The Controversy over the Marketing of Brokeback Mountain

The marketing strategy behind Brokeback Mountain has been subject to some criticism. James Schamus, producer of Brokeback Mountain, responds to Daniel Mendelsohn’s in The New York Review of Books.

Daniel Mendelsohn, in his finely observed review of Brokeback Mountain [“An Affair to Remember,” NYR, February 23], sets up a false dichotomy between the essentially “gay” nature of the film and the erasure of this gay identity through the marketing and reception of the film as a “universal” love story. As one of the film’s producers, I am grateful for his understanding of the unapologetic and unvarnished treatment of the specifically gay story we set out to tell; but as the co-president of Focus Features, the studio that is marketing and distributing the film, I take umbrage at some of the rhetorical shortcuts Mendelsohn takes in his depiction of our work.

Mendelsohn is rightly nervous about what happens when a gay text is so widely and enthusiastically embraced by mainstream hetero-dominated culture; and it is true that many reviewers contextualize their investment in the gay aspects of the romance by claiming that the characters’ homosexuality is incidental to the film’s achievements. Many reviewers indeed have gone out of their way to denounce the “gay cowboy movie” label (although, to be fair, they are mainly objecting to the fact that the label was used as a derogatory joke, a point I wish Mendelsohn had more fully considered).

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