A recreation of the iconic beach kiss scene from the PG-rated 1953 film From Here to Eternity featuring a male couple in place of the original actors (pictured above) was one of three images scheduled for public display to promote the the festival, which starts on March 28.
However, news broke last Thursday that Brisbane Council had pulled the image from public use in the campaign.
“We are mindful of the community’s views and believe that one of the three posters may be seen by many as too confronting,” Brisbane Lifestyle Committee Chairman and councillor Krista Adams said.
Social media was abuzz with debate almost immediately following council’s decision, with some calling the decision “backwards”, “bigoted” and that removing the image while allowing other adverts featuring heterosexual couples was a sign of double standards.
“Citizens are rightfully asking – would this be happening if it involved a different minority group, perhaps Indigenous, disabled or migrants, rather than gay people?” Brisbane LGBTIQ Action Group member Phil Browne said, who also called for equal representation of all members of society.
“It’s natural for two people in love to express tenderness, and this is what the poster portrays. I congratulate (council) on their LGBT initiatives to date, and it must be ensured that all people, regardless of sexuality or gender, are treated identically.”
Council’s Inclusivity Board member Dr Ann Stewart acknowledged that they have lately come a long way in addressing LGBTI issues and discrimination, but voiced her concern over Adams’ decision.
“I daresay there will be a need to find out exactly what has happened here, if anything, and on whose authority,” Dr Stewart said.
One of the models in the poster described council’s move as based on “fear”, and that Adams was out of touch.
“Since her opinions are out of date for a 1953 film, I don’t even know what era she would feel comfortable in,” Gregory Dunn told the Star Observer.
“It’s clear that the Brisbane community is quite obviously comfortable living in 2014 and doesn’t like being misrepresented by a homophobic councillor.”
Dunn, who appeared alongside 2012 My Kitchen Rules contestant Jake Harrison in the poster, worried about the message the decision was sending to LGBTI youth.
Citing his experience of school bullying, he said: “If there is a single child out there in Brisbane at the moment who knows that a poster of two men kissing wasn’t allowed to go up because the (council) found it inappropriate, what kind of message is that sending to our gay youth?”
Adams also said that Brisbane Council had decided to remove the poster pending a review by the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB).
However, an ASB spokesperson told the Star Observer that council’s request had already been denied, stating that the ASB cannot review an ad that has not been published and/or without receiving a complaint.
The spokesperson highlighted the ASB’s decision to disregard complaints made against the 2011 Rip ‘N Roll campaign to which many were comparing this case.
Last year, in response to calls by the Australian Christian Lobby for all outdoor advertising to be be G-rated, Adams said that it was not council’s role to censor advertising.
“Council does not have jurisdiction… to enforce matters concerning the content of signs which relate to public taste or community expectations,” she told News Corp media.
Addressing this, Adams told the Star Observer that council had not censored the ad: “Council has never been and will not be a censor, which is why it sought advice from an independent assessor.”
Councillor Steve Griffiths said that Adams’ action was a “massive overreaction.”
“If the Lord Mayor wants Brisbane to be a ‘new world city’ he needs to step in and make it clear that Brisbane is an accepting and open minded place,” he said.
“He can do that by letting the (Brisbane) Queer Film Festival hang the poster in acceptable locations throughout the city.”
The Star Observer understands that outdoor media organisation JCDecaux was charged with the role of publishing the three festival posters. Advertising companies have the right to publish material provided to them under self-regulation, with the ASB only stepping in to review those that receive complaints.
JCDecaux has denied seeking approval from either Powerhouse or council, stating that they were happy to publish the posters but was acting upon council’s instruction.
The Powerhouse’s artistic director Kris Stewart said he did not believe council had made their decision based on intolerance of homosexual-themed images.
“We received word from (council) that there were strong reservations about one of the images and the festival wasn’t to proceed with the designs as planned,” he told the Star Observer.
“They felt it was a highly sexualised image – our hope and belief is that (council’s) decision would have been the same whether it was a heterosexual or homosexual couple.”
He also highlighted the recent increased support from council for LGBTI events and involvement with the community: “This is a highly sensitive topic for the community but given the support of council in the past, we felt they need to be given a little bit of rope.
“They approved all other images of loving queer couples, including other images from the same photo shoot featuring the same male couple. I’d like to believe this means they’re not saying, ‘We don’t want images of gay culture’, but instead, ‘we don’t want overly sexualised images in public spaces”.
Brisbane Council have approved a new image from the same photo shoot to be used for public display that Stewart says still embodies the affection and intimacy between the two men. The new image features the two male models not touching (below).
Stewart expressed that the issue perhaps could have been handled more wisely.
“There are sensitivities in the LGBTI community that run deep and moves that are seen to delegitimise their equal standing within society are always going to cause issues,” he said.
“In the future, I’d like to think there could be opportunities for wider community consultation before making a final decision. This importance of this debate cannot be underestimated.”
The Powerhouse’s response to the debate has been criticised by former director Andrew Ross, who said that this case was an example of an arts organisation kowtowing to government pressure.
“Brisbane Powerhouse is trying to sell us the idea that the ban is because the image is highly sexualised and has nothing to do with the fact that the embrace in the surf is between two men,” he said.
“Are we to presume then that a poster of the original image of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Carr would also be too sexualised for the bus shelters of Brisbane?”
Joint managing director of Queensland billboard company GOA Chris Tyquin questioned whether a recreation of the famous film image with a heterosexual couple would have been allowed to be displayed in public.
“Community standards are a moving target but this case does open up a broader conversation about prevailing community standards,” Tyquin said.
Meanwhile, Outdoor Media Association chief executive Charmaine Moldrich told the Star Observer that question was a very hard call for her to make.
“It’s a very borderline case and would require some discussion,” she said.
Citing a recent condom ad that featured a straight couple in a similar embrace on the beach, Moldrich said that she had knocked it back due to perceived community standards.
She added that it was vital in a democracy that all vocal minorities were heard.
“It’s when those minorities start to rule the agenda that problems emerge. It’s about balancing minority views with prevailing community standards and that can be a really tough call to make,” she said.
“Because outdoor advertising doesn’t have the ability to be turned off and on, we need to err on the side of caution.”
Since the controversy started, Brisbane’s Oscar Theatre Company has released a marketing image featuring couples of differing sexualities in the same pose as the banned poster (below).
“It’s sadly smacked a redneck label across this city yet again and has left many feeling a little less like equals in our community. Like it or not, that homophobic tag remains plastered firmly to our state line,” the company posted on social media.
“But that’s not the Brisbane we know, and not the Brisbane many of you know. So we’re reclaiming this city’s stigma from all those who believe that we ain’t nothin’ but a bunch of bigoted hicks.”