COMMENTARY: Hollywood's History Of Putting Gay Rights On Trial

National Public Radio
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March 28, 2013
Issues: 

With the Supreme Court hearing arguments this week on same-sex marriage, I'd like to point out a parallel evolution in what I see as a Hollywood mini-genre: films in which gay characters are either taken to court or seek redress in court for issues involving their sexuality.

Arguably the most famous question ever asked in a courtroom about a line of poetry — "What is the love that dare not speak its name?" — was originally put to playwright Oscar Wilde in 1894 by a British prosecutor. It was an attempt to trap Wilde into admitting to then-illegal homosexual conduct.

His impromptu answer, while eloquent, reinforced his guilt in the eyes of the court, an outcome that actor Peter Finch seems determined to avert in 1960's The Trials of Oscar Wilde, as he fairly rattles it off in a speech taken verbatim from the court transcripts. Briskly businesslike, forceful and assertive, Finch is not just addressing the court but also seeking to allay worries about unmasculine behavior in a buttoned-down, post-war era audience.