed to screen for local critics tonight and open in Dallas on Christmas Day — is a about the comical attempts of a talk show host and his producer to assassinate Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s dictator. Last month, pro-North Korean factions hacked the private servers of Sony (the parent company of Columbia Pictures, which is releasing the film), and disclosed all sorts of embarrassing details about the company, and threatened to blow up movie theaters who dared screen the film which dares parody the leader of the most oppressive regime in the world. In other words, to these guys, there is no such this as protection for free expression of ideas, even stupid ones. (I suppose they have that in common with a lot of folks at FoxNews — ironic, since FoxNews specializes in stupid ideas.)

Yesterday, Sony caved to pressure, and yanked the film from distribution, not even planning  for a video-on-demand or DVD release at a later date. The ironic thing was, many hours after the decision had been announced, commercials for The Interview we’re still appearing on cable TV shows, promising a movie viewers would never see.

Without defending the specifics of The Interview (which I have not seen), keep in mind what this says about society: The Interview is a fantastical comedy, albeit about one real person (highly fictionalized). Comedy is key to this. But what other films actually opening on Christmas Day? A story about another real person, only it’s a true story: Louis Zamperini was brutally tortured by the Japanese during World War II (Unbroken); astonishingly, Japan has not required that the film be censored, nor have Japanese-American groups threatened terrorism for portraying their people in a negative light. Another true story is about a gay man, who also happens to be the greatest mathematician of the 20th century, who was unjustly treated by the horrific homophobia of the British system in the 1950s (The Imitation Game). To date, Queen Elizabeth has not demanded an apology. And in the Dec. 25 release American Sniper, real marksman Chris Kyle methodically uses a long-range rifle to kill a prepubescent boy in Afghanistan, then immediately turns his site on the boy’s mother and takes her out as well. (They were wielding grenades at U.S. troops.) The Islamic community so far has not declared a jihad on the studio.

Then there’s a movie in which a key plot point is a young African-American orphan is kidnapped (Annie) … a movie where a witch practicing dark arts casts spells to keep a couple barren, and people die as a result of their bad behavior — no happy endings in Into the Woods … even in The Gambler, African-Americans and Koreans are portrayed as thuggish gangsters (I guess impugning South Koreans is OK)  All in all, this season at the movies is rife with controversy, downbeat themes, violence, injustice, and brutality — often at the hands of people who might otherwise be offended at the characterization. But only the comedy about a country that doesn’t even know the Internet exists is being pulled from theater.

To be fair, Sony didn’t have many options. Major theater chains had refused to show the film, citing safety concerns. But think about what this statement says on the same day the U.S. announced efforts to normalize relations with another oppressive dictatorship, Cuba. It’s a message that tyranny wins, and self-expression isn’t an absolute. The loudest voices can drown out the sensible ones. It’s sad that all this time, we were worried about North Korea having nuclear capabilities, when all they really needed was wifi.

It would appear that the neocons have been proven right: Freedom of expression may very well be dead … and not just in North Korea.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

WATCH: Naked athletes frolicking. Yeah, that (NSFW)

The rowers for the Warwick crew team original made a naked calendar as a fundraiser. Now they do it, in part, to support gays in sports. Bully for them!

Watch the NSFW video below.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

DFW Film Critics name ‘Birdman’ best of 2014

Still10

Ellar Coltrane, star of the Texas-based ‘Boyhood’

The Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association, of which I am a voting member, named the fantasy film Birdman as the top film of 2014 in its annual poll. Runaway favorite also took nodes for its star, Michael Keaton, who won best actor; Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for direction and screenplay; and for its cinema-tography. Second on the list was the Texas-based  Boyhood, which took place over a 12 year shooting scheduling.

The other films in the top 10 were The Imitation Game (No. 3), The Theory of Everything (No. 4), Texas-bred filmmaker Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (No. 5), Whiplash (No. 6), Gone Girl (No. 7), Selma (No. 8), Wild (No. 9) and Nightcrawler (No. 10).

Reese Witherspoon was named best actress for Wild. Runners-up for best actor include Eddie Redmayne (as Steven Hawking) in The Theory of Everything, Benedict Cumberbatch (as gay mathematician Alan Turing) in The Imitation Game, Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler and Timothy Spall in Mr. Turner. Runners-up for best actress were Julianne Moore, Still Alice; Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl; Felicity Jones, Theory of Everything and Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night.

Best supporting performance nods went to actor J.K. Simmons in Whiplash and actress Patricia Arquette for Boyhood. Runners-up for supporting actor were Edward Norton for Birdman, Ethan Hawks, Boyhood, Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher and Alfred Molina, Love Is Strange; supporting actress also-rans were Emma Stone, Birdman, Keira Knightley,  Imitation Game, Jessica Chastain, A Most Violent Year and Laura Dern, Wild.

