As the $61 million box office gross of ”In and Out” suggests, audiences have learned to appreciate a gay kiss. Heck, sometimes it’s a movie’s main marketing gimmick. Unfortunately, it seems that such open-mindedness about celluloid homosexuals doesn’t translate to all film genres. While audiences applaud gay characters in comedies such as ”In and Out,” ”The Birdcage” and ”My Best Friend’s Wedding,” it appears that ticket-buyers for testosterone-fueled action flicks aren’t yet ready to embrace on-screen depictions of gay life.
Case in point: “The Jackal” — the weekend’s top-grossing film at $15.1 million — starring Bruce Willis and Richard Gere. An early test-screened version of the film had assassin Willis shooting, without provocation, an innocent man he met while hiding out in a gay bar. The audience loudly cheered the killing, which came to the attention of GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). The group’s entertainment media director, Chastity Bono, spoke with ”Jackal” producer Sean Daniel, who arranged to have the scene re-edited.
In the version now in theaters, Willis’s victim recognizes the assassin (Willis) on a TV broadcast. So now when the gay man is gunned down, it seems more like the run-of-the-mill self-preservation of a movie villain than a hate crime. During a recent screening at a Manhattan theater, audience members let out an audible gasp of surprise when the re-edited scene played — an appropriate response to a shocking murder.
GLAAD’s Bono didn’t object to an earlier scene of Willis kissing the man in the gay bar — which drew boisterous hoots from the audience. ”There wasn’t a problem with the kiss,” she says. ”For some people, shouting out is the appropriate response to a gay kiss. It’s not the one I’d like, but it’s right for them.”
One lesson learned: What audiences accept in a comedy, they may not accept in an action film. ”Some people,” says Bono, ”don’t want to see their action hero kiss another guy.”