by CHARLIE PURCELL
Roland Emmerich is an openly gay director. His last film, Stonewall, depicts one of the most important moments in America’s gay rights movement. He has a history of working with other queer filmmakers on either side of the camera (lest we forget, the original Independence Day costarred Harvey Fierstein). His movies tend to have messages of teamwork and inclusiveness. All that said, what the hell was he thinking with the gay couple in Independence Day: Resurgence?
For those who haven’t seen the ID sequel, which was just released on Blu-ray and DVD, be aware that there are spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, try to picture what you think happens, because you’re probably right. It’s one of those paint-by-numbers sci-fi/action explode-a-thons that follows the same template as a hundred similar movies. It’s not a bad film, and the action bits are fun, but there’s something deeply problematic about two of its characters.
Okay. Spoiler warning over. Let’s begin.
Brent Spiner (Data from Star Trek) plays Dr. Brakish Okun, a druggie scientist who has been in a coma since the first ID film happened twenty years ago. At the beginning of the film, he wakes up in a hospital bed, much to the delight of Dr. Isaacs (John Storey), another character from the first film and, we quickly learn, his partner. Throughout the two decades of being in a coma, Isaacs (a character with no first name, apparently) has dutifully brought flowers to Okun’s room. He’s also knitted him scarves and whatnot. When Okun wakes up, they don’t kiss.
Throughout the film, Spiner is in full-on lunatic mode, gleefully fighting aliens with lasers while Isaacs stands by, the supportive husband. They share virtually all of their scenes together, and they both call each other generic terms of endearment.
At the end of the film, there’s an alien attack and Isaacs is gunned down. Okun leans over his dying body and they share their last words together: Once you die, who’s going to water the flowers? (I’m paraphrasing). And when he does die, there’s no kiss. The scene quickly moves on to the next round of mayhem.
Now, let’s push aside the fact that—once again—a gay couple gets separated by death. We all know how dangerous it is to be gay in the movies (or on TV). For some reason, it’s weirdly common for filmmakers (even openly gay ones) to kill off their non-straight characters. There used to be a joke about how black guys never survive horror movies. A similar rule applies here.
Annoying as that is, the death isn’t what bugs me. The entire East Coast gets wiped out within the first thirty minutes, so who am I to complain about a single, poorly defined scientist? My biggest issue is that Emmerich (and his four credited writers) have made the lamest possible attempt at diversity. They’ve created a gay couple that could be completely de-gayed for foreign audiences without changing a single frame of film.
I know there are a bunch of foreign markets that don’t appreciate gay content in their films. China, for one. Russia is another. Either country will outright ban a film if it looks too gay. So what’s the easiest way to ensure that your movie’s gay couple will sneak past their censors? Make sure they don’t touch each other for the entire movie and limit their conversations to plot-related technobabble. In the re-dub, simply erase all the uses of “baby” and “honey.” Ta-da! Now there are no more gay characters in your film, and everyone wins!
I don’t think I’d be as upset with this bit of non-representation if the relationship made at least a little bit of sense, but come on! Your husband wakes up after a twenty-year coma and you don’t kiss him? All you do is talk about a scarf you made? And then when your husband is murdered by an alien, you still don’t kiss him? All you do is talk about watering flowers? What kind of relationship could they possibly have had?
After I walked out of the theater, I tried to give the movie the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps Okun and Isaacs weren’t partners. Except… that didn’t make sense. Isaacs waited for Okun for two decades, visiting him regularly and making him presents. And the way they talk to each other… There are simply too many “baby”s and “honey”s to pretend that their relationship wasn’t romantic.
Nope, the only explanation is that the filmmakers wanted to include a gay couple, but they half-assed it so completely that a good chunk of the movie-going audience could simply overlook their relationship completely.
I saw Independence Day: Resurgence with my friend Kimberly in a crowded Tanzanian cinema. Toward the end of the film, she leaned over toward me and whispered, “Are they a couple?”
“Yes,” I answered through gritted teeth. They were a couple, and their lack of real interaction was already starting to annoy me.
At the end of the movie, as Isaacs lay dying, Kimberly once again turned to me. This time, she whispered, “I guess you’re right.”
This time, I whispered back, “Let’s not talk about it.” Like the movie itself, it’s best for everybody to just pretend that this sort-of couple doesn’t exist.
Charlie Purcell is an American living and working on beautiful Zanzibar Island off the coast of Tanzania. When he’s not swimming or eating too much of the local food, he teaches English and drama at an international school. He’s a movie reviewer for Slickster Magazine, as well as the writer of several young adult adventure stories. For updates on his novels and short stories, visit ThisIsCharliePurcell.blogspot.com.