Also named as the best directors were Richard Linklater, Boyhood (who was also the second-place finisher for Boyhood), Anderson, Budapest; David Fincher, Gone Girl; Ava DuVarnay, Selma.

Force Majeure was named best foreign language film (followed by Ida, Winter Sleep, Leviathan and Wild Tales);  Citizenfour was named best documentary (followed by Life Itself, Jodorowsky’s Dune, The Overnighters and The Great Invisible); The Lego Movie took best animated feature. Best score went to Interstellar (which placed second for its cinematography).

The association also gives the Russell Smith Award, named for the late gay Dallas Morning News film critic who championed indie films, to Boyhood.

Read more about the association here.

Friday is Dallas Voice’s Hollywood Issue, which will include reviews of a number of new films and celebrity interviews; our Dec. 26 issue will include my own list of the best films of 2014 (which includes many from the critics’ poll).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Cocktail Friday: Torched Old-Fashioned

KC_Torched Citrus OF_BottleWhen most people say they enjoy an old-fashioned holiday, they mean “traditional.” When I think of an old-fashioned holiday, I mean “bourbon.” Jeff Hammett, an Austin-based bartender, came up with this twist on the old-fashioned old-fashioned that sounds very new-fangled. Hey, maybe someone should invent a drink called the New-Fangled. Dibs!

2 parts Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve bourbon

5 dashes Angostura bitters

1 part simple syrup (with a hint of clove)

Orange and lemon rinds

1 part soda

Making it: With a food torch, scorch the citrus rinds. In a shaker, muddle the rinds with the syrup and bitters, then add the bourbon. Add ice and stir. Strain over ice into an old-fashioned glass. Top with a spritz of soda water.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

A few people we think of when we think 2014

BWDP_Bruce profile-1

Bruce Wood

Tomorrow’s edition of Dallas Voice reveals our annual choice for LGBT Texan of the Year. I won’t spoil who we chose, but in going over the year in my mind, some names stuck out — they were on my mind during 2014 a lot, for a variety of reasons. For instance, Bruce Wood — a friend and also one of the most frighteningly talented artists Texas has ever seen (I swear that’s not an exaggeration) — passed away, far too soon, at age 53 this past May. We did a cover story about Bruce the following week, cause he touched so many lives.

The community also reacted strongly to the passing of Chris Miklos, a muscleman popular in the bear community, but also a medical researcher who did a lot of good for people. Just a few weeks ago, I was stunned and saddened by the death, at age 31, of Brandon James Singleton, an actor, dancer and funny, skilled writer (he contributed a terrific series to Dallas Voice in 2012 about turning 30). Just as recently, two community leaders — Paul Lewis, a former executive with Caven and Steve Bratka, a huge fundraiser for the Tarrant County Stonewall Democrats — passed away.

Wed Steve Dan

Noviello and Bedner

Not everyone who resonated died, of course. Mark Pharris and Victor Holmes of Plano won a marriage equality against the state of Texas — bully for them! And bully, too, for Jack Evans and George Harris, who finally tied the knot last March after more than decades as a couple (though not legally binding, their retired pastor wanted to make a statement to the Methodist Church). TV personality Steve Noviello did enter wedded bliss — legally — to his partner Doug Bedner in New York. Matt Miller brought the Gay World Series of Softball back to Dallas, and we were all glad to see thousands of athletes out at the clubs. And Stephan Pyles got more recognition for his cuisine for his new restaurant, San Salvaje. We were also pleased as punch when our favorite radio commentator, Rawlins Gilliland, did his first live spoken word show … and it was such a hit, he did several more.

There were some important allies who we cheered on, as well, from failed gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis and lieutenant governor hopeful Leticia Van de Putte. Local chef John Tesar caused such a stir in the foodie community, we were happy he was on our side as a gay-friendly restaurateur. And Dale Hansen raised the bar high early on with his full-throated advocacy for gays in sports.

Think we left off someone important? Possibly — feel free to weigh in with comments. Then again, maybe they are in tomorrow’s paper — or even on the cover! Check it out Friday!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

What’s the best gayborhood in the U.S.? C’mon, you know …

Cedar SpringsThe Out Traveler just compiled a list of the top 10 gayborhoods in the U.S. The big’uns are all there: Seattle’s Capitol Hill (No. 9). West Hollywood (No. 7). Fort Lauderdale’s Wilton Manors (No. 6). But what’s above The Castro (No. 3)? Why, li’l ol’ Oak Lawn!

Yup, according to the publication, the eateries and clubs (face it: We have quite a few bars in the Crossroads!), the proximity to both downtown and right here in the Design District (where the Voice offices are now located) and the friendliness of the residents (yee-haw, Texans!) make it the favorite in the land. And they didn’t even mention the warm weather, the Halloween street party, the excellent gay media (ahem) the shopping and much more that serves to explain why we call Dallas home.

So can we please get away from this “Dallatude” thing?

