Last night at a fundraising gala for the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, Amy Pascal appealed to her Hollywood industry colleagues about some specific word choices:
"How about next time, when any of us are reading a script and it says words like fag, or faggot – homo – dyke – take a pencil and just cross it out. Just don't do it."
Her prepared speech was informed, sweeping, compassionate, and clear. She began her talk by recognizing visual media's power to entrench values, particularly to children and young adults.
"I'm talking about kids who are gay and I'm talking about kids who aren't gay. One group needs affirmation and the other group needs education. And, if I'm being honest, neither of those issues are high on any movie studio or TV network's agenda…"
This is a rare and specific stance from a Hollywood mogul. At Sony, Amy Pascal oversees development, production, distribution, home entertainment and marketing. In 2006, she was named as the most powerful woman in entertainment by the Hollywood Reporter; in 2009 Forbes put her at 60 out of 100 most powerful women in the world.
Pascal noted that television has been more progressive, and it's up to the film industry to catch up. She said that while there are "magnificent" movies about gay and lesbian characters, she mentions that certain troublesome themes and stereotypes persist:
"Brokeback Mountain, Milk, Boys Don't Cry, Philadelphia, The Hours, Gods and Monsters, The Talented Mr. Ripley, A Single Man, My Own Private Idaho, Cloud Atlas – in all these movies, the main character is murdered or martyred or commits suicide or just dies unhappily
Old stereotypes still exist. The most benign stereotypes would have a gay kid believe that they will end up being the asexual, witty best friend of the pretty girl, or a drag queen, or a swishy hairdresser. The list goes on."
While Pascal is coming from a place of positive advocacy, her only concrete suggestion—to delete certain offensive words, slurs, or phrases—might not be the best way to achieve her goal. Certainly, these slurs could a red-flags of a rude representation. Or perhaps they could be signs of an attempt towards a meaningful and realistic portrayal of a struggle towards equality and acceptance within the gay community. Not that Pascal is saying the deletion of phrases will be a panacea, but as the only concrete suggestion and perhaps the easiest, it could give a false sense of having done real work towards improving a dialogue.
To Pascal's great credit, she focuses on positive examples in her speech. She specifically noted films that give "great images" to their audiences, like The Kids Are All Right, Perks of Being a Wallflower, Beginners, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and ParaNorman, which featured the first gay character in an animated movie.
One of the final notes of her speech while a little inchoate, is a substantive and thoughtful perspective, overdue but nonetheless admirable coming from someone in her position:
"Now it's time for all of us to take that step. Not every gay character needs to be defined by his or her sexuality. Can't being gay just be one stitch in the fabric of someone's life? Can't we depict men and women who just so happen to be gay – perhaps a lawyer or soldier or business executive or scientist or engineer… We need to create an atmosphere that encourages people to speak up, so we get this right…
We can do better and we will do better. We have to. If we just think about that kid in North Dakota, or their parents, we might just do it a little differently."