On Alexander and Uncle Tom…

01/08/2005

The other day I was watching BBC Breakfast and they got their film critic on to talk about the premiere of Oliver Stone’s new film Alexander. Now Alexander has not got terribly good reviews and they showed a few clips of the director and some of the actors talking about why it’s been such a flop in the States. Oliver Stone’s opinion was that America had trouble with the idea of a general who had a long-standing homosexual relationship. Apparently in some parts of the States they wouldn’t even show it in theatres. As a consequence Stone decided to re-edit the film for the DVD release—presumably to remove some of the gay stuff.

To give you a bit of the context, here are some articles around the film:

Anyway, after seeing the interviews, BBC Breakfast dragged out their critic. And they asked him if it was true that the film was only rejected because of the gay stuff. And the critic said (and I paraphrase), Well, I hope that’s not the case. But in my opinion, if anything the film needed to be more gay—you know—camped up a bit! A bit more glam!

Nnngh! Nngh! Grrr! Nnngh! I mean for Christ’s sake—this is a film about a man who led armies across all of the known world—who pushed his people beyond the limits of that worldand who did it all in his twenties. This was an epic leader! This was one hell of a man! Why is it so extraordinary to want to represent this hero of Macedonia seriously? Some cultures thought he was a monster of enormous proportions. Other cultures idolised him. Classical academics who are not generally prone to hyperbolae referred to him as “undoubtedly the greatest general of his race and probably of antiquity”. This isn’t some made up piece of modern hokum like Gladiator was – nor is it an attempt to represent an ancient literary work and mythological tradition like Troy. Why on earth would you want to ‘camp it up’?

Now, I’ve now gone and seen the film. I was determined to see it and pretty determined to enjoy it and to find value in it. But I can report that it is not a particularly good film. It has really good bits in it if you’re prepared for the crap, but it’s badly structured and clumsy and has obviously been hacked to pieces for time. Whole sections of the life of Alexander are excised or put in briefly as flashbacks, some characters are hammy beyond belief and for some extraordinary reason everyone in Macedonia speaks with an Irish accent. I mean, I could go on all day with the things that are wrong with it.

But there are things that it’s been criticised for unfairly, and—worse—reactions from audiences and critics that demean themselves and our culture. Whenever Alexander was seen to be interested in someone malethis epic leader and warrior became suddenly subject to titters and giggles from the auditorium. Because it’s apparently laughable—embarrassing even—to imagine that a great warrior could have been more interested in men than women. The sincerity of the feeling that Alexander evidences is apparently ludicrous to these people. That’s why they need the film ‘camped up’ a bit—because most of the modern western world appears to be prudish or infantile when it comes to sex and feeling, and completely unprepared to deal with different cultural morays or with the representation of a character who managed to be larger than any of them will ever be, while also fucking men.

Having been in the auditorium with these reactions, I think I can state right-out that there is homophobia in the way this film has been received. I think that’s true. It’s only one reason that the film has failed of course—there are dozens of others—but it’s certainly one of them. And in experiencing people’s reaction to the film, I’m reminded more and more that the successes in gay rights over the last ten years or so have also ushered in an Uncle Tom-ish culture of the desexualised, non-threatening and funny little poof who is apologetically grateful for the positive reaction he can get from straight people by being entertaining. I’m increasingly angry about the way that we’ve petitioned for rights by turning everything about ourselves that could be possibly considered threatening into some kind of joke. Alexander the Great was no man’s bloody pet.

You can find out more about Alexander the Great at these various sites: