CAN TEXAS BRAVE 'BROKEBACK'? Lone Star scribe Larry McMurtry is confident that his gay cowboy movie will change the way Gov Perry and Prop 2 supporters think about queer issues
By Daniel A. Kusner Dec. 12, 2005
A tragedy about lost opportunity, repression, finding love and the importance of never letting it go, “Brokeback Mountain” is a powerful drama. And the momentum behind the film builds on a day-to-day basis.
Critics groups in Boston, Los Angeles and New York recently named the gay cowboy drama as the year’s best film. And on Tuesday, it dominated the Golden Globes with seven nominations, including one for best screenplay, written by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana.
A lifelong Texan, McMurtry is a Pulitzer Prize winner and the literary treasure who created “The Last Picture Show,” “Lonesome Dove,” “Hud” and “Terms of Endearment.” A few hours after the Golden Globe nominations were announced, McMurtry conducted phone interviews while in Austin promoting the film.
Based on Annie Proulx’s 1997 near-perfect short story, “Brokeback” is about the doomed romance between two men who fall in love while herding sheep together. It’s also partially set in the Lone Star State.
And just as the film’s marketing campaign was gearing up, Texas was hit with two historical anti-gay blows: the overwhelming victory of a state amendment to ban same-sex marriages and Governor Rick Perry essentially telling gay soldiers returning from Iraq that a more “lenient” state would be a better place to live.
“If the governor wants to say foolish things, I can’t stop him. And it’s too bad about the proposition. But that’s not forever,” McMurtry says. “Five years from now, Governor Perry won’t be there. And we’ll see about the rest.”
When it comes to statements on Western culture and history, McMurtry is perhaps the most qualified authority.
Even Governor Perry seems to agree. In 2003 and 2004, Perry declared May as Texas Writers Month and, fittingly, McMurtry’s image emblazoned the campaign’s commemorative posters for those years.
But in 2005, is Texas’ image shifting toward intolerance and homophobia?
“I don’t see it that way. I’m not pessimistic. I’m from the plains of Texas — the part that connects the Midwest with the Rocky Mountains,” McMurtry says. “I think there’s more decency in the great American middle class than most homophobic legislation would indicate. Sure, right now these are hot-button issues, but these things are not permanent.”
Raised in Wichita Falls, McMurtry became familiar with gay cowboys when he was 8 years old. That’s when he was introduced to his gay cousin’s boyfriend.
Coincidently, McMurtry’s cousin resembles Jack Twist, the fictitious “Brokeback Mountain” character played by Jake Gyllenhaal: Both worked the rodeo circuit and both were from the same area of Texas — near Childress, a small town not far from Wichita Falls.
His cousin came to mind while working on the screenplay.
“I was supposed to say ‘gentleman friend’ when referring to my cousin’s lover,” McMurtry remembers.
McMurtry’s parents encouraged him to be nice to his cousin’s partner.
“We had no reason not to be nice to him. He was a perfectly nice man,” McMurtry says. “There might have been a little awkwardness, maybe. But my parents were never angry about my cousin. Everyone’s lives went on. And they went on for 20 years.”
That’s the attitude that shapes McMurtry’s vision of the acceptance of gays in Texas.
“Many American families, millions, have a gay member — like our vice president,” he says. “I’m not going to give up on the capacity of Texans to deal with controversy in a fair and compassionate way.”
The big challenge for the film is for people like Governor Perry and the folks who voted for Proposition 2 to actually watch “Brokeback Mountain.”
“I absolutely believe the film will challenge their views,” McMurtry says. “If they go see it, it will have to give them pause.”
Even with a truckload of film critics’ awards, McMurtry says the success of “Brokeback Mountain” depends solely on one thing: word of mouth. Already, word of mouth is spreading — and some right-wing critics have blasted the film, saying it should win an Oscar for promoting the “gay agenda.” That type of criticism fuels McMurtry’s ire.
“I know what I’m confident of, and I’m totally confident,” he says. “The right wing will not win on this issue. This movie is stronger than they are.”
Even if “Brokeback Mountain” wins an Oscar for best picture, is it strong enough to play in Crawford, Texas?
“Well, the screening room is actually in the White House,” McMurtry says. “The president and his wife have gay friends. In fact, they have gay friends who stay in the White House. So I’m sure they’ll see it.”