Reality, History, and Silence: ‘Dallas Buyers Club’

‘Dallas Buyers Club’ could be a film that alters the way audiences view people of varying sexual expression. It could be that kind of resource for filmgoers, but the press surrounding more than one awards acceptance speech by a particular cast member has been drawing attention to the rub of the industry: actors don’t have opinions, they are expected to entertain according to the venue.

That said, Jared Leto may have been so remarkably shallow as to think that the most noteworthy part of his performance as Rayon, an HIV-positive transwoman, was the way bounce factor of his bottom and that he made various trips to the salon to achieve a silky smooth finish. He may have thought he could lighten up at the podium, a Golden Globe statue in his hand with that deal done- a win for the team. Still, consider the trend of actors and actresses who have avoided the heaviest points of their work on groundbreaking films off-screen: it is likely, given the state of the studios that pay talent handsomely, that this is what they are cautioned to do or at least what they sense they should do in the face of the public, as their own role-neutral selves. Whether it’s for the sake of their next role (and where might it come from? The answer is …anywhere- be careful), or for the sake of sales, it’s an expectation that keeps the power of the film over audiences at a distance; it rests between the viewer and the story as a buffer. Why on earth would an audience that journeyed to a theater, put down a good amount of money, and sat through a couple hours of storytelling be put off if the filmmakers and cast responded openly to questions about the social relevance of the film? This question is especially important, considering that one of the main things the investors want is a timely piece.

What made ‘Dallas Buyers’ relevant? What made it click as a hit in the minds of the money people? Perhaps they believed that something could be said about AIDS and healthcare in this time, in this country, which would be heeded. So, what’s the problem with talking about it? This is the kicker- this is the disconnect: making movies is hard precisely because someone has to believe in them, to pay for them, so once they are out there in the public view, would it not make sense to explore the inner life that got the film made with the people who put their money into the film at the other end- the people who pay the original believers (they hope)?

‘Dallas Buyers Club’ could be a film that causes a shift in the vision we have of what happened when HIV/AIDS began ruining lives around the world, through the eyes of a man who immersed himself out of necessity in a world he considered Other once he became an Other- a person with HIV. Viewers that don’t get why homophobia is a universal travesty might be stricken into commiserating when they see a tough homophobe soften a bit into an enabler of healing of the very people he feared coming into contact with in his so called “miserable life”. Naive? Absolutely- fine. But what’s more harmful is underestimating what the public will take in when a director says how they feel about a tough subject that cost millions of dollars to bring to life. Film could be more, if only the discussion of relevant features broadened; if the line between the screen life story and the filmmaker and audience was blurred, we might have a chance to figure out what’s possible for the film world.

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