Is Behind The Candelabra Still Too Gay For US Cinemas, Even After DOMA?


The rapturous, and entirely justified, acclaim that Steven Soderbergh’s supposedly final film Behind The Candelabra received has been breathtaking. Even ten years ago, such a high-profile biographical work dwelling almost exclusively on a leading gay entertainer and his relationship with his much younger boyfriend would have been nigh unthinkable, but for much of the Western world this film has been welcomed with open arms and shown on the biggest screens we can rustle up.

It’s a really great film – funny, dark, painful, honest, and overall, timely, given recent Supreme Court judgements. To the vast majority of people, homosexuality is just another facet of the tapestry of existence, and one that causes them no problems in life. Sure, an extremely vocal minority seem to dedicate their lives to the eradication of homosexuality, but should that minority speak for all of us? Are they not just homophobic fanboys, ruining the fun for everybody else?

Well, no. Those pathetic homophobes also have fingers in very highly placed pies, if Steven Soderbergh’s interviews about the film are anything to go by. Speaking to The Wrap, the Oceans 11 director opined about his difficulties in raising a paltry $5 million:

“They said it was too gay. Everybody. This was after ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ by the way. Which is not as funny as this movie. I was stunned. It made no sense to any of us.”

It’s difficult to imagine a world in which Steven Soderbergh finds it difficult to find funding for anything, let alone a biopic of a megastar starring Matt Damon and Michael Douglas. Obviously the fact that he was gay, and that the story would be about that very gayness, was off-putting to movie executives for some reason. This is a world in which World War Z gets $200 million, but Behind The Candelabra can’t find $5 million.

HBO eventually stumped up much more than $5 million, bringing the budget to $23 million. The deal paid off, as the film went on to be HBO’s most watched film in almost ten years, on Memorial Day weekend no less. Besides our review – the only one that really matters – it received stellar reviews in Huffington Post, The Observer, and Empire, among others.  Ten years hence, Behind The Candelabra will be remembered for its fantastic performances and sumptuous images, not as the film that was too gay for a US cinema release.

But is that designation fair? Is it too gay? Those Memorial Day weekend audience figures would suggest not, but just how would it have performed in US cinemas? Are movie executives just reflecting what they see as public opinion? Or are they unjustly biased against films that don’t feature testosterone-fuelled battles between man and machine?

If this summer’s schedule has been anything to go by, the latter appears to be very much in effect – Pacific Rim, Fast & Furious 6, Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, to name but a few. While it is inconceivable that Behind The Candelabra would ever have the mainstream appeal of any of those films, does that mean it should be denied this cinematic release it so obviously deserves? Are popular social attitudes really that backward?

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