The Curtain Calls for You to Think: Self Acceptance24 November 2020
If you have Netflix, which I assume the majority of you do because what else is there to do during a lockdown and pandemic, you’ve probably seen an ad or the trailer for the new Joe Mantello & Ryan Murphy film “The Boys in the Band”. This modernised adaptation tells the story of a group of homosexual men in the 1960s and how a birthday party in a small New York apartment can become the epicentre of self truths and confessions of old loves. It becomes the intersection of the diverse narratives and personalities of homosexual men everywhere.
Knowing that there are original stage and film versions, I couldn’t help myself but google and look at people’s opinions – and then of course make my own.
When the original off-Broadway play hit the streets in 1968 it was both controversial and revolutionary. A year later, it was followed by the infamous Stonewall riots – an undeniable landmark in queer history. In 1970, a film version was released and while it was critically acclaimed, it also resulted in harsh critiques. In 2018, the play was revived to much praise and positive reception with the actors in its premiere being signed for the 2020 adaptation we now watch comfortably at home during this very pandemic.
So why so many versions of such a narrative? Surely it gets old to see the same group of homosexual men wallow in their misery.
When the play first hit the stage and the film first hit major screens it was a present narrative – a reflection of current realities of the time. The relatability ignited a spark in viewers, for queer folk alike it meant seeing their story told in a motion picture. For those with what I’ll call stone-cold opinions, it was a reality check. Nonetheless, it touched hearts and minds alike for many different reasons and it set gears in motions to what we, today, can say is pretty-good (comparatively of course).
Yet in 2020, watching it on a Netflix party virtual date, the narrative still hit home. To date a guy that is closeted to the world and is “straight” is an experience that isn’t a myth; it’s still living fact. To be from a religious background and have that self-hatred embedded in the fibre of your existence is still very much a fact. 2021 might not need a Stonewall 2.0 and I am happy to say I see more and more queer narratives hitting the screen. So why is it that this film still came off as so profound? I think it’s because it provides the depiction of universally lived experiences. Instead of giving us a modern romanticized retelling, it gives a stone-cold truth. While Stonewall was a catalyst for many great things in the queer community, queer experiences worldwide don’t revolve around it the same way that American ones do. To retell this story means to serve a cold, hard dish to swallow – there is a lot to figure out in the grit of self-acceptance. Pushing aside all the self-wallow and pity, and shallowness, that Zachary Quinto and Jim Parsons serve so well, the stories they tell and the tears they cried in front of the camera are the stories and tears of the people watching them.
It is this relatability that will keep the narrative of both play and film alike timeless. Self-acceptance is a journey, and not the one you have through a tulip-bloomed field on your European backpacker self-discovery trip. Instead, it is a walk in the dark with one eye open – but you have to believe the gamble is worth it. Sometimes the step gives away underneath your feet and you will crash to the floor crying, swatting away every person trying to hold you, but that’s okay. Having that band of people around you hold you is a chapter in that story.