In 1947 Gregory Peck starred in the movie Gentleman’s Agreement as Phillip Green. Peck is sent to cover a story about anti-Semitism. To do so, he takes on the persona of a Jewish man to cover this story. He discovers the shocking depth of anti-Semitism. And remember this film debuted just as the world was hearing about the horrors of the Holocaust. In 1962 Peck starred as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird As Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South, he defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge, and his kids against prejudice. This movie was unveiled only two years before the Civil Rights Act was signed into law. In 1988, Torch Song Trilogy went from Broadway sensation to a film starring Harvey Fierstein and Matthew Broderick. It is one of my all time favorite movies. I can actually lip-synch with the lines. I can also remember the brutal and senseless murder of Matthew Broderick’s character- a character drawn from Harvey Fierstein’s life
Where does this stroll down discrimination in movies lead me? I just finished reading Arizona Confronting Awkward Realization That Gay People Have Money published in the NEW YORKER magazine. It is gut wrenching news that Arizona wants to legally discriminate against the LGBT community with the ability to claim that there is a religious right to deny service to LGBT members of the community. I immediately thought that I hope I don’t need to have emergency surgery in Flagstaff and the surgeon has religious reasons to deny me service. Far fetched. Not really. He would be protected by this law. (Hooray, it was vetoed!)
When I was a kid, I lived in Des Moines, Iowa. There was a very posh country club that had a sign on the front gate stating, “No Negroes or Jews”. Seriously. And this was the 1950’s. But, suddenly the country club hit a financial crisis and though “No Negroes” remained until the 1960’s, suddenly Jews could be members. My dad was the first Jew asked to join because 1) he didn’t look Jewish and 2) his last name didn’t sound Jewish, and 3) he could afford it. I still beam with pride remembering him tell my mother the story punctuated with, “I told them to go to hell in English and Yiddish”.
Discrimination in any form will be explored in movies. Movies are expressions of what the truth is in society. The good, the bad and the horribly ugly. I expect the “Arizona Legal LGBT Debacle” will soon make it to the screen. It is the stuff discrimination movies are made of. We can boo and hiss. We can stomp our feet and stand by waiting for the chance to drink out of the same water fountain, but, in reality, overt or covert, the LGBT community faces a time of increased discriminatory acts.
History reveals that after World War II, the American Nazi party rose in numbers. In 1977, as the National Socialist Party, it utilized freedom to assemble to march through Skokie, Ill, a predominantly Jewish city in the Midwest. Many Holocaust survivors lived in Skokie. The nightmare had visually and verbally returned to their streets. Think of the overwhelming awe as a black man assumed the presidency of the United States only to battle accusation after accusation based on his heritage.
Today, as the beam of blatant misuse of law shines on Arizona, remember that the LGBT community is gaining more and more rights and protections than ever before in history. With that comes the backlash of bigots and rabble rousers hell bent on using the tenets of religion to deny rights to fellow human beings. I remember that question, “What would Jesus say?” Most likely he would deny these people a place in heaven. After all, he told us to love one another. He never said we had to agree, but, he never said hurt your fellow man. Okay, you can read my anger into that. The law is also quixotic. To think that capitalism and desire for cash suddenly was the epiphany to learn that Arizona was making a huge discriminatory mistake is a lesson in changing behaviors. Sadly, anti-Semitism, anti-Black, and anti-LGBT sentiment continues to raise its ugly head in 2014. I guess money can twist and change behaviors. But, it cannot change attitudes.
Jan Miller Corran, Ph.D., is CEO/President of More Than Friends Productions (MTF). Dr. Corran is a film producer with numerous films to her credit as Executive Producer, Associate Producer or consultant. For a list of her books and films, visit www.morethanfriendsproductions.com