It’s official, hell has frozen over. Gays are boycotting a musical?
Make that one gay. Washington Blade managing editor Kevin Naff told MSNBC last week that he won’t be seeing the big screen musical Hairspray when it opens next month and he encourages others to do the same. "Travolta, a prominent Scientologist, has no business reprising an iconic gay role, given his [religion's] stance on gay issues. It's well known that Scientology rejects gays and lesbians as members and even operates reparative therapy clinics to 'cure' homosexuality." Naff said.
Several media outlets picked up this silly tidbit and by Friday the film’s executive producer and the director of the original 1988 film, John Waters, responded to the New York Daily News. “First of all, he is playing a loving mother, not [the late gay politician] Harvey Milk.” Waters commented.” I'm all for gay troublemaking, but is this journalist going to police the religion of all actors? Do we boycott Nicole Kidman because she's Catholic?" Waters went on to praise Travolta and the new version of the film.
So who’s right? I think Waters and Naff are both missing the mark here.
As a movie nerd, I hold the original film in high esteem. Sure, many Waters purists consider this his “selling out” movie but I think it’s one of his best written. Not only does Hairspray brilliantly satirize 1960’s Baltimore and the hypocrisy of segregation but it also gave film lovers a star-making performance by Ricki Lake, a lovely swan song for Divine as Edna Turnblad (the role Travolta now plays), and Ric Ocasek and Pia Zadora as beatniks! Nobody makes camp like Waters but this time out he did it with real heart, quotable dialogue, and fully developed characters. So it baffles me that a cinematic update is necessary.
Sure, I get the whole was-a-movie-now-it’s-a-musical thing. I don’t think the world really needs musical versions of movies like Sunset Boulevard, The Color Purple, and Legally Blonde but if it makes more people go to the theater, then so be it.
I am opposed, however, to turning a hit musical that was originally a film back into a new version of the film. The 2005 bastardization of The Producers should have permanently put a stop to this trend. Still, hope springs eternal in Hollywood when it comes to squeezing every last dime out of a successful property. Previews for Hairspray present a slick, safe, family friendly musical packed with stars for every demographic. Look it’s the kid from High School Musical! Look it’s Queen Latifah!
While fans of the musical might be jumping out of their seats, the film’s loyalists are likely to groan, “Where’s Debbie Harry?” Waters has made a killing off the stage musical and his endorsement of the new version seems to be one of fiscal stability and not one of nonbiased opinion.
The only boycotting that should happen concerning this movie is one that calls for an end to remakes and unoriginality. Hollywood is convinced that moviegoers don’t want fresh, inspired films. But sleeper hit likes Hot Fuzz, Knocked Up, and Pan’s Labyrinth are proof positive that audiences are ready to embrace films that aren’t sequels and rehashes. The Broadway world echoed this sentiment earlier this month when Grey Gardens and Spring Awakenings both swept the Tonys. In spite of this, the trend of turning toys, television shows, and theme park rides into splashy films shows no sign of letting up. And it’s inevitable. Fine. But do we have to embrace every hackneyed remake? I say no and Hairspray might be where I put my foot down.
Where Naff’s hissyfit is concerned, I think the gay community has bigger fish to fry than Travolta. As a gay man, I think issues like the denial of basic civil liberties, workplace discrimination, and hate crimes are just a tad more important. Reprogramming homosexuals is a crock that intellectuals have long snickered at, so to slap Scientology on the wrist seems to be more about a cry for publicity rather than a call to arms.
The jury is still out on whether I’ll personally go see Hairspray. On one hand, my inner Divine fan poo-poos the notion of watching Travolta and tween hotties potentially destroy my beloved cinematic memories. On the other hand, my inner movie musical dork sort of loves the idea of Stephanie Zinone and Danny Zucko finally on screen together!