It should not surprise you that these two occurrences happen more or less in sync with each other. Nor should it surprise you that the film Camp (2003) is one of the things that produced the latter reaction.
It could have been so good! It's about a musical theatre camp, for gods' sake. Stephen Sondheim cameos as himself! It should have been right up my alley. And parts of it were! I really thoroughly enjoyed the musical numbers, and the plotline that dealt with theatre matters (to wit: a washed-up composer who is teaching at the camp and who the kids help to become less JADED and CYNICAL) was also really quite well done.
But then there were the problems. Oh, lordy, the problems. I'm going to break it down in list format (roughly arranged in the order these issues crop up in the film), because if there's one thing I love, it's lists.
1. In the first few minutes, we are introduced to one of the PoC characters. All seems well and good, until it is revealed (quite quickly) that her parents have WIRED her JAW SHUT for the summer so that she'll lose weight. I believe this was meant to be an "offbeat" and "quirky" example of a difficult family, but being as it is the LITERAL SILENCING of a woman of colour (with bonus fat-shaming!), it doesn't really come off that way.
2. Speaking of fat-shaming, there's a throwaway moment during the audition montage where the only camp attendee who is really visibly fat is shown to be a TALENTLESS BUFFOON. Because, of course, fat people can't be good at something, or be named characters, or show up other than in a ten-second gag. That would UPSET THE NATURAL ORDER.
3. So, we are at a musical-theatre camp, as I mentioned. And it appears that all of the male youth at the camp except one identify as gay (which in itself is buying into stereotypes in a way that is not really productive). So, who do all of these guys (and, every girl--no lesbians here!) crush on? If you said "the straight one", you'd be correct. In fact, the only romantic relationships shown in the film AT ALL (with one--hideous--exception that I'll get to in a moment) are those involving Straight Guy as the male partner in a het couple. Could two of the gay guys not found romance with each other? Even a little bit?
4. Now, there's a fair amount of PoC at this camp. Not anything like as many as there are white-appearing people, but definitely more than I'm used to seeing in an ensemble cast. HOWEVER. With one exception (the non-straight male lead is Latino), they are relegated largely to back-up. This is most egregious in the musical numbers. On at least two occasions, there are musical numbers featuring one white girl soloist, with black backup. This would not be too bad, except for (a) the historical context that the centreing of white perspectives plays into, and (b) the fact that the second of these musical numbers is from Dreamgirls, and the role the white girl is singing--the lead role--is one that is meant to go to a black actress. ONe of the black women in the cast is Sasha Allen, who has done theatre work and is MONSTROUSLY TALENTED. Almost certainly moreso than the woman who (in the film) got the Dreamgirls part.
5. Alright, this is a major one: Midway through the film, the Straight Guy reveals to the lead Gay Male that he has OCD and has to control it with medication. Now, I am all for a romantic lead character with a disability. The thing is, it's a subject where a subpar treatment can in some ways be worse than not involving it at all. Which is the case! SG's disability is brought up twice in the entire film. In this conversation, the context is something like "I have OCD! So even though I have far more privilege than you in MANY MANY WAYS [Straight Guy is straight, conventionally attractive, white, has a stereotypically male gender presentation, and has a supportive family--none of which is true for the guy he is speaking with], my life is obviously THE WORST THING EVER, worse than you could POSSIBLY UNDERSTAND." Gay Guy, of course, agrees with him! Because obviously a disability is the MOST TERRIBLE THING IN THE WORLD to deal with, and completely trumps any other form of oppression.
I'm not denying, to be clear, that dealing with a disability can be very difficult. Obviously to do so would be a bit ridiculous. But the way it's framed here suggests that disability is this INSURMOUNTABLE OBSTACLE, and makes one's life far worse than anything else could. Which really rubs me the wrong way.
The second and only other time his disability is mentioned, it is in the context of a throwaway gag where the Gay Guy is throwing words meant to trigger his compulsive behaviours (which centre around counting letters and adding the results) at him, as part of a joking attempt to "cure" him of his OCD. Charming.
6. And here, here is the plotline (the MAJOR plotline) that I find really, ridiculously problematic. As I mentioned, the lead Gay Guy has a crush on the Straight Guy. For reasons left entirely unclear, this results in him going out and sleeping with a girl. And then bragging about it to the Straight Guy, who then goes to see this girl and confirm this story by questioning her invasively, grabbing her journal, and then making out with her (the making out, at least, is consensual).
7. A little later on, the straight guy's girlfriend, who is mad at the gay guy, because he slept with the girl that her boyfriend cheated on her with (I think that's why?), tells the gay guy "And there's no such thing as bisexuality, you know!", which is part of a recurring theme from this point on where people seem to think that he's MAGICALLY STRAIGHT because of this occurence. And remember, the woman who makes this claim is the female character we're supposed to sympathize with most, and she's never called out on the fail of this statement.
8. The straight male lead is a jerk, okay? He cheats on his girlfriend, as mentioned above. It is revealed that he has ANOTHER girlfriend, who is not at the camp, who he was cheating on with the girl who he has been dating for most of the film. He flirts really outrageously with the gay guy who he knows has a crush on him, seemingly for no reason other than to screw with the other guy's mind. He's pretty much bad news.
So, OF COURSE, when he reveals to his girlfriend from camp that his original girlfriend came up there specifically to break up with him, and asks her to take him back, OF COURSE she says yes. Without hesitation. Because, and this is a direct quote, she "ha[s] to start hanging out with boys who don't wear dresses". Way to disparage non-conventional gender presentation, there! (The gay guy lead who I have been mentioning throughout is also a drag queen). Also, way to go back to a MASSIVE TOOL, in a classic example of "Because, Um..." behaviour. Like, there is seriously ~zero~ motivation for her to return to him.
And that's where the film ends. And where Dorian's head explodes for one last time.
Now, the movie's not all bad! The musical numbers are excellent, Stephen Sondheim has a fantastic cameo, there's a really awesome drag party scene...there's a lot to like. It even tries to look at some serious issues (near the beginning, the gay lead is bashed for going to his prom in drag, and this is touched upon a couple of times throughout the film, though not in great depth).
However, there's a lot MORE that is so massively full of fail that it's pretty much impossible to ignore. Unfortunately.
And this brings me back to my opening lines: A couple of years ago, I probably would not have seen anything wrong with this film. Like, at all. And while on one level I am glad I am watching it now instead of then (because greater awareness is not by any stretch of the imagination a bad thing), part of me wishes I were able to just enjoy the Fun Musical Theatre Movie, without critiquing it for inclusivity and progressiveness.
Fortunately, (I think), that feeling passes. And then I go and write snarky reviews and SHARE THEM WITH YOU.