Is "Fame"'s Gay Character Gay or Not?

In the original 1980 version of Fame, the gay character of Montgomery (Paul Crane) is a depressed, shy young man tortured by his sexuality. Given that nearly thirty years have passed since then — marked by huge strides in gay visibility and gay rights — it's to be expected that the remake of Fame would drop the tortured gay storyline for its gay teen dancer.

But the new version of Fame still has a gay character, right? Not according to Paul McGill (pictured below), the actor playing the part of Kevin, a student attending the performing arts high school in which much of the movie takes place.

During an exclusive interview with McGill, asked about Kevin being gay. Said McGill, "Originally, in the original sides, in the original

script, he was gay. But it’s not the case anymore. That's not in the

movie. That’s false information, actually, that’s on your website."

The news Kevin wasn't gay came as a bit of a shock as we'd reported the news the character was gay as far back as February, and it was something we had confirmed with the studio's publicity department.

But wouldn't the actor know, especially since the movie was done filiming? Wanting to make sure I was absolutely understanding McGill, I pressed him asking again, "So he's not a gay character?"

Said McGill:

I kind of took, when I was doing this character, I took from people that I know and experiences that I’ve had, you know, just growing up in a dance studio with teachers who weren’t great to me, and with making friends at the Performing Arts High School that I went to, and I kind of took from that, sort of…about my character. But it’s never mentioned in the movie. ...

Was the character gay when he auditioned for the part? "Originally, he was," said McGill, who explained that the character also started out as "campy" and "superficial" but evolved in rewrites so he now has  "... the darkest moments in the movie. The most …emotional scenes in the movie."

Asked if Kevin has a romantic interest of any kind, gay or straight, McGill explained, "His storyline is really about the work and about the determination.There are two different love stories between the ten characters. But, you know, Denise and Joy and Neil and Malik and Kevin, all are really, they don’t have that sort of romantic flair to them."

Seeking clarification on the matter, I arranged to speak with the movie's twenty-five-year old director, Kevin Tancharoen. After explaing what McGill had told me, Tancharoen said,  "That’s weird. I haven’t spoken to him [McGill] in a while, but that’s completely incorrect. His character is definitely gay, and is very clearly obviously gay in the movie. I mean, he was cast as a gay character in the film and we never changed that."

Pressed as to how the actor could not know something so basic about his character, Tancharoen explained some scenes had been edited out of the movie saying, "We cut out a lot of scenes, but we cut out a lot of scenes for time."

Tancharoen cut one scene in particular that he thought might account for McGill's confusion.

I think the scene that he’s talking about, we removed in the film because, one for timing, and two, because quite honestly I felt like it did cross the line of being too campy. It was a scene where his [Kevin's] best girlfriend confesses that she’s absolutely in love with him, and that she’s always been in love with him. And his reply was supposed to be, “If you were a guy, then we would be together.” I just felt it was too cheeky. So I took it out. But that doesn’t mean he’s not gay in the film anymore.

McGill in a scene from the movie

When asked how audiences would know Kevin was gay, Tancharoen (pictured below) said, "Well, I mean, it’s like, it’s just because it’s clearly obvious. Not saying that he’s flamboyant, but… He just is. I don’t really know how I can define characteristics of a gay person. But I think anyone with an appropriate gaydar can really just know that he is. I mean, I don’t want to say cliché things like, 'Oh, well, he wants to be a ballet dancer,' which means he’s gay. That doesn’t make any sense."

Tancharoen, who grew up in the dancing world, added he believes the movie's low-key approach to Kevin's gayness is a positive thing. "And I actually thought that was quite progressive. And I know I might end up getting a little bit of backlash because I feel like sometimes, if I don’t talk about it enough, then I’ve ignored it. But if I talk about it too much, then I'm being campy and stereotypical."

Tancharoen cited Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist as a movie that handled its gay chracaters in a similarly matter-of-fact way.

I thought Nick and Norah was a very good movie, and I don’t think anyone really knew that the whole band that Michael Cera was in was a gay band. And I thought that was a really good thing to do. Especially for a movie that’s for young people. Just portray them as everyone is comfortable, everyone just simply is. You know, I would hope that in this movie, no one goes, “Well, that’s the black character, there’s the Asian character, there’s the gay character, there’s the white character.” I hope people really don’t look at it that way. And really kind of just look at their problems as human beings.

Unlike Kevin in Fame, however, moviegoers knew the gay characters in Nick and Norah were gay because they were boyfriends, information communicated to the audience.

When that was pointed out to Tancharoen, he said:

And to be honest, I actually tried to keep the — to me — formulaic teenage relationship stories out of the movie as much as I could, just because I felt like I didn’t want to make a traditional teenage movie that’s usually centered around love triangles or “I love you. You broke up with me.”

We do have a little bit of that with one relationship. But other than that, all of the drama is really focused on the art of the craft. Of being a performing artist, so… I mean, I feel like when you see the movie, you’ll completely get it, but I can’t really give you specifics on what makes him gay other than he just is.

The movie itself may not have much in the way of actual heterosexual romance, but initial publicity stills show those storylines are definitely present for two couples. That being said, while trailers and music videos for the movie do show the couples kissing and embracing, they are not the focus of most of the movie's promotion.

Kevin's main personal relationship is with his best friend Joy. Said Tancharoen about Kevin, "He's a young guy who moves from Iowa. He came here to be a professional ballet dancer. His best friend is Joy Moy who’s this hilarious Asian girl, and they’re best friends throughout the entire film."

Tancharoen also said he felt it was very important the movie have a gay character.

Now, coming from a performing arts background myself, and being kind of — you know, I grew up in the dancer world and choreographers. I’ve always been around performers and dancers. I felt it was absolutely ridiculous not to have a gay character in a performing arts high school, because, you know, especially when I grew up, because, you know, when you go to a performing arts high school there’s a lot of gay people, a lot of straight people, a lot of bi people. You have a whole eclectic mix of people at high schools like that, so I felt it was very important to include a gay character in the movie.

But Tancharoen really wanted to get away from how the gay character was portrayed in the original Fame.

They portrayed the gay character as a depressed, tortured, soul that no one loves, and he’s very shy and timid. Well, that’s nothing like the [people] I grew up with. It’s 2009 and that kind of tortured gay, painting that kind of picture is so irrelevant. Especially in New York City. I mean, come on. So I never wanted to shine a light on the homosexuality.

Very much so like I didn’t want to shine a light on, really, any of those kinds of social issues. So I felt like I didn’t want to spotlight it. It’s not like you have a bunch of straight people in the movie talking about, you know, getting girls, or a guy, or “I’m straight.” I didn’t feel we needed to parade it around, because I feel like everyone is very comfortable with their identity. Everyone is extremely comfortable with their sexuality. Why, why have to shine a spotlight on it so much?

While it's commendable Tancharoen didn't want to perpetuate outdated stereotypes, it is fair to point out a writer need not "parade around" a character's gayness in order to communicate that information. It's also fair to ask if Tancharoen's version of Fame is truly that much more progressive than its predecessor.

For a movie set in a performing arts high school to have a cast of ten students and five teachers with only one gay person amongst them seems less than progressive.

And if the actor playing the part doesn't think his character is gay, and if the gay character's only personal relationship is with his best female friend (something seen many times before) and even the director can't explain how audiences will know the character is gay, one has to ask if that's any gay visibility at all.

Does Fame have a gay character? If Kevin Tancharoen says it does, then it does. Too bad it's likely only audience members with finely tuned gaydar will know it.

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