With the recent release and widespread acclaim of Lincoln, the film’s screenwriter, Tony Kushner, is back in America’s spotlight. With his critically acclaimed work not only impacting the world of fine arts, but also advancing political movements and those of the gay community, this is a spot he knows well.
For the last six years, Kushner has been working to adapt the 800-page Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin to a two-hour film, and after Lincoln’s screen debut on November 16, it has finally paid off. With the glowing audience reviews and critical acclaim, the star-studded team of Lincoln, including Daniel Day-Lewis as President Abraham Lincoln, Sally Field as First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln, and Steven Spielberg directing, may be having well-founded dreams of Oscar nominations in January.
But beyond the praise, Lincoln holds a more meaningful message to society today, which is presumably why Kushner embarked on such a daunting task in the first place. While Lincoln attempts to illustrate the man’s achievements of a past generation, Kushner purports to draw similarities between our current societal and political climate and that of Lincoln’s. He reflected that he and Spielberg both believed the Lincoln project had a relevant message to today’s audience.The cinematic masterpiece proves the success of democracy and the astounding possibilities of the America elected. In an era where the American people may be losing sight of this, he believed the film could breathe life into an old story of the country’s politics and thus reinvigorate the current and ongoing one.
Much of Kushner’s professional life is aimed at advancing society through rethinking paradigms and challenging the status quo, and as a prominent gay figure, he frequently turns America’s lens to its intolerance of the gay community.
In what many consider Kushner’s pièce de résistance, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, Kushner casts a light on the cultural climate of America in the late 1980s and its widespread homophobia and prejudice of homosexuals during the sweeping spread of the AIDS epidemic. Set in a time of vast intolerance, the play gives a voice to the gay community, bestowing Kushner the reputation of sympathetic advocate for the outsider.
While some reactions to his work dub it as highly controversial, Kushner’s plays are not aggressive. They are written to be thought-provoking, entertaining, and even poignant, not polemical. And it is this aspect which ties Kushner’s creative work to that of romance writers of today. Erotic publications, while intended for entertainment reading, can also acutely address the topic of gay rights through the scope of ManLove romance.
In the instance of Hunter’s Moon by Britt Kenley, the author presents two contrasting social backdrops for her hero, Jeremy, the first being his childhood community riddled with gay prejudice and intolerance, and the second being his lover’s community of total acceptance. By comparing the two situations, the audience is struck with the injustice of the first and the simplicity of the second.
Differing from this dichotomy, in her captivating novel, Going Under, Tonya Ramagos sets the ManLove romance in a town of total acceptance, where only the bad guys display any negativity toward the gay population. In this sense it has a more escapism feel, allowing the reader to get lost in a society that many may only be able to imagine.
While gay rights may be radical today, in the future they will undoubtedly be thought back on as the obvious progression for the United States’ society. Just as Lincoln wrote in a letter dated April 4, 1864, “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong,” today, “slavery” could easily be replaced with “gay intolerance.”
Until that day of equality, art, governance, and prominent figures such as Tony Kushner will continue to fight for gay rights, and in the meantime, we can all cross our fingers Kushner starts working on a steamy romance!
By Alex O’Brien, Staff Contributor