Saturday, May 31, 2008

Days Like These No6

‘When are filmmakers going to make unionism ‘sexy’?’

by Guest Blogger Gerry Fitzpatrick

The above question was the large print headline to a news feature that appeared in the Irish News 27.05.08 prompted by a complaint by the playwright Garry Mitchell ‘It has been said to me’, the playwright told the paper, ‘that Catholics are ‘sexier’, that they’re far more interesting and far more entertaining and that the leads [main actors] are more interesting if they’re Catholic’.

This response was solicited from the playwright as part of the papers reaction to the news that a film Hunger by the black director Alexander McQueen depicting the last days of the hunger striker Bobby Sands, had just won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes film festival. ‘Is the success of Hunger’, the paper asked, ‘evidence that ‘the troubles movie’ had turned the corner?’ In the two articles what followed the answer ‘no’ was given by those opposed to the film.

Now it may well be expecting too much of the a Belfast based newspaper to try and answer their own question by asking the director Alexander McQueen why he would even want to direct a film about Bobby Sands. The article only reported hostile unionist reaction. Publishing comment that ranged from anti-Agreement unionist James Dixon who accused the film of ‘glorifying some of the worst criminals in hell’ to the DUP’s Robin Newton who said that Alexander McQueen didn’t understand the truth about ‘the fanatical nature of terrorists’ – who along with other unionist members of Belfast City Council had opposed the making of the film in Belfast. These were the only people quoted. The balance of the article -if one could call it that - didn’t appear to be an issue.

Some may think it a rather glib point to make but it is important –given the nature of the subject – that it is now considered a cliché to refer to a serious matter as interesting (or not) due to the fact of it being ‘sexy’ or not. The English novelist A.S Byatt made that point rather poignantly over ten years ago when she said that one of most offensive traits of the 1980s was the intrusion of city yuppie jargon into common speech. So it was not uncommon to hear things like mortgages being referred to as ‘sexy’ deals when it had, as she said, ‘got nothing to do with sex’ or sex appeal. The above quoted headline ‘When are filmmakers going to make unionism’ sexy’’ not only does the paper a disservice, it does Gary Mitchell a disservice also. For he was reporting the speech of film industry people, he has never seen it as his job to make unionism or Loyalism sexy and he has had a good deal of success in portraying it as anything but!

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