I love gay subtext movies, but I haven't cared for many of the gay-themed movies that I've seen: Shelter, Brokeback Mountain, Bad Education, Bent, Transamerica, Boys Don't Cry, Get Real. Subtext movies are about the exuberant joy of two men or two women walking arm-in-arm into the future. Many gay-themed movies are about hatred, fear, isolation, depression, and angst, angst, angst.
Take Kawa (2010), also known as Nights in the Gardens of Spain, a New Zealand movie directed by Katie Wolfe. It has approximately the same plot as Making Love (1982), but apparently during the last 30 years, attitudes toward gay people have become much, much worse.
The middle-aged Kawa (Calvin Tuteao) "has it all," or at least the "all" that I spent my youth trying to escape from. He has some sort of job that involves negotiating with the Australians while sitting in a huge office looking out over Auckland Harbor. Then he goes home, tells his wife how much he loves her, chuckles at his teenage son for having sex with his girlfriend, and lies in bed next to his preteen daughter to tell her heterosexist bedtime stories while she waves a fairy wand around. In addition, his father is about to retire, making him the head of his Maori clan.
Picture perfect, right?
Homophobic Rule #1: Heterosexual life is amazing, glorious, infinitely fulfilling. It is Heaven on Earth. It's the theme of everyone's dreaming. No heterosexual ever experiences a moment of unhappiness, except when they discover that someone is gay.
But Kawa has a problem: he is attracted to men. He was aware of his attraction before he married, but hoped he could overcome it. He spent years struggling with his urges, but they're too strong. He has to act on them.
Homophobic Rule #2: Gay people hate, hate, hate being gay. It's a horrible obsession that intrudes upon them. They would give anything to be normal, to have a normal life. They try desperately to suppress the urges, but they're just too strong. Are we talking being gay here, or setting fire to small animals?
Kawa acts on his urges by skulking around bathhouses for anonymous tricks. Everyone in the bathhouse is also closeted, referring to their down-low life as "going to the Gardens of Spain."
By the way, Maori culture is generally gay friendly. Maori television has a gay tv show, Takatapui, and in 2010 five gay Maori and Polynesian artists had an exhibition called Mana Takatapui: Taera Tane at the City Gallery in Wellington.
Homophobic Rule #4: There is no fade-out kiss. Gay people may have a bit of fun, but they cannot have lasting relationships. No matter that New Zealand has gay marriage. Gay couples will always break up, or one of them will die.
Did I mention that New Zealand has gay marriage?
His son (Pama Hema Taylor, left) screams "Stay away from my mother"! His daughter runs away to look for fairies, emblems of her lost "perfect" world of universal heterosexuality.
Kawa also quits his job. You can't have an office with a view of Auckland Harbor if you're not heterosexual
Homophobic Rule #5: All heterosexuals are wildly, viciously, psychotically homophobic. No wonder it's a dark closet world -- mention that you're gay, and everyone starts screaming, and you lose everything.
Months and months and months pass, and eventually Kawa's Dad appears at his apartment with the ceremonial robe, signifying that he can become clan leader after all. What about Mom? "Give her time."
Jeez, how much time do you need to accept the fact that your son is an axe murderer. . .or is it gay?
Try 50 Ways of Saying Fabulous for a Kiwi movie that gets it right.