Only in today's America would I ever think to group Palestinians and gay cowboys in the same breadth. But because of the strange coincidence of writing two stories at the same time, one about "Paradise Now", the other about Brokeback Mountain", did I realize the similar challenges that both these films have in today's marketplace. In some circles, after all, homosexuals are hated just as much as Arabs and Muslims.
While Hany Abu-Assad's "Paradise Now" opened moderately well over the weekend on four screens (averaging about $12,000 per site), the film has a much tougher fight ahead in markets outside of LA and New York. And it is this broader audience that Focus Features hopes to lasso with "Brokeback," which the distributor plans to have in 137 markets after the Academy Awards are announced in late January. That's a lot of metropolitan areas.
While I don't think Warner Indie expects to reach such a wide audience with their gripping little art film about the struggles of Palestinians, everyone is waiting to see whether "Brokeback" with its stirring, tragic love story, can manage it. Judging from my research, it seems that Focus is sure as hell going to try: reaching out to America's 10% gay population, but also to a much larger demographic: women. Are women more tolerant than men? Or are they just more prone to enjoy weepies, no matter the sexual orientation of the characters?
Either way, it's a groundbreaking time for the cinema of politics: When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences takes an Oscar submission from Palestine -- a place that didn't even enter the daily vocabulary of Americans until recently. And when two men are depicted in a mainstream movie loving each other madly, truly and deeply.
So far, Warner Indie has received its fare share of threats with its release of "Paradise Now", and though Focus reps deny any resistance, there are rumors going around that some audiences have yelled anti-gay slurs during "Brokeback" trailers. Let's hope the stories aren't true. As GLAAD President Neil Giuliano told me, "It should never be a hostile time for a love story."