Hollywood has played a part in the progressive shift in attitudes towards homosexuality in our society. According to a survey authored by Ipsos MediaCT, "18% of television viewers aged 13-64 say that TV in general has changed their opinion of same-sex marriage in a positive way" with 10% claiming TV has changed their opinion on the subject negatively. Vice President Joe Biden took a turn as a media critic and nearly caused an Obama campaign meltdown when he referenced Will and Grace as doing "more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody's ever done so far” during an interview when he came out in support of same-sex marriage.
Such hyperbolic language from the vice president might sound nice to political donors in NYC or LA but the as the Ipsos poll points out, 72% of the public wasn’t swayed either way by Hollywood. Good. While the presence of LGBT characters on Television has increased to 4.4% during the 2012-2013 season the majority of gay men are still written as flamboyant, economically well-off, clean, fashionable, domesticated, sassy, or hopelessly devoted to musical theater.
As a heterosexual male who finds most musical theater annoying, I want to know why Hollywood hasn't written — with a few exceptions — a gay character as the hero of my favorite film genre — the war epic?
The absence of gay warriors on the big screen isn't due to a lack of gay soldiers who have excelled and continue to excel in the various branches of the military throughout the world nor is their presence in battle a recent phenomena. For every 300 or Gladiator, there's an equally as bad-ass and more historically accurate tale of male lovers slaying their way into legend.
Greek history, a deep well of inspiration for Hollywood, is ripe with tales of such warriors. Professor James Davidson’s The Greeks and Greek Love brings to life historical evidence of same-sex relationships as the foundation of both the Greek allied military force and the democratic regime of Ancient Greece.
The most interesting facts come from his research on an elite warrior unit known through history as The Sacred Band of Thebes that used same-sex relationships as motivation in combat. Imagine a film adaptation set against the backdrop of the hegemonic battles between Athens and Sparta. The movie opens circa 371 B.C. with Sparta, the victor, wielding its military might to export slaves and impose tyrants on former democratic societies including Thebes.
Suddenly a guerrilla campaign, led by the Sacred Band, an elite unit made up of a 150 pairs of male lovers, captures a nearby fortress used to house Spartans and goes on to rally the city-states of Greece to the cause of freedom. A young, hot-headed Greek in his 20s named Asopichus — insert a Hemsworth brother — joins the group after his farm is destroyed and his family is killed. He becomes a skilled fighter and strategist under the watchful eyes of two commanders, Epaminondas and Pelopidas, vying for his affection.
The commanders (Mel Gibson and Ralph Fiennes perhaps?) each provide Asopichus with the right amount of encouragement and wisdom to be a brave and daring commander but not a brash and reckless murderer. As the Spartan army surrounds the walls of Thebes with a force double the size of the freedom fighters. Seeking only glory and immortality through combat and hoping to impress their lovers, the Sacred Band breaks the Spartan siege, taking the head of the Spartan co-king. The remaining survivors, instead of being sold into slavery, join the Greek army as it marches to meet the last tyrant threatening their homeland, a barbarian named Phillip II and his son, the future Alexander the Great.
Sure the idea might get laughed at as people imagine the already homoerotic warriors of 300 getting their asses handed to them by an army of well groomed, outfit color coordinated, show tune belting warriors. That would all change as the audience is distracted by the big budget battle scenes with hand-to-hand combat, swordplay, and choreographed maneuvers aided by the movie magic of wires.
There would be nothing odd or extreme by a movie like this. Same-sex relationships between warriors are just as traditional as the hereto-sexual relationships that have motivated heroes in movies like Braveheart and myths like Camelot. We shouldn't let stereotypes from our present culture blind us to the fascinating opportunities for gay characters in TV and Film.