Editors' note: Damon Romine is the Entertainment Media Director over at GLAAD. Check out GLAAD's blog Cinequeer for more updates about queer images in the entertainment industry.
Will Smith + July 4th weekend = box office success.
Unfortunately, the millions of audience members who take their family to see Smith's Hancock will have to hear the obnoxious, drunk anti-hero utter an anti-gay slur.
At approximately 24 minutes into the film, while Jason Bateman's PR whiz works to rehabilitate the superhero's tarnished image, he shows Hancock three comic book images in an effort to inspire him. But Hancock rejects the traditional image of costumed superheroes as he responds to each one: "Homo. Homo in red. Norwegian homo."
The audience is prompted to laugh and there is no response to or retribution for Hancock's remarks. Bateman's character, the father of a young son, could have easily spoken up instead of giving Hancock a pass
Better yet, would it have changed the story if that brief interaction had been left on the cutting room floor? No one would have missed the line if it wasn't there, but an unfortunate choice was made to go for the cheap gay joke. In that moment, young gay people in the movie's audience are put in the position of being ridiculed by a character they are expected to regard as a hero. People go to films to escape reality -- or schoolyard taunts -- not to pay ten bucks and be ridiculed some more, especially not by someone the Los Angeles Times calls "the most likable actor in the world."
Rated PG-13, Hancock is being marketed to families, teens and young adults. This film certainly presents an opportunity for parents to explain to their kids that the usually entertaining character of Hancock is not modeling good behavior. But let's get real: Hancock's use of the slur sends a problematic message that it's okay to discriminate using such hateful words. Every day, people -- both gay and straight -- are taunted and verbally harassed in their schools and in their communities with these kinds of words, creating an environment that's hostile, uncomfortable, and often unsafe. To have a heroic character -- and by extension actor Will Smith -- use and approve of this kind of language is simply unacceptable.
Sometimes anti-gay language shows up in dramatic narrative to reveal a character's true colors or to convey a message. But there's a big difference between using it to highlight a character's anti-gay attitudes and making a cheap, unfunny shot at gay people.