I feel like I have experienced virtually no homophobia in my life, especially since moving to New York, where gays are an expected and visible part of the populous. Which can lead one to feel that this whole homophobia thing has been pretty much cleared up, and have little consciousness that things elsewhere are still quite bad. This documentary goes into extremely rural areas of the deep south, where there might be one gay bar in the whole half of the state, and touches on the place it plays in the lives of the people who go there.
First, I had some trepidation putting the disc in, asking myself “Is this going to be profoundly depressing?” [it’s not]. Then we see that this is produced by Kevin Smith’s company, and I guess we have to give him thanks for that, much as it pains me. There is a View Askew logo at the beginning which lasts ten seconds but seems like a half hour. Then we have a title “Once Upon a Time…” [pointless] and the credits play over a montage of footage showing us driving out of the city and into the United States’ rural areas. Our first stop is Rumors, the only gay bar in Northeastern Mississippi. Then we meet the mayor of the town, who grows visibly uncomfortable when the topic of the gay bar is brought up. We have some interviews with the people who frequent the straight bar down the street, talking about how they “don’t judge,” but would never be seen dead in “that place.” One guy goes on to say that the blacks brought the gays in. He went to the bar once, and it was predominantly white, but, according to him, that’s because it changed after the blacks started the whole thing. So you see what we’re dealing with.
We meet the owner of the nightclub, who had Pentecostal parents who still don’t know that he’s gay or what the nature of his bar is. We interview several of the patrons of Rumors, which includes a large amount of drag queens. They all describe the bar as a “second home” where they can be themselves, after a long week in the closet. One person talks of growing up in the area “and being called names every day.” Another outside the bar talks about his parents finding out he was gay and “They said they were gonna pray for me—and they were serious.” But the thing repeated again and again is how the bar is the one place in the area where they can feel comfortable.
We find out about a man from the area who was beaten, stabbed, mutilated and partially decapitated over several hours by straight guys in a local trailer park. We meet a local reverend who says “’God Hates Fags’ is a serious theological statement.” He talks about the man who was killed and blames his family for not telling him that he was condemned to hell, and doing everything possible to alter his life. He says that he was the only one who would tell the guy that and thus, “I’m the only one who really loved him.” And you at home might have a moment of “Well, how do you go up against THAT?”
The reverend then talks about a local park where gays are known to congregate, and says that they’re “groaning and rolling around in the bushes” everywhere you look, and “if it was heterosexuals doing that it wouldn’t be allowed.” He then displays a sign his group put up in a local restaurant that says “Watch your kids! Gays in restrooms.” This caused a great deal of protest, which he welcomed, as it gave them publicity by protesting the protesters.
We visit a bar in Meridian, Mississippi, which “if you didn’t know how to find, you’d never find.” It was apparently a pretty wild place, which one of the former patrons characterizes as “a little desperate.” Eventually the owner is arrested for some activities I’m not sure I even understand, and the bar is burned down. We learn of another bar where the local Christians would park outside and write down the license plate numbers of people who parked on that street—and read them on the radio the next day. The representative of the local “family association,” says that the gay life is one of sadness and despair because of all the promiscuity.
Toward the end we revisit the owner of Rumors, who is selling it. Many discuss the void this will leave in the community, and say they’ll have to drive two hours to the nearest gay bar. When it’s over, we have a montage returning us to the city.
It was pretty good as far as it went, which is not very far. One of the problems any gay documentary faces is that if you stray beyond the standard portrayal of gays as noble, completely well-adjusted, unfairly-maligned victims and homophobes as ignorant, horrible rednecks, you start risking accusations of “judgments” that might tick some people off, and this film stays dutifully within these boundaries. There’s a fine line between having overwhelming evidence that the gays feel the gay bar is their only release, and feeling like you’re just hearing a different person say what we’ve already heard. Multiple times. I would have liked to have heard more about what the guys down the road at the straight bar thought about the gay bar, but that content dries up right quick. There seems to be a strong correlation between a higher level of oppression and a more feminine presentation for gays [including a preponderance of drag queens], but that topic is OFF LIMITS. There is zero discussion of whether the local oppression leads rural gays to do more drugs or engage in riskier sexual practices. There isn’t much interest or examination into the states of mind of the gay people growing up in these oppressive environments, or the differences in the experiences lesbians and gay men face. Okay sure, maybe not all of this is the stated purview of this film, but one begins to wish it would veer into any of these topics, rather than just repeat the few, fairly rote insights it does have to offer, leaving us with the impression that what we have here is 30 minutes worth of material padded to 80 minutes.
One of the more interesting gay books I’ve read is States of Desire by Edmond White, in which he travels around the country during the 70s, going to different gay bars, interviewing the people there, and drawing conclusions about how their environment affects the mode of gay life in their city, and their mindsets and behavior. That’s kind of what I felt was missing here, and the repetitiveness of the few insights we did get only highlighted the absence of the ones we weren’t getting.
Ultimately, pretty good, just limited. I can’t say I’d really recommend seeking it out, but if it’s on cable at some point you might sit down for a half hour or so.
It won’t hurt, but you can definitely live without it.