Brüno will both incite homophobia and make bigots squirm

Brüno will both incite homophobia and make bigots squirm


By Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner

The Independent – London, 2 July 2009

Note: This is an edited extract from a longer review that appears in the July issue of Attitude magazine, alongside an exclusive interview with Bruno / Sacha Baron Cohen.

Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie Borat was a masterpiece of comedy; arguably the most inventive satire for many years. Its unique genre of wicked, sophisticated parody set the bar very high; so high that Cohen’s latest comedic outing, Bruno, is something of a letdown. After all the hype, I feel cheated.

While the film scores plenty of laughs by mercilessly exposing dim-witted homophobes, Bruno’s persona also embodies some really lazy, crude gay stereotypes. A sex-obsessed “cockaholic,” he is a shallow bitchy queen who uses and abuses everyone around him. Not nice.

On the plus side, ultra gay Bruno will make many bigoted straight people feel uncomfortable, which is a delicious prospect. But quite a few gay men watching this movie may also squirm with discomfort.

Does Bruno reinforce or undermine homophobia? I am not sure. If Cohen’s intention was to mock prejudice, this film doesn’t always pull off the money shot. Compared to Borat, it is more hit and miss.

As a spoof on the fashion industry, homophobia and fame-hungry wannabes, the movie had immense potential. But the end product lacks the consistent, spot-on, intelligent, high class wit that we expect from Baron Cohen. It relies too much for its laughs on sexually-explicit shock and awe, with endless gob-smacking images of penises, dildos, f*ck machines, bondage and group sex; plus arse waxing and anal bleaching. Funny but crude.

As most of us know from the film’s pre-publicity, Bruno is an outrageously gay fashion reporter from Vienna who wants to be “the biggest Austrian superstar since Adolf Hitler.” His route to stardom is, thankfully, more mein camp than Mein Kampf.

After he gets blacklisted in his homeland for his tasteless fame-hungry antics, Bruno travels to the US in a vainglorious bid to hit the big-time.

The film follows his many misadventures, including Bruno attempting to butch-up by joining an army training camp and his hilarious attempt to seduce the pro-family values congressman Ron Paul.

Parodying Madonna, Bruno goes to Africa where he exchanges his ipod for a black baby. He christens him OJ, a typical African American name, he says. Dressing him in a t-shirt emblazoned with the word “Gayby,” he parades him on a TV chat show, describing his child as a “dick magnet” and showing photos of himself and OJ in a gay hot-tub orgy, to the predictable (and justifiable) outrage of the studio audience.

In another scene, Bruno seeks advice on how to overcome his homosexuality from a former gay man turned Christian cure therapist. There is a brilliant tense moment when he compliments the therapist on his gorgeous blow-job lips, which evokes a quivering uncertain, panicked response from this supposedly ‘cured’ ex-gay.

The cage fighting scene is also tops. The stadium crowd eggs-on the two protagonists to beat the hell out of each, but goes beserk with homophobic rage when they start kissing and fondling each other instead. This clip cleverly exposes the moral sickness of machismo, where violence between men is apparently cool, but passion between men is definitely not.

The movie rolls back the boundaries, with its in-your-face raw portrayals of gay sexuality. Some might argue that this honesty and debunking of taboos is refreshing and ground-breaking. But do these no-holds-barred erotic depictions advance or reverse public acceptance of queer life?

Surely no cinema can be so influential that it sways public opinion for or against prejudice? After all, it is only a film. Moreover, it is a comedy and was never intended to be taken seriously. Fair point. But although it may not create homophobia, perhaps it can reinforce and inflame it? Go see Bruno. You decide.

Note: This is an edited extract from a longer review that appears in the July issue of Attitude magazine, alongside an exclusive interview with Bruno / Sacha Baron Cohen.