Film & TV

Dec 9, 2013

Incredibly offensive: Tropfest sex change comedy sparks outrage

This year's Tropfest winner has been accused of homophobia and transphobia by advocates. It's another controversy for the wildly successful short film festival.

Matthew Knott

Former Crikey media reporter

Tropfest, the world's biggest annual short film festival, is again mired in controversy, with this year's winner accused of ridiculing gay and transgender people. There was an immediate backlash on social media when West Australian filmmaker Matt Hardie's romantic comedy Bamboozled was announced last night as the winner of the prestigious competition. In the film, Pete (played by Hardie) bumps into a man at a bus stop named Harry. The twist is that Harry used to be Pete's ex-girlfriend, Helen, before having a sex change operation. The pair re-connect over drinks and wake up together the next morning, a decision Pete obviously regrets. The punchline is that Harry was never a woman: the encounter was an elaborate made-for-TV hoax engineered by embittered ex-girlfriend Helen.

Melody Moore, founder of the advocacy and support group Trans Health Australia, says the film has already caused distress in the transgender community. "I'm flabbergasted, I think it's disgusting," Moore told Crikey. "It makes me question whether we will ever be accepted for who we are in society if we're seen as freaks ... It is a real insult and slur on trans people. "It enforces the stereotype that we're freaks; that there's something wrong with us; that being trans is an embarrassing secret. It's painful for trans people because we do get these reactions from people. It's certainly not entertaining to us." Moore says the film is particularly disappointing because there has been a growing acceptance of transgender people in recent years. Former Australian Medical Association president Kerryn Phelps says the film is "incredibly insensitive" and could be damaging to transgender people. "I don't believe everything has to be PC but this doesn't pass the cringe test for me," Phelps, a leading advocate for gay and lesbian rights, said. "The thing most concerning for me is that the emotional journey for trans people is often so excruciating and difficult that this film could and would be very damaging for a trans person to watch. I think it is trying to entertain but it is incredibly offensive to the emotional journey of trans people. It has the potential to cause damage to a vulnerable group in the community which deserves greater understanding." Hardie, who also took out the best actor award, won $10,000 cash, a Toyota car, a trip to Los Angeles and a Nikon camera. He defended the film this morning, telling the ABC he didn't want to offend anyone:
"The punchline really is a comment on media and how the world may have homophobia, but the lead character, and what I was saying, he was completely willing to go with either gender, he was in love with the person."
Phelps said: "I'm glad he is distancing himself from any intention to offend. That may not have been the intention but it certainly offends." Tammy Franks, South Australian Greens' spokesperson on gender and sexuality, said the film was "mean and cruel". "It was so many levels of wrong: whatever the joke was, it fell flat. I didn't think it was funny or amusing or had anything to offer. I was surprised it was the winner. Obviously, the judges can make their decision but public opinion seems to be it was the wrong call." The previous Tropfest winner was accused of imitating a country music video -- the third time in six years the winning film had been accused of plagiarism.

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26 thoughts on “Incredibly offensive: Tropfest sex change comedy sparks outrage

  1. gunars oksis

    Oh! give us a break from all this oversensitivity from the PC minority groups. It appears that if you don’t like some comment or opinion that is not in accord with your world view then the PC mob are traumatised.

  2. David Hand

    The Gay / Lesbian community has been publishing stuff for decades offending large sections of the community as they do it. This has been accompanied by almost universal consensus that the fault for being offended lies with the offended people not the publishers of the material. Indeed the word “homophobia” is an expression of this view. A person who is offended by gay and lesbian material has the problem and is homophobic.

    Until today.

  3. Dogs breakfast

    Strangely, I watched the film and thought the subject matter was about intrusive ‘reality’ television, which was the end game here, wasn’t it?

    Bamboozled was about a game show that thought it appropriate to set up the situation, and then profit from it. Surely that was it, wasn’t it.

    Blimey, I’m getting so old, it’s hard to know just when to be offended and by how much these days. Sigh..

  4. Malcolm Harrison

    from Shakespeare on and probably much earlier men and women have pretended, usually for comedic reasons, to be the opposite sex. Standard fare down the ages. If this offends, too bad. personally I’m offended much of the time by this and similar P.C. reactions. Get offended by all means, but please do not expect the world to change on that account.

  5. TheFamousEccles

    Great publicity for Tropfest, innit!

    The immediacy of the howls of indignation shows the other side of social media – a kind of self-sustaining angst generator, the participants of which post their opinions and then sit back to see how many Likes or re-tweets they get. Just boring.

  6. Melody Ayres-Griffiths

    Extremely disappointed in the filmmaker, and in the Tropfest judges. As an LGBT person who has worked with young LGBT people, I can’t see how this film can do anything but hurt their self-acceptance and self-esteem.

    People fail to realise how prevalent depression is in the LGBT community, largely as a result of hurtful media such as this. The impact a discriminatory work can have on the mindset of a self-critical LGBT person is huge, contributing to addiction, self-harm and even suicide.

    Further, some of those who see this pale ‘Black Mirror’ imitation will only view the ‘joke’ as validation of their own homophobic behaviour. You can even see it in the comments here. “Take a joke, wear it on the chin.” If the film was meant to satirise homophobia, it obviously didn’t work — but even that defence of its so-called merits, on its face, is quite questionable.

    It’s far more likely the film was meant to be little more than the puerile, adolescent jibe it is, a push-back against advances in LGBT rights, such as the ongoing march towards same-sex marriage in Australia. This resistance is understandable — people don’t like change, and negative sentiment toward LGBT people is ingrained in the Australian culture.

    But it’s still sad whenever such anti-LGBT propaganda is given such a wide audience, never mind accolades. All we can do is hope that this is an unfortunate aberration, a ‘last gasp’ of a dying paradigm, and that the deserved shame felt by all those involved keeps them from making such a repugnant ‘mistake’ again.

  7. David Hand

    Don’t produce art that offends the LGBT community.

    That’s what you’re saying isn’t it?

  8. wamut

    David I think it’s more like don’t produce unfunny, dodgy “art” that offends the LGBT community, then give it a major award, then have its creators deny that there was any problem with the film.

    If this crappy film was left to rot in obscurity, as it well should have, no-one would be that bothered.

  9. Ronson Dalby

    If that short won Tropfest, then the rest of the field must have been REALLY bad.

  10. Enquvist

    Firstly David Hand, you sound completely homophobic. Gays have been “publishing stuff for decades offending large sections of the community as they do it.” Care to elaborate on this ‘stuff’?

    I’m gay and am not so much offended as just bored by the “Haha you did something gay” comedy that teenage straight guys love. Only problem is this guy doesn’t seem to be a teenager?

    I would have though date rape victims might be a bit offended myself. Considering that’s pretty much what seems to have happened in the film.

    It’s strange though that two gay judges voted this through to be a winner? I’m not offended overly, but do I appreciate once again having my sexuality made the butt of the joke? No not in the slightest. Luckily I’ve come to realise that there is a portion of this country who are ignorant.

    Oh and BYW gunars oksis, yes it’s generally the minorities having issue with non PC behaviour, because minorities are the ones being made the joke.

    If straight white guys became the butt of many non PC related jokes, we’d see a whole different side of society freaking out let me tell you now.

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