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James Schamus: “[The] assertions here are unequivocal, hurtful, and remarkable”

James Schamus: "[The] assertions here are unequivocal, hurtful, and remarkable"

indieWIRE received the following from James Schamus this week, in a response to a recent indieWIRE article that mentioned “Brokeback Mountain.” We are publishing his comments in their entirety.

Recently, Peter Knegt posted an interesting blog entry on indieWIRE tracking the changes made to the trailer for Tom Ford’s upcoming film “A Single Man.” He then had this to say about its “de-gaying”:

“Call it the “Brokeback Mountain” approach. When that film was released back in 2005, distributor Focus Features published a a series of “For Your Consideration” advertisements emphasizing the heterosexual relationships between both Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams’s characters, and Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway’s (take a look for yourself here). And we all know how “Brokeback Mountain”‘s Oscar campaign worked out in the end…”

If one went to the page Knegt linked to, one could see three selected “For Your Consideration” trade advertisements featuring Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway in scenes with Jake Gyllenhall and Heath Ledger, preceded by the following:

A for your consideration ad for “Brokeback Mountain.” Image courtesy Focus Features.

“Check out my story on indieWIRE about the remarkable de-gaying of “A Single Man” in its new Oscar-buzz emphasized trailer, and take a trip down memory lane with these For Your Consideration ads for “Brokeback Mountain” back in 2005, which are oh so gay themselves….More whitewashing after the jump.”

Knegt’s assertions here are unequivocal, hurtful, and remarkable: that Focus Features deliberately “de-gayed” Brokeback’s marketing in the run-up to the Academy Awards, and that that strategy had something to do with the film’s not winning a Best Picture Oscar that year. Needless to say, Knegt’s assertions are entirely false. By selectively presenting just three out of more than 28 of our award campaign looks; and by ignoring the enormous impact of our trailer, our poster, our massive publicity campaign, and the incredible groundswell of public debate and conversation about the film’s groundbreaking subject matter, Knegt deliberately attempts to paint our work in support of Michelle and Anne’s campaigns as some kind of “de-gaying” of the film, as if such a thing were even possible, let alone desirable, after the extraordinary reception of the film. I don’t believe Peter Knegt is being consciously sexist here, but the idea that we should have banished such tragically poignant images entirely from the awards campaign for the film – images that put our lead characters’ relationships with their wives into the mix, however modestly – would seem to me to have been a disservice to the film and to its supporting cast.

A for your consideration ad for “Brokeback Mountain.” Image courtesy Focus Features.

It is interesting that the fantasy – and indeed it is a fantasy – that somehow Brokeback’s marketing “whitewashed” the film still pops up from time to time, even among otherwise intelligent and informed observers of the film business such as Peter Knegt. I have dealt with this issue elsewhere, after Daniel Mendelsohn, in the pages of the New York Review of Books, went so far as to actually lie about the content of our press kit for the film. (You can read my final reply to him here.) I would be more than willing to discuss with Peter any time why such a powerful – and to me, clearly, a powerfully false – narrative frame for Brokeback’s release gets invoked as it does. In the meantime, here are a few of the other trade ads for Brokeback that I wish indieWIRE would have also reproduced. They speak for themselves.

James Schamus is chief executive officer (CEO) of Focus Features. He has the unique distinction of being an award-winning screenwriter and producer who is also a film executive. He has had a long collaboration as writer and producer with Ang Lee on eleven feature films, with the director’s “Brokeback Mountain” released worldwide through Focus Features. Mr. Schamus is also Professor in Columbia University’s School of the Arts, where he teaches film history and theory.

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