Hollywood’s gay community is reacting with anxiety and suspicion to Sacha Baron Cohen’s upcoming satire, “Bruno,” saying that the film excluded gays from the filmmaking process and that when they were consulted, filmmakers did not address their concerns that the film was a distortion of homosexuality.
The filmmaker conducted "significant reshoots" to temper the troubled reaction of insiders from the Hollywood gay community, according to one person involved in the Bruno production who declined to be identified.
Universal Pictures, which is opening the film on July 10, declined to confirm or deny the report. In a statement the studio said the "overwhelming majority of the audience" would understand that the film seeks to lampoon homophobia.
But additional filming — including an ending shot this spring with the participation of Elton John, Coldplay’s Chris Martin and other music celebrities, which seems to promote gay marriage in a spoof charity video — may have come too late in the process to impact the tone of the movie, which many in the Hollywood gay community are finding offensive.
Writer-director Mike White (“School of Rock”), who is gay and part of Hollywood’s comedic power circle, was shown the film weeks ago and found the Bruno character to be a depiction of fetishism rather than a comedic stereotype, according to the individual involved in the production.
The writer-director told Cohen and producer Jay Roach, according to the individual, “’I felt like I was going to throw up the whole time.”
White would not discuss the report, but told TheWrap: “People are going to have a range of reactions to the film. I’m excited for people to see the movie, because it’s going to generate a lot of interesting discussions.”
White said that he gave the filmmakers suggestions for edits and reshoots, but he didn’t know whether they had taken his advice.
Other reactions in Hollywood go far beyond the apprehensions reported in a recent New York Times article on feedback in the broader gay and lesbian community.
At an event honoring "Milk" screenwriter Dustin Lance Black on Sunday, numerous gay celebrities — some of whom had seen an early cut of the film — compared Baron Cohen’s depiction to a white person appearing in blackface.
“I agree,” said actor Jack Plotnick (“Meet the Fockers”), when asked about the comparison. “I’m very concerned. I saw a rough cut. I just don’t want to comment until I see the finished movie, but I’m concerned.”
“When you see a Bruno clip in a room full of gay men, everyone laughs and it’s fine,” added Peter Paige, from “Queer as Folk.” “When you see a Bruno clip in a room full of straight men, they’re all laughing, and it’s a different thing. You start to go, ‘Hmmm, I don’t know how I feel about this.’”
Brian Graden, MTV Network’s president of entertainment as well as the president of programming for Logo, Viacom’s gay and lesbian TV channel, noted his worries about Bruno potentially crossing the "fine line between satire & stereotyping.”
A Universal Pictures spokesman told TheWrap: “While any work that dares to address relevant cultural sensitivities might be misinterpreted by some or offend others, we believe the overwhelming majority of the audience will understand and appreciate the film’s inarguably positive intentions, which we’ve seen demonstrated whenever we have shown it."
That sounds good on face value, but even the Bruno production seems aware that the film needs the support of the gay community. The Logo website was dominated by ads for Bruno and content about the film:
This feedback was echoed by those who attended screenings for gay and lesbian audiences, according to the individual on the production. “Throughout the many private screenings they have had, the reaction from gays has been almost uniformly one of alarm," he said.
Numerous scenes have bothered gay audiences. In one, Bruno appears on a talk show with an adopted African baby, who is called a man magnet and is wearing a T-shirt that says “Gayby.”
Later in the scene, photographs are shown of the child near Bruno and another man in a hot tub engaging in what appears to be sexual activity.
In another scene, Bruno and a sexual partner were tied up in chains in a hotel room, wearing G-strings, and with a plunger in the mouth of one. Hotel workers entered to unlock them, and found a tarp on the wall with fecal stains, and gerbils in a drawer.
“It makes you sickened by gay sex, even if you are someone who participates in it,” said one gay member of Hollywood who’d seen the movie but declined to be identified.
It is not uncommon for gay and lesbian organizations to be sought out by Hollywood for advice on films depicting homosexuality, as was the case on on 2007’s “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.”
In the case of “Bruno,” the filmmakers did not seek input from members of the gay community until very late in the process.
Rashad Robinson, Senior Director of Media Programs for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, was invited by Universal Pictures, along with several other members of GLAAD, to watch a rough cut of the R-rated movie in April. (The movie initially received an NC-17 because of its extreme and outrageous sexuality.)
Robinson told TheWrap that the studio was receptive to changes but he hadn’t seen the final cut.
For his part, Robinson believes that the filmmakers “probably predicted” some of the concerns gay audiences would have about scenes that they felt “weren’t unmasking homophobia but hitting the community instead.”
He said he felt that “part of their calculation in putting together a movie that is a satire and is going to have some things in it that are offensive to some people.”
Music composer Marc Shaiman, who is gay and an anti-Prop 8 activist, said he worried that with Bruno as the almost sole gay character in the film, summer movie audiences would get a skewed view of homosexuality.
“They are going to be laughing at one character and he does not represent the mainstream of the gay community,” said Shaiman, “but millions of people can get the impression he does — and that can be dangerous.” (For more from Shaiman, see accompanying article.)
At least one group is perplexed that its feedback seems to have gone unheeded.
From the Bruno promotional material he has seen in recent weeks, GLAAD’s Robinson said he believes that the African baby scene that he issued concerns about to Universal is still in the film.
“Of course, we didn’t expect to get every change we asked for made. Traditionally we would not have been brought into a movie if they were not going to hear our concerns or make some changes — otherwise they’d just put out the movie.”