Dallas Buyers Club
When Dallas Buyers Club was released in 2013, it was an instant hit. With box office sales of over $27 million, nearly 5.5 times its production budget, the film was incredibly successful according to industry standards. It received six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, and members of its rock star cast walked away with Oscars for Best Performance in a Leading Role (Matthew McConaughey) and Best Performance in a Supporting Role (Jared Leto). Here, we consider how the film, set in the rural outskirts of Dallas, Texas, (re)produces metronormative and stereotypical ideas about LGBTQ people in rural areas.
The film tells the true story of Ron Woodroof, an electrician who gets diagnosed with HIV in 1985. After realizing how difficult it is to receive necessary treatment, Ron devotes himself to helping HIV/AIDS patients get medicine they need by opening a Buyers Club for otherwise inaccessible HIV medication. That Ron, a heterosexual rodeo-going cowboy, is the film’s protagonist complicates narratives of the 1980s AIDS crisis as a predominantly urban and gay problem. It does so, unfortunately, through stereotypical ideas about rural place. Here’s how:
Portrayal of the Rural
This clip is of one of the first scenes in the film. Ron is wearing his blue-collar electrician suit sitting outside on his lunch break with his friends. In the background, the viewer can see an oil rig pumping. The first thing Ron does in this scene is sell drugs to his friend calling it “cleaner than a preacher daughter’s pussy.” He then rejects his friend’s inquiry about getting relocated to Saudi Arabia by using racist language. Immediately, the film paints a certain type of picture of the rural: a backwards place of drugs, sex, racism, and bigotry.
In the scene in which Ron is first diagnosed with HIV, Dr. Sevard asks about possible intravenous drug use or “homosexual conduct.” Ron responds to this diagnostic question with immediate hostility stating, “I ain’t no faggot, Motherfucker. I don’t even know no fucking faggots.” Through this scene, Ron is constructed as the type of homophobe that one might imagine lives in rural Texas--where Ron’s being (misperceived as) gay is presented as in tension with his cowboy masculinity.
Ron Loses Friends
This clip shows Ron being rejected by his friends after they find out about his diagnosis. One friend, Clint, mocks Ron, calling him “sweetheart,” “sugar cakes,” and “faggot.” Ron’s friends assume he contracted HIV through a gay sexual experience, and thus relinquish their friendship and association with him. Ron, misrepresented as gay, becomes a friendless social outcast. This plotline reproduces the idea that rural LGBTQ people are shunned by their intolerant communities and thus live lonely lives. It is noteworthy that, in this scene, two confederate flags hang in the bar, one behind the counter and one along the back wall. The confederate flags symbolize the intolerance of the rural South on display in this scene.
Ron returns home after a stint in the hospital to “Faggot Blood” spray-painted in red along the side of his house. The word “blood” alludes to threats of physical harm, which builds upon the existing trope of the rural being a dangerous place for LGBTQ people.
Rayon and their Father
In this clip, Rayon sees their father after what the audience can assume has been a considerable amount of time. “She looks great,” Rayon says as they pick up and look at a photo of a girl and her father. Rayon places the photo down among several other family photos in which they do not appear, commenting “I guess I didn’t make the cut.” From this scene, the audience can interpret that Rayon’s dad has a picture of their sister in his office, but no picture of Rayon, as if to hide them from his life. This scene reproduces the assumption that LGBTQ people in rural places are estranged from their unaccepting families.
As you can see from the scenes above, the idea that rural places are backward, homophobic, intolerant, and dangerous are on display in Dallas Buyers Club. As the movie goes on, Ron begins to loosen his homophobic and bigoted ideas. His personal transformation enables the success of his Buyers Club and the close relationships he forms with people outside of his former bigoted friend group, such as his business partners, Rayon and Denise, who are transgender and black respectively. Notably, his personal transformation coincides with his visiting urban places in Mexico, Japan, China, Israel, and Holland. Dallas Buyers Club demonstrates not only how pop culture can frame rural places as horrible for LGBTQ people, but also the assumption that engagement with urban places can provide people with perspectives to counter the horrors of rural place.