Monday, December 14, 2009

The Token Gay

My friend Georgie and I have this thing we do whenever we watch a movie on DVD; we point out all the token characters. It's fun! There are several tokens to which we can make note of. There's the "token black" (usually sassy, calls the main female character "grrl"), the "token asian" (usually works with computers and uses chopsticks to eat every meal) and the "token fat friend" (rare because pretty people tend to always have pretty friends, but this token is usually only there to, indeed, make the lead look prettier). It's not racist or offensive of us, but a funny way of making light of the fact that movies exist in worlds in which, at birth, each person gets assigned one friend who is a minority and that is the only minority friend they will ever have. Even South Park has a black character named Token, so we're not the only ones.

The most common of all the tokens is the "token gay". Unless you're Star Trek in which case over 300 years of political evolution has ceased to bring an end to gay discrimination in the military, but I digress. The token gay is not only the most common - especially when it comes to reality TV - but, in cinema, also the most offensive. The token gay never actually adds anything to the story so much as briefly appear from time to time in order to show how accepting a film's main character is. It's a "See! She sees people for what's inside and not for the unsightly rainbows sprouting from every pore of their face!" sort of deal. They need to be there, but they can't be anything more than a throwaway gag.

Most of the time the token gay is into fashion, gossip and being hopelessly alone and fixated on making the lead character's love life more interesting than their own. They are used as shopping partners and not much else. A lot of the time the token gay is a vile and awful representation of a homosexual and far more offensive and homophobic than if the film makers had just decided to make their characters live in a world strangely empty of anyone who isn't white, straight and living in an apartment that, in the real world, would be wildly unaffordable to anyone who isn't earning $100,000 a year.

Sidebar: Isn't it so annoying when an assistant (hello The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses, Ugly Betty) somehow earns enough to live in a massive loft apartment in Manhattan? I'd gladly work their jobs if it meant living that lifestyle!

Today as I watched Phat Girlz - no, seriously, bare with me here - I was struck by how vile the token gay was. In this movie though he also counts as the token white. I don't know if I should be taking this as racist as well as homophobic, but something ain't right either way. Are there no clownishly flamboyant gay dimwits who are black? Considering he is the only white character in the whole movie with more than one line (other than Eric Roberts, truly a double take moment) a case could be made, but I won't.

Geting back to how grossly portrayed the character of "Ramón" is, he is stereotypically acted by someone you nor I has ever heard of called Felix Pire. In the first scene that we meet him he is proclaiming to be married despite speaking in a high-pitched voice, working in the female fashion department at a department store while wearing a plaid suit and yelling "ooh, miss thing!" at Mo'Nique. Is that some sort of weird gay joke or setting up a big "Accept yourself, girl! I did and it's FABULOUS!" moment come film's end? I don't know since it's neither funny nor does it lead anywhere. It's never mentioned again!

He then goes on to conveniently describe the movie title. "That is PHAT! P.H.A.T. Pretty Hot and Thick." I always thought the T stood to "tempting" (thank you Money Talks starring Chris Tucker with, er, Charlie Sheen and Heather Locklear. wtf?) I guess that shows how down I am with decades-old African American slang, yeah?

The line that goes along with this image is "mama said knock you oooooouuuuut" as he notices the outfits his voluptuous black friends are wearing, which says more than I ever could.

I just... honestly don't know what to say. It's like Hank Azaria in The Birdcage, but without any remote semblance of actual comedy.

I can just see a crowd full of cinema-goers laughing at this character, screaming "oh my god, he's so gay!" Sends chills down my spine just thinking about it. Then at the end of Phat Girlz Ramón turns into a catwalk emcee for "Thick Madame", the new clothing line created by Mo'Nique's character Jazmin. He wears a fur vest, PVC pants and nothing else. He was clearly more of a fan of Sonny than Cher judging from that ensemble, but where are the bell-bottoms?

As for the film itself? It is so hopelessly awful in almost every conceivable way. It's not even so-bad-it's-good like I was hoping. It looks cheap, it is nasty and is profoundly ugly to look at. First-time writer/director Nnegest Likké hasn't made anything since. I guess all those flip edits and embarrassing screenwriting ("bitch... it's an American term of endearment!" for example) didn't endear herself to anybody. As for Mo'Nique? I'm glad I'm seeing Precious tomorrow to help wipe this movie from my mind. Although, in all honesty, any movie that has an entire scene devoted to "you so ugly" and "you so fat" jokes inside a restaurant called FATASSBURGER has got to be worth something, right?


Nicole said...

Lot of gay space marines in Avatar I take it?

FranklinBluth said...

This post reminds me of when my Mum analysed 'the hangover' from a feminist perspective. I'm sorry, but if you decide to watch this kind of movie you really need to check your brain & sensitivities at the DOOR!

Glenn Dunks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Glenn Dunks said...

Nicole, but Avatar didn't go out of its way to have ONE black person, ONE asian person and ONE European. They went out of their way to bring Star Trek to a new generation, but kept the old chosen minorities.

I'm not so much criticising the movie itself for the portrayal, just the fact that the token gay is also abominable. Phat Girlz was just a perfect example.

Mickche said...

I'm sorry you had to sit through this. But i love looking for the token black friend crying "girrrrrl" and the asian accessory. (see trailer for The Lovely Bones :))
I think when i saw Phat Girlz, it was no. 2 on imdb's bottom 100. And i could see why.

Anonymous said...

the best/worst version of this character seen this year is...PREY!!

Glenn Dunks said...

Yeah, that one was particularly awful!