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Wednesday
Feb 03 2016

HBO's LGBT History: The Case Against 8 (2014)

Manuelis working his way through all the LGBT-themed HBO productions.

Last weekwe talked about the thrilling and necessary anger fueling Larry Kramer'sThe Normal Heart,something not even Ryan Murphy's at times clumsy direction could quell.From that we turn to what might be the limpest most inessential HBO LGBT film I have encountered in this entire series (sorry,The Out List,you had a good run): Ben Cotner and Ryan White'sThe Case Against 8.

There's a fascinating,informative,and entertaining doc to be made about the circuitous road to overturning California's same-sex marriage ban,but Cotner and White's film isn't it...

It's almost a textbook example of how having cameras in the right place at the right time and interviewing the right people so as to shed light on a social issue does not (in itself) a (good) documentary make.But that's really all Cotner and White do,offering a painfully limp account of how,by 2013,the Supreme Court of the United States in effect made Prop 8 a thing of the past.

Part of the problem withThe Case Against 8is that it never rises above a "this happened,then this happened"structure.Had Cotner and White focused (or delivered) what their title suggests — the actual caseagainstProp 8 — they might have crafted a fascinating documentary that would have laid bare the intricacies behind the arguments Ted Olson and David Boies presented to the various courts.Some of that is here but so are flimsy sketches of the four plaintiffs at the heart of the case which could also have offered a more personal "case"against Prop 8.In settling for neither,the film feels like a very thorough outline of a solid term paper on the case.Or,asGlenn put it,"It's as thorough as a Wikipedia page,and about as interesting to watch as one,too."

That we saw this type of film being released on 2014 says perhaps more about the political climate of the United States than we'd like to think.Marriage equality had,by this point,become the de facto gay and lesbian cause much in the same wayAIDSandhatecrimeshad before.And if your first thought was "Wait,but aren't those two other issues still a thing,especially when it comes to minorities and those less well-off than the affluent gay white men that continue to dominate cultural images of the gay community even in this day and age?"you've pretty much nailed why films likeThe Case Against 8feel necessary to some but also wholly self-serving to others.

Case in point: when deciding who their plaintiffs should be,the legal team behind the Prop 8 repeal case openly admit that they sought couples "who were just like everybody else and who wereobviouslylike everybody else."In their own words: "absolutely safe choices."This seems politically and strategically necessary but it also speaks to a political climate that demands minorities be exemplary even (or especially) when they request basic rights.It's business as usual,but god,what lousy business it is.

Fun Awards Fact:Sheila Nevins,the President of HBO Documentary Films,earned her 70th (!!) Emmy nomination last year,winning her 28th and 29th Emmys in the process.I don't know my Emmy history that well butthis articleclaims James L.Brooks holds the records for most Emmy wins with 17 which Nevins's statistic all but obliterates.Is it because her wins come from the nonfiction side of things?But don't worry,neither of her wins came from the two nominationsThe Case Against 8garnered;she won instead for producingGoing ClearandMasterclass (Alan Alda).

Next week: We look at a handful of HBO period dramas to see how they've sought to represent LGBT characters,paying close attention toRome,Boardwalk EmpireandDeadwood.

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Reader Comments (4)

But is it as sloppily made and as inaccurate as most Wikipedia pages?

February 3,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I hope 2015 marked the year when "we're just like everybody else"stopped being a thing to celebrate.

February 3,2016 | Unregistered CommenterBD

It's a film only a lawyer could love.

February 3,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

So bland!"a film only a lawyer could love"is so apt.

February 3,2016 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

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