Prayers for Bobby
Coming of age and gay themed films have had a huge role in helping LGBTQ members figure themselves out and also helping them feel a type of connection with someone that they can relate to. These types of films have only recently started being made. This is not to say that members of the LGBTQ community were not in other films, but the time period where LGBTQ members actually have dreams and happy endings has only recently began. There are films like Beautiful Thing, directed by Hettie Macdonald, and Edge of Seventeen, directed by David Moreton, that don’t leave their audience at an angry or mournful ending. Instead they are left at a more cheerful and/or hopeful ending that can help inspire one who watches it. One film that does have a mixture between these mournful and hopeful themed endings is Prayers for Bobby, which was directed by Russell Mulcahy. After watching the film, I was left with this mixed feeling between being upset but also relived due to the fact that even though Bobby committed suicide in the middle of the plot, his ignorant mother has a sudden realization and sees the mistake she had made for not accepting her son. She then goes on to become a symbolic ally to the LGBTQ community. The film portrays Bobby as a young adult who is struggling with his sexuality due to the fact that he lives within a religious household. Jordan Mattos’ article, “Prayers for Bobby: Blurring out the most painful aspects,” sheds light on the fact that the transition from the book to the film left out several of other details that could have changed the way we viewed both Bobby and his family.
Mattos explains how Bobby “had lively friendships with many gay and lesbians his age, and had a guilt-ridden but active sex life. He also worked as a prostitute, sharing the earnings with his unsuspecting mother, and expressed hatred for himself and others at the drop of a hat” (Mattos, 2009). Throughout the film, Bobby is presented with a bit more innocence and when finally interacting with the LGBTQ community, it is shown as more like a bird jumping off the nest and flying on its own for the first time. This whole new idea of thinking of Bobby as a sexually active prostitute and almost bipolar attitude does change the way I first thought about Bobby as an individual. He’s really not as innocent as they had portrayed him in the film. It’s not the fact that he is not as innocent that catches my attention, but instead the fact that they decided to leave all of this out of the film.
All of this hiding of sexual desire and sexual exploration can easily be tied back to the restrained views people had about more provocative issues back in the late 19th century. There were these “educational and political campaigns to encourage chastity, to eliminate prostitution, and to discourage masturbation, especially among the young” (Rubin 1993, 4). These types of groups would work hard on trying to stop anything that did not seem “right” to them. As a result, “they have left a deep imprint on attitudes about sex, parental anxieties, and sex law” (Rubin 1993, 4). This imprint was surly seen within the film industry and the restraints they put on directors and editors on what it is they are allowed to show on the big screen. The impact that the early groups made on today’s society is not only seen in film, but also in reality. To several the word “gay” means “gay white men with large discretionary incomes” (Smith, 101). This stereotype is in a way given to Bobby in the film, even though he is not necessarily portrayed as rich, he is portrayed as an upper middle class teen that does not seem to worry much about money. It is this idea of “gay people as white, middle class, and male, which is just what the establishment media want people to think,” (Smith, 101) that draws in people to think of Bobby as the stereotype, when in reality, as told from the book, he was not.
All of these restraints that some say have gone away in today’s society are still here for the most part. Hiding certain details about some characters in films that were of importance when thinking of a character is just another example of how today’s society still has these restraints. The fact that the book was “turned down” so much just goes to show how our society is not confronted with the truth behind the struggles of an LGBTQ member and the obstacles that one must overcome.
Barbara Smith “Homophobia: Why Bring it Up?” from The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. Ed Henry Ablelove et al New York & London: Routledge, 1993.
Gayle Rubin “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of Politics of Sexuality” from Social Perspectives in Gay and Lesbian Studies ed. Peter M Nardi and Beth Schneider.
Mattos, Jordan. "Prayers for Bobby: Blurring out the Most Painful Aspects." World Socialist Web Site. 21 Jan. 2009. Web. 08 Feb. 2012. <http://wsws.org/articles/2009/jan2009/pray-j21.shtml>.