1987 and LGBT Character Portrayal, Part 2: Mannequin

in #writing5 years ago (edited)


We didn't see many movies in 1987, mostly because my parents had leveraged my sister and I's college fund to buy a satellite dish for the backyard so we could watch TV stations from all over the country, particularly a local station out of Denver that was one of the scant few places in the US that still showed reruns of Rawhide, a western that gave Clint Eastwood his start, though my mom was borderline obsessed with the lead. A few hundred extra got my parents a descrambler box from Canada, and suddenly, we had "free" (my sister and I didn't understand that it was all kinds of illegal) access to the dozens of pay-per-view channels. Because of this I saw Revenge of the Nerds at the age of 7 and was desensitized to full frontal nudity to the point you'd assume I grew up in Europe, as well as being desensitized to punishment-free voyeurism, class-based humiliation, and rape-by-deception to the point you'd assume I was a legacy student at an Ivy League college.

Because of this, actually going to the movies was a treat, because it meant popcorn and seeing a film we'd actually exchanged money to see without breaking any laws. Mannequin was another film that my sister saw twice before, claiming that I couldn't go along because it was too adult for me. Refer to the paragraph above, then look up the plot summary of Mannequin and make the determination for yourself if my parents agreed.

Mannequin was one my first exposures to romantic-comedy, and that it opened with an animated credit sequence didn't hurt my chances of seeing it either. I was only nine when I saw it, but the plot was simple enough to follow, the characters were likeable and funny, and the very 80s music montages of playing around with all the stuff in a large department store after closing was linked to fantasies of the Super Toy Run that every 80s/90s kid dreamed of winning. As time went on, I got older, and eventually was able to see more in the movie, like, for example, that one character my parents referred to as "funny", and not just that he was humorous.

I speak, of course, of:

It was years before I'd meet anyone as flamboyant as him in real life (Growing up in New York does not necessarily mean you grew up in New York City), but whenever anyone remarked on a flamboyant person, my mind immediately went to Hollywood. When he's referred to as a "fairy", as a nine year old who watched cartoons and read fantasy books, I assumed that meant he was a magical creature, there to keep an eye on Jonathan and Emmy and make sure they could end up together.

It hit me later on, especially when I began to realize that I wasn't straight, that Hollywood was one of the influencing LGBT figures of my childhood, aside from Lamar Latrell from Revenge of the Nerds (so both black, out-and-proud gay characters), serving as a counter to the white gay characters I'd seen in film thus far, who ended up jealous murderers (Burglar), or traitorous murderers (No Way Out). There was a time that I honestly believed that black gay people had it easier than white gay people, based solely off what I saw in the movies. (Remember, I was under the age of ten. And remember to stop to breathe, because I would likely laugh myself into passing out if I read that too.)

So let's get it out of the way first that Hollywood is a blatant effeminate stereotype played by a straight man. That's a given, but let's also remarked that you only need to watch one episode of RuPaul's Drag Race to see there are people who are like that. The focus, rather, is on how the character is treated, what they do, and how they affect the plot. Hollywood takes the role of the "funny (read: humorous) best friend" to romantic lead Jonathan Switcher, with his own lines and implied subplots of his own. He's dramatic, willing to threaten public suicide if his friend is fired for expressing his art, crying openly at the drop of a hat, and scheming to stalk his it's-complicated Albert, and openly supportive of Jonathan's artistic and romantic pursuits, even when it appears that his friend is romantically involved with a mannequin. "You are an artiste" is his brush-away of any concerns about Jonathan's weirdness.

Homophobia is seen from Felix, the night security guard, referring to Hollywood as a "Mary", to which Jonathan responds by calling him out, subtly, as a bigoted jerk. Aside from several seconds of awkwardness on their first meeting, Jonathan just rolls with Hollywood's personality, even promising him job security once he gets promoted. It's notable that Hollywood isn't present for this scene, but he brushes off Felix's comments when told of it the scene after as Felix simply being too invested in his job and the "authority" it allows him, but it's Hollywood's tone that implies that it's not the first time he's dealt with Felix's homophobia before, and likely from outside the store as well.

That Hollywood lives his life openly and unapologetically was what stuck for me, that even though Felix was a "bigoted jerk" with "a serious case of Miami Vice", he didn't tone himself down in the slightest. In the final scenes, when he drives Jonathan to Illustra to save what Hollywood believes is a kidnapped mannequin, he still doesn't question or hesitate, because to him, Jonathan is an artist that fell in love with his creation, and sought to rescue it from destruction, and Jonathan is his friend. Still, while Jonathan rushes in, Hollywood still takes the time to cover his car, which seems ridiculous until you realize that car that classic with a paint that vibrant needs protection from sun damage, and it's worth 22 seconds delay.

However, a potent scene occurs when Jonathan runs on ahead in a hallway to the trash disposal, with Hollywood staying behind to delay the multitude of security guards in hot pursuit, and grabbing a nearby hose to spray the floor and guards to push them back, while laughing and having the time of his life, taunting that there are two things he loves to do:

It's important to note that this is a scene where a black gay man is turning a fire hose on the store's equivalent of the police. This is Hollywood's "hero moment", that's played for comedy, and to give Jonathan the time to rescue the damsel in distress, but, it's still a scene where a black man turns a fire hose on the police, and a simple Google of "fire hoses civil rights movement" will show the significance, even if it's in a fantastical romantic comedy where the black man is gay and only doing it to help the two pretty white people get together.

Still, the film ends with a wedding, but with Hollywood as best man/maid of honor, cheering on that love won and catching the bouquet. And he'd only have to wait eighteen more years to have that same kind of special day for himself.

Posted from my blog with SteemPress : https://vaughndemont.com/2018/07/04/1987-and-lgbt-character-portrayal-part-2-mannequin/


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