Dallas Buys Club (2013) was an attempt to bring people back into that 1980s AIDS epidemic and underground medication traid. When I say attempt, I mean the individuals who created this film did not take into account what this movie says about queer lives, how they protray it, and its impacts.
A little Background:
To give a quick summary of the film, the main character played by Matthew McConaughey, is a rough and tough cowboy from Texas who is diagnosed with HIV which later turns into full-blown AIDS. McConaughey’s character is named Ron Woodroof and he is desperate to cure his AIDS or at least find medications to manage his disease. Finding no help from the hospital and frustrated at the FDA’s lack of treatments, Ron decides to start an underground buyers club to help himself with non-approved medications and to make money off a community that is desperate and will pay whatever it takes to get their hands on some helpful medications.
What is this film portraying about queer lives:
This film is lacking in so many ways. For starters Ron is a homophobic ass hole who is taking advantage of an AIDS ridden community mostly made up of queer individuals. His buyers club partner is a trans woman played by Jared Leto (a cis man) whom he is disrespectful to they entire film. Leto’s character is named Rayon and she is a junkie, prostitute with low self-worth. One thing to point out about Rayon is none of th characters in the film get her pronouns right always referring to her as he, him, his.
When Ron finds out about his diagnosis, the doctors ask him if he has hadsexual relations with other men and Rons response is “don’t call me a faggot!” When he tells his friend about his diagnosis, his friend responds with “only queers get it [AIDS]” making fun of Ron saying that he is “queer.”
In the beginning of the film, Ron turns to drug use and even considers suicide as a way out from his diagnosis. After going to Mexico for treatment and partnering with a doctor to smuggle drugs over the border, Ron finally finds some hope and he turns into a white, hetero saver to the suffering queers who can’t help themselves.
This movie is saying that queer individuals were hopeless, disease ridden, junkie, hyper sexual, lesser people who were helpless without a hetero man. It is important to analyze what this movie is saying about queer lives because as stated by Hooks, movies create culture (p. 9). Individuals watching this film see that it is ok to be disrespectful to queer individuals and to see them as lesser people than those that fall under the “norm.”
One might say that analyzing movies and looking into what they are actually saying would take the joy out of them but I disagree. Actually looking into movies gives one a better understanding of the film which can cause greater enjoyment. Writer, G. M. Smith wrote in an article about how one can simultaneously enjoy movies while analysing them and it often times will increase the complexity of enjoyment (2001, p.70).
How is this film portraying queer lives:
To continue, queer people are viewed as the underdogs in this film in need of saving. One quote that really stuck out to me was when Ron and Rayon are having a conversation about Rayon’s drug use and Ron states “Why can’t you be a better friend to yourself?” This struck me because it concretes the fact that the film is saying queer people need to be saved by hetero people. Queer people are just people, they don’t need to be “saved.” Another huge moment that struck me was when Rayon tell her dad that she has AIDS.
As seen in the gif above, Rayon’s conversation with her dad portrays AIDS as being a cure to queerness. As stated in E. F. Nye’s article “Other’s challenge the idea that AIDS is a punishment for sin,” (p. 240). This film does not challange that idea but reinforces it.
It is important to be aware of what and how this movie is portraying queer individuals because film plays a huge role in our lives whether we realize it or not. Author H. A. Giroux attests to this by writing in one of his pieces that “I had no idea that [film] played an active role in shaping my sense of agency and offered me a moral and political education that largely went unnoticed and uncontested,” (2001, p. 595).
Dallas Buyers Club is by no means a poorly done film in the aspects of creation, acting, and directing. What was poorly done was the lack of thought on what this film would be portraying about queer lives.
Giroux, H.A.2001. Breaking into the movies: Pedagogy and the politics of film. p. 583-598. Print.
Hooks, B. Making movie magic. p. 1-9. Print.
Nye, E. F. The rhetoric of AIDS: A new taxonomy. p. 229-243. Print.
Smith, G. M. 2001. “It’s just a movie”: A teaching essay for introductory classes. Cinema Journal. p. 64-71. Print.
Valee, J.M. (Director). 2013. Dallas buyers club [Film]. United States: Truth Entertainment (II).