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Cocktail Friday: The Equality Cosmo

Gay culture is all about celebrating equality, and Equality Vodka does that exactly — a portion of proceeds go to support nonprofits serving the LGBT community. So when you drink their Equality Cosmo, remember, you’re not just doing your tastebuds a favor, you’re also helping out a charity. And with the holidays now upon us, this Santa-colored beverage makes an ideal cocktail for entertaining.

2 oz. Equality Vodka

1/2 oz. Patron Citronage

3 oz. cranberry juice

Lemon.

Making it: Combine all ingredients plus a squeeze of lemon in a shaker filled with ice, and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a lemon wedge.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

New 007 film promises to be gayest yet … but ‘The Hobbit’ is still gayer

Ben Whishaw

Ben Whishaw

Skyfall, the last installment in the James Bond series, was about as gay as a spy thriller can be, with a clearly gay villain (Javier Bardem) hitting on a bondaged 007 (who didn’t seem offended at all, and even flirted back). But the upcoming one — which we just learned will be called Spectre — has even more gayness, though much of it behind the scenes.

In addition to the return of out actor Ben Whishaw, pictured, as Q, Lea Seydoux (who had steamy lesbian sex in last year’s Blue is the Warmest Color) and out actor Andrew Scott have joined the cast, which once again will be co-written by out scribe John Logan. And Daniel Craig is in it again, and we’ve long had our suspicions (fantasies?) about him.

Of course, gay blockbusters aren’t all that rare anymore. Consider: The main cast of the upcoming The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, includes Ian McKellen, Luke Evans, Lee Pace and Stephen Fry. And that got me thinkin’ — isn’t it funny how gay Middle-earth is? Indeed, most of the residents correspond to gay “types:” Hobbits are pocket gays; elves are twinks; dwarves are bears; wizards are grey wolves; and orcs … I dunno … butch lesbians?

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

The Conservative Conundrum: Does anti-gay bigotry trump negative economic impact?

Which of these images really matters most to conservatives? Because their policies are at odds with themselves

holding handsConservatives have been beating the dual drumbeat of “family values” (i.e., hate-based bigotry) and “fiscal responsibility” (i.e., cutting taxes on the rich and denying services to the poor). But what if these policies were verifiably at odds with each other? What if being anti-marriage-equality was also anti-growth?

Well that’s just what the consulting firm Oliver Wyman has figured out.

In a report released last month called The Cost of Inconsistency: Quantifying the Economic Burden to American Business from the Patchwork Quilt of Marriage Laws, the authors arrived at some staggering conclusions. Among them: Every day of marriage inequality across the nation costs the private sector at least $3.5 million (the annual cost would pay the salaries of 19,000 workers); same-sex couples pay more in taxes than similarly-situated opposite-sex couples, and states without marriage equality bear the brunt of this burden (what about cutting taxes as a tenet of conservatism?); the five-year savings since the overturning of DOMA is estimated at $3.3 billion … but if marriage laws were uniform nationwide, it would amount to $9.7 billion.

So the question is: With marriage equality having such a profound fiscal impact, why resist it?

They might argue that inconsistency is the problem … so what we need is a nationwide ban on same-sex marriage. Of course, that’s idiotic, since they fought like dogs to let each state decide, and many states (and the Supreme Court more or less) have decided already that same-sex marriage is a right. If even one (not to mention 30-something) state finds the right, then the others much follow suit, not go regressive.

For the Huckabees and Santorums and Perrys still not convinced, the report offered this quote from an Ohio small businessman. He said:

“We are a fast-growing tech business committed to building our business in Cleveland. It’s been hard enough to compete with New York, Chicago, or D.C. for talent, but now we are at a further disadvantage because Ohio doesn’t recognize the legal marriages of same-sex couples. I know of cases where corporations want key employees to transfer to Ohio but they refuse because our state doesn’t recognize their marriage. This puts Ohio business at a disadvantage in the fight for recruiting talent.”

Talent, GOPers. You want to encourage talent. Entrepreneurialship. Fairness. Equality is a tide that lifts all boats. If you weren’t so busy pandering to the Religious Right in this country because you’re terrified they won’t be terrified, you’d already have done the right thing. Which, as it turns out, is also the “Right” thing.

You can read (or download) the full report here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Gay art at the DMA

Art Issue Cover 11/28In this week’s Art Issue, I did a story on Mark Leonard, the (gay) conservationist at the Dallas Museum of Art tasked with restoring and preserving important items in the collection. But a few weeks ago, during Gay History Month in October, Taylor Jeromos — an intern with the DMA and its Arts & Letters Live program — did a blog post on the museum’s website honoring out artists of the past whose work can be found in the collection. It’s a really interesting mini-history. Enjoy it — link to it here — and the other stories in our Art Issue (about fashion design [also a subject of art at the Crow Collection right now], pop art and abstract art among them).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones