American actor Ben Affleck has pissed off a bunch of LGBTQ folks because of something he reportedly said 20 years ago while starring in Kevin Smith’s 1997 bisexual romantic comedy Chasing Amy.
Near the end of the film, Affleck kisses his co-star Jason Lee and at a Q&A after the film’s recent showing at the Outfest LGBTQ film festival in Los Angeles, Smith said that Affleck told him, “A man kissing another man is the greatest acting challenge an actor can ever face.” Affleck also allegedly said that he felt like “a serious actor” after filming the scene.
Granted, the sentiment was poorly phrased; there are lots of incredible acting challenges an actor can face — rape scenes, for instance, replied actress Evan Rachel Wood, adding “grow up, Ben.” (Though she later deleted her tweet because of “the sickening things people have written in response.”)
But considering that Affleck allegedly made the statement 20 years ago, he wasn’t entirely wrong.
He was still largely an indie actor when Chasing Amy came out. It was his last indie film before his 1997 breakout hit Good Will Hunting, and a same-sex kiss could have significantly altered his still-budding career.
Is kissing a man really “the greatest acting challenge an actor can ever face?”
No. Of course not.
However, when Chasing Amy was released in 1997, three factors contributed to mainstream audiences rarely seeing any male-on-male kisses on the silver screen: societal homophobia, films with gay kisses in them rarely got wide release and the most big-name Hollywood stars didn’t do same-sex smooches either.
Big studios were hesitant about making gay films in the 1990s
Remember, we’re talking about the early ’90s when “gay” was synonymous with AIDS and the AIDS death toll increased by about 50,000 people annually (going from 120,453 deaths in 1990 to 390,692 by 1997).
Meanwhile, the so-called right-wing Christian “Moral Majority” blamed gay people for the epidemic and a decline in family values, successfully pressuring then-President Bill Clinton to ban gays from the military.
So gays weren’t exactly the charming, funny darlings of media that we’ve become, and film studios weren’t eager to make movies about a widely hated and feared minority that might offend and repel straight audiences.
Most films with gay kisses were smaller indie movies with limited releases
While the “New Queer Cinema” art movement and other gay independent films of the early ’90s resulted in lots of same-sex kisses — Jeffrey, It’s My Party, Love! Valour! Compassion!, Stonewall, Beautiful Thing, Priest, and Gregg Araki’s The Living End and Totally Fucked Up all had same-sex kisses — most of these films were either foreign-made or featured lesser known actors.
As a result, they mostly ended up in smaller art-house theaters rather than having larger theatrical releases.
It’s true that Leonardo Dicaprio and David Thewlis shared a brief kiss in the 1995 period drama Total Eclipse (above), but Dicaprio was more of an indie actor who wouldn’t gain widespread appeal a until starring in Baz Luhrmann’s film Romeo + Juliet the following year.
Big stars rarely ever did same-sex kisses onscreen
In the 1993 film adaptation of Six Degrees of Separation, Will Smith kisses Anthony Michael Hall, but does so with his back to the camera so that the audience never actually sees the kiss.
Similarly, in the 1993 AIDS drama Philadelphia, Antonio Banderas kisses Tom Hanks when Hanks’ character is in the hospital. However, “Hanks’ back is to camera and his head completely hides the kiss from the audience.” Later on, when Hanks is on his deathbed, Banderas holds Hanks’ hand and kisses his fingers, but their lips never touch.
In the 1996 comedy The Birdcage, Nathan Lane and Robin Williams share a small peck kiss during a breakfast scene (above), but that’s it.
The two only instances we found of well-known stars visibly kissing onscreen were Keanu Reeves briefly kissing a middle-aged squatter played by William Richert in the Shakespearean-inspired 1991 Gus Van Sant film My Own Private Idaho (and yet again this was a largely arthouse release) and Tom Selleck passionately kissing Kevin Kline in the 1997 comedy In and Out (below).
Other beloved gay classics like the 1994 Australian drag road trip dramedy The Adverntures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and its 1995 American counterpart To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar featured no same-sex kisses whatsoever.
Don’t attack Affleck for his alleged comment
It makes little sense for contemporary audiences to get enraged at Affleck’s alleged comment. For one, we’re hearing it second-hand through his director. For two, if he said it at all, he said it two decades ago in a different cultural climate. And lastly, he obviously wasn’t the only actor who considered same-sex kissing a potentially career-changing move.
His alleged comment reveals the experience of a handful straight, cisgender male actors and overstates their hardship over those faced by actors of color, openly queer performers and actresses who have long struggled to overcome institutional prejudice, racism, misogyny, queerphobia, exploitation and typecasting.
But on the subject of gay kisses in the ’90s, he had a point. While a same-sex kiss wasn’t “the greatest challenge an actor can ever face,” it wasn’t easy or inconsequential either.
Update: Chasing Amy director Kevin Smith has apologized via Facebook Live to Ben Affleck for sharing his alleged quote:
“Of course, Affleck doesn’t feel that way today and who knows if he even felt that way then? But he could’ve, he was in his 20s. We all say goofy sh*t in our f**king 20s. But it wasn’t something he went out into the world and talked about. It was something he said to me….I feel fucking terrible. You know me. I like keeping peace. I’m not the guy that likes to rattle sabers or upset.”
Smith has also worked as executive producer on two films by gay director Malcolm Ingram, namely Small Town Gay Bar and Bear Nation.