Bruno has received some pretty scathing reviews. The Los Angeles Times wrote that it "pile[s] even more stereotypes and discomfort onto an already hostile climate." GLAAD released a statement arguing that the movie "decreases the public's comfort with gay people." And even Fox News asked the question, "Is Bruno harmful to gay and lesbian causes, or just really funny?"
I happen to think that being funny doesn't excuse you from being homophobic or contributing to homophobia. I also think Bruno is a project that contributes positively to the fight for equality and documents the real hatred and craziness gripping many corners of this country.
Sacha Baron Cohen's films push people beyond their limits of tolerance in order to elicit extreme reactions.
Think of the self defense scene: when one dildo doesn't get a rise out of the southern gentleman teaching Bruno how to defend against the "homosexual," he brings in two, then three dildos. It is a concrete example of the method his characters use to approach all situations.
Bruno pushes people to confront homosexuality. He exposes violent and shocking intolerance by being so stereotypically gay, even hunters in the backwoods recognize and react to his sexuality. Bruno's "gayface," as one viewer called it, is a tool for exposing the intolerance that exists in many people whether or not the person they are talking to sashays particularly heavily or hits on them particularly forcefully.
You can't politely turn your back on Bruno and you can't write his actions off to eccentricity or "foreignness."
In some cases, this leads Cohen to reinforce particularly negative stereotypes of gay people, including the notion that gay men are sex obsessed and have no ability to raise children without exposing them to sexual activity at an inappropriately young age.
Most audience members laugh at Bruno's ridiculous portrayal of gayness, but some will use the negative aspects of Cohen's satire to justify their hatred. They will sympathize with those characters reacting violently to his sexuality. These are not the people the movement for LGBT equality is hoping to recruit. They are a lost causes whether or not Bruno inadvertently reinforces their homophobia.
Those audience members who consider themselves to be decent, tolerant individuals (perhaps they want to reserve marriage for straight people, but think gay people are okay as long as they aren't too swishy) will identify with Sasha Baron Cohen who is, after all, playing a great big joke on the homophobes. They will be shocked by the violence of some of the reactions in the movie. They will want to disassociate themselves from the bigots and hatemongers who throw chairs at a couple kissing in a wrestling ring and contemplate ways to break the bones of gay men in case they make a sexual advance.
Everyone who sees this film will be forced to confront the fact that we still live in a world where being gay is a dangerous proposition. Members of our community are threatened by violence and community reprisal, everyday.
Sacha Baron Cohen quite literally risked his life over and over again to illustrate this point. He did it while creating a sympathetic story, funny jokes and an overall entertaining movie.
Bruno is an act of bravery.
Our community should be using this movie to assist in the fight for equality rather than boycotting the over-the-top antics of a comedic superstar.
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