The recent Academy Award-winning movie "Brokeback Mountain," the story of a sexual, emotional relationship between two men in the American West, sparked an international dialogue on sexual orientation, bigotry and discrimination against homosexuals. For that reason, APA and Divs. 44 (Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Issues) and 46 (Media) recognized the movie's screenwriter and producer, author Diana Ossana, with an award for her "sensitive and dignified handling of a topic that often engenders heated controversy" at a session at APA's 2006 Annual Convention.
"The film has gotten people talking, people who don't normally discuss issues like sexual orientation, like gender roles, like hate crimes and anti-gay violence," said award presenter Douglas C. Haldeman, PhD, of Div. 44 and APA's Board of Directors. "These issues are part of our culture now in a different way than they were previously because of this groundbreaking movie." Ossana, along with fellow screenwriter Larry McMurtry, won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for adapting the movie from a short story written by E. Annie Proulx and published in The New Yorker in 1997. At the session, Ossana shared how she and McMurtry transformed the short story into a film.
A passion project
Ossana described feeling "blown away" when she first read Proulx's short story. She quickly brought the story to her writing partner McMurtry-well known for his books "The Last Picture Show" and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Lonesome Dove"-and soon had a collaborator with a passion for the poignant, complex love story. She and McMurtry crafted the screenplay of "Brokeback Mountain" in three months, but its path to production was far less swift, noted Ossana. Selling the movie to Hollywood filmmakers wasn't tough, she noted, as many felt as strongly as she did about the story. Casting proved harder, she recalled. "Good actors would be really interested, and then move on," said Ossana, likely because their agents dissuaded them from taking a possibly controversial role.
Pursuing the movie's production took on particular importance in October 1998 when college student Matthew Sheppard was murdered for his sexual orientation in Wyoming-the setting of "Brokeback Mountain." "It was the one time I felt fear about the project" and the controversy and intolerance it could stir up, Ossana recalled.
In time, the script attracted two lead actors-Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger-a director, Ang Lee, and others who shared the writers' deep commitment to the love story. The rest is movie history. Along with the screenwriting Oscar, the movie won dozens of movie industry accolades and was a commercial success.
"If it never received a single honor I would still be as proud of this film as I am of my own children," Ossana noted. Further, the movie-making experience opened her eyes to the fact that prejudice against and inappropriate joking about gays, lesbians and bisexuals is sadly still "acceptable" in modern society, she said.
Session attendees eager to get Ossana's take on the fate of Jack Twist, the bull rider who is dead by the movie's end under ambiguous circumstances, were left still pondering. The movie offers two possibilities for what happened to Jack: A tire he was fixing on the side of the road exploded or he was beaten to death because he was gay.
"[Larry and I] would go back and forth all the time ourselves. We might change from one day to the next," noted Ossana. "What's most important is that the viewer concludes whatever they conclude based on their own experiences in life....It's more about the person who sees the film."
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