GLAAD was present last week at the Autry National Center as the historical cultural institution held a ceremony to induct "the shirts" from Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain into the Center's collection of movie memorabilia that symbolize the American West. The shirts will be on display in the Gene Autry Imagination Gallery at the Center.
The intertwined shirts, worn by Jake Gyllenhaal's character Jack and Heath Ledger's Ennis, were an unforgettable part of the film. At the film's heartbreaking end, Ennis embraces them as a symbol of loss and he and Jack's lasting love for each other. In a speech at the induction ceremony, Tom Gregory, a noted film memorabilia collector who acquired the Brokeback Mountain shirts in a charity auction and generously loaned them to the Autry National Center, called the shirts, "our generation's Ruby slippers" a reference to Dorothy's fabled shoes in The Wizard of Oz. Brokeback Mountain was a cultural phenomenon when it was released in 2005, winning Outstanding Film-Wide Release at the 2006 GLAAD Media Awards and the 2006 Academy Award for Directing, Original Music and Original Screenplay. In a news release issued from the Autry National Center, the Center noted, "The iconic shirts are at the center of the Contemporary Westerns case in order to highlight Brokeback Mountain's significance in keeping the Western genre alive and thriving in the new millennium, and also to spotlight the LGBT community's struggle for safety and inclusion in the rural, Western communities from where many originate yet often feel forced to abandon." The shirts will be featured alongside Western film memorabilia from films that define the genre, like Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, director John Ford and John Wayne's Stagecoach, Young Guns and Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles. Jeffrey Richardson, the Center's Assistant Curator of Film and Popular Culture remarked that for younger audiences, Brokeback Mountain is the first Western they have ever seen. This means that for those audiences, the presence of LGBT characters and the Western are indelibly linked, imbedding our stories into the fabric of the culture of the American West.
Gregory Hinton addresses the crowd with the iconic shirts in the background.
The Autry National Center is visited by thousands and hosts student groups from around the country. It is named for Gene Autry, the writer of legendary songs "Back in the Saddle Again" and "Here Comes Santa Claus" who was dubbed the "singing cowboy" in the 1930s and appeared in over 93 films and recorded over 650 songs before his death in 1998. Jackie Autry, his widow and Chairman of the Autry Center, was on hand to celebrate the occasion. Also present were members of the International Gay Rodeo Association, comprised of regions from around the world, who promote the LGBT country western lifestyle. Last week's induction ceremony was the brainchild of author and filmmaker, Gregory Hinton. It was Hinton who tracked down Tom Gregory in January, 2009 to inquire about the shirts. With Hinton's persistence and dedication, he persuaded both Gregory and the Center's Staff to bring the shirts to the Center for display. In the wake of enthusiasm about the event, the Center along with Hinton, are planning upcoming panels on media images of gays in the West. Throughout the rest of the year, GLAAD will provide programming support for future panels designed to raise the profile of gays in the historic West and contemporary Western culture and ask provoking questions like one Hinton posed at the ceremony, "Where are the Ennis and Jacks of today?"
Heath Ledger as Ennis in Brokeback Mountain