When I saw Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist on DVD last night, I finally realized why it deservedly received a nomination for Outstanding Film by the 20th Annual GLAAD Media Awards - a nomination that I didn't quite understand when I first read about it.
While the central plot revolves around the budding romance between a teenage boy and girl, three of the movie's six heroes are gay. What's quietly groundbreaking about it all is that these characters' homosexuality is treated matter-of-factly. They are not the butt of jokes (as gays often are in teen comedies); they do not play into stereotypes (two of the queer boys are in a punk band); and they blend into the tapestry of the film with little fanfare. Since there's a lack of angst-ridden attention paid to their sexual orientation, being gay takes on a sort of normalcy. It's like the movie is saying, "Hey, look, it's the 21st century, this is the way things are." For a mainstream movie that was marketed to the masses in blue and red states, that's somewhat of a bold assertion.
It's no secret that younger generations are more accepting of homosexuality than older ones. It's a sign of the times, and the times they are a-changin'. You get the feeling that gay teens would be able to live easier lives if adults would just get out of the damn way. So it's a bit disheartening to hear about the alleged discrimination going on at a high school in Newport Beach, California.
In 2008, a modified version of Jonathan Larson's Broadway phenomenon, Rent, was made available to high schools. The "School Edition" toned down or removed the musical's more risque moments and musical numbers, while retaining its groundbreaking (for Broadway) array of characters: bohemian artists, drug addicts, gays, lesbians, drag queens, the homeless, and persons with AIDS.
While many schools are already taking advantage of Rent's newly available rights (look at the list of upcoming productions), there's trouble brewing at Corona del Mar High School in California's highly conservative Orange County.
Plans to mount the production were scrapped there because, according to drama teacher Ron Martin, the school's principal "told me that she would not let it proceed because of the homosexuality in it."
But according to the Orange County Register:
[Principal Fal] Asrani said the accusations were entirely inaccurate, and that drama teacher Ron Martin canceled the production after she asked to review the script for objectionable material, a common practice at schools....
Asrani said she would not scrap a musical simply because it contained gay characters. "I am surprised by all these (rumors) flying around," she said.
Gay and lesbian students "get the same respect (as) anybody else, and that would be the same (for characters) in a play," Asrani said.
Martin, however, stands by his version of the events.
Queerty broke the story earlier, after Corona del Mar High alumni received an e-mail from a current student. Here's that e-mail in its entirety:
Today, most of the cast of RENT was informed that our show was cancelled. Even though we had yet to begin rehearsals, we were justifiably shocked and demanded to know what the reason behind this was. In the past, there have been minor complaints here and there about the content of some of our shows; though Mr. Martin, our director, is very conscientious about the limits of free expression in a school setting, we inevitably catch some parents off-guard with occasional profanity or sexual innuendos. However, the reason for the cancellation of RENT is much more disturbing.
Mrs. Asrani (the principal) is firmly against the portrayal of homosexual characters in RENT, despite the fact that all displays of affection have already been edited out of our script. Of course, a gay couple kissing on stage should not be inherently more offensive than a straight couple kissing, but that's beside the point (sort of). The fact that the administration would not even allow a positive PORTRAYAL of these gay characters, whose romantic tendencies have already been neutered in Musical Theater International's "RENT: School Edition", is appalling.
You do not need to be a fan of RENT, a member of the Drama Department, or a homosexual person to take offense to this blatant form of discrimination. Of course, there is much more disturbing content in RENT, which we would have been happy to omit if the School Edition did not do so already, but it was readily apparent that gay characters were strictly taboo. This is not the first time this has come up: the administration reacted with outrage to a monologue from our last musical, "No Reservations", that sympathetically portrayed a gay character. Though there was nothing remotely offensive about the monologue, they were clearly not okay with it, and that is what led them to take action and prevent us from producing what was sure to be a great spring musical.
If you are at all disturbed, offended, or shocked by what our administration has communicated to us, I urge you not to dismiss what has just happened. Our administration has sent out a very clear message that they think homosexuality is wrong and its portrayal onstage is harmful or objectionable in some way. Instead of focusing on the life-affirming, empowering message of RENT, they approached the work with narrow-mindededness and rejected it BEFORE THEY EVEN READ THE SCRIPT.
Do not sit by and allow things like this to keep happening. Our school prides itself on its association with humanitarian organizations and its label as a "No Place For Hate School", but those distinctions feel incredibly hollow to me now. Though the Drama Department has already began the process of selecting a new spring musical, we plan to take action to defend our rights of free speech and express our concerns.
The number for the ACLU's (American Civil Liberties Union) Southern California division is (213) 977-9500. I plan on calling tomorrow. To me, this is about much more than our spring musical; it is about a principle. I would hate to leave CdM knowing that I did nothing to prevent, in some way, a form of discrimination that was encouraged within our own school.
It would be best if the angry parent phone calls and emails to CdM were kept to a bare minimum for the time being. Focus your energy, if you have any desire to, on contacting the ACLU. They are experienced in these matters, and there is a correct way to do this. For anyone who is interested, I would love to keep you posted on any updates I get through my communication with them and with my drama director.
Thanks so much for reading through this rather lengthy letter...it's not easy for me to be concise on a subject like this.
Well, it's obvious that somebody is lying. I will reserve judgment until the truth is confirmed.
But you don't have to. What say you?