Human beings and their affectionate vibes are something special. After all, we as individuals are going to love who we feel are worth loving. However, society demands that the protocol of loving should be straight-forward and “natural”. The rule of thumb: stick to your own kind! Whether it is being loyal to your own kind racially or culturally or either with your own age range the expectation of romance is defined…do not make waves and keep things safe and mainstream!
Well, human beings can be also unpredictable and live for going against the grain especially certain characters and personalities in the movies. Love and romance make for great film fodder but when the notion of such on-screen amorous activities takes its theme to a whole new challenging level then the gloves are off!
In Stop in the Name of Love: Top Ten Forbidden Romances in the Movies we will examine some of the films that dared to showcase the romanticism of “radical” individuals that dared to follow their hearts and love differently in spirit and sexuality. This movie column is NOT a moral commentary on whether the kind of forbidden romance is right or wrong–it is just featuring the films that dealt with the complicated subject matter of loving someone that others might feel uncomfortable or even liberated for that matter.
The selections for Stop in the Name of Love: Top Ten Forbidden Romances in the Movies are (in alphabetical order):
1.) Brokeback Mountain (2005) featuring Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist
Oscar-winning director Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain emerged in 2005 to both critical and controversial waves involving the gradual connecting romance of two gay cowboys Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist (Oscar nominees Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) hired to oversee a massive cattle drive. The concept of cowboys–the ultimate idealism of masculinity–playing footsies as homosexual herders out in the open range drew all sorts of expected attention that prompted both pro and con reactions to the film’s theme of affectionate male bonding from another kind of perspective. The cuddling cowboys made for great stand-by jokes on various comedy talk show monologues not to mention some Christian-sanctioned channels that shared differing opinions on such lovey-dovey confrontational cinema. Regardless of all the backlash and/or social-minded bravery, Lee’s Brokeback Mountain was poignant and thought-provoking in the conversation of tolerance and celebrating affectionate differences whether one endorsed the emotional and physical attractions of a sullen Ennis and enthusiastic Jack or not.
2.) The Graduate (1967) featuring Benjamin Braddock and Elaine Robinson
The romantic union between recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) and the privileged Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross) should not be considered a forbidden romance per se by conventional means. However, the Ben-Elaine last minute wedding runaway romance climatic scene was built on the premise that young Ben has been having an affair with Katharine’s mother Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) –a forbidden romance unto itself. The late filmmaker Mike Nichols’s The Graduate captures the anxieties and alienation of young college grads such as a Benjamin Braddock trapped in the backdrop of 60’s turbulence and uncertainties where he needs to make his mark without knowing what or where he is destined for professionally. Benjamin’s sexual attachment to the older Mrs. Robinson, then her daughter Elaine, were forbidden for various feverish reasons involved for a conflicted young man carrying a ball of confusion on his shoulders.
3.) Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967) featuring Dr. John Wade Prentice and Joanne Drayton
The concept of interracial coupling is still rather bothersome in this day and age to some people that do not believe in such black-and-white loving…so to speak. So imagine what the movie masses thought when filmmaker Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? premiered on the big screen in the late 1960’s during real-life racial turmoil and the struggle for the progressive Civil Rights Movement in the torn country. Distinguished and handsome black Dr. John Wade Prentice (Sidney Poitier) is the fiance of pretty white Joanne “Joey” Drayton (Katharine Houghton) who brings home her future husband to meet her seemingly liberal parents Matt and Christina Drayton (Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn). Naturally the Draytons’ open-minded philosophies are challenged as they must learn to accept their daughter Joey’s love and respect for her well-educated African-American suitor. The Draytons can relate to black folks as domestics (Emmy-winning actress Isabel Sanford from TV’s The Jeffersons played the Draytons’ maid Tillie) but how will they view the prominence of a professional black man such as Dr. Prentice romancing their daughter while in the racial heat of societal criticism in the aforementioned turbulent 1960’s?
4.) Jungle Fever (1991) featuring Flipper Purify and Angie Tucci
Filmmaker Spike Lee’s blistering Jungle Fever dutifully explores the stigma of interracial romance concerning a married black architect Flipper (Wesley Snipes) and his decision to carry on an affair with his Italian secretary Angie (Annabella Sciorra). Lee, who has been criticized for bringing racism as recurring themes in a few of his noteworthy films such as Do The Right Thing and School Daze, does not shy away from the foundation of his honest observations about race relations and perception through romance in the case of his protagonist couple Flipper and Angie. Is Flipper guilty of that perceived myth that a successful black man needs a white women hanging on his arm as a forbidden trophy of sorts? Is Angie just another white woman wanting “black male meat” out of forbidden curiosity and opportunity? Are both Flipper and Angie sell-outs to their race/culture of African-Americans and Italian-Americans? Jungle Fever may have been unfairly dismissed as yet another Lee-related race rabble-rousing film but nobody can deny Lee’s desired sense of the truth whether it hurts our cinematic sensibilities or not.
5.) Lakeview Terrace (2008) featuring Lisa Mattson and Chris Mattson
The common concern about interracial relationships is the supposed black man’s “yearning” for white women attraction. But what about the twist concerning a black woman’s need to show her attraction for white men? And what transpires when a black man objects to his “sister” wanting to cuddle up to a white man and not chose her own kind? Neil LaBute’s underrated racial drama Lakeview Terrace focuses his premise on an affable interracial married couple Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) whose presence seriously bothers a neighboring black LAPD cop Abel Turner (Samual L. Jackson). Abel would love to do what it takes to disrupt the salt-and-pepper marital bliss of Chris and Lisa while creating hidden (and later open) havoc toward the couple living next door to him. The forbidden mentality for hostility aimed at Chris and Lisa’s reserved loving and bonding by top cop Abel Turner is religiously shared by countless folks that can sympathize and understand his way of thinking.
6.) Lolita (1962) featuring Professor Humbert Humbert and Dolores “Lolita” Haze
Filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s daring and suggestive early 60’s film Lolita (with a toned down screenplay by Vladimir Nobokov) could not replicate the scandalous overtones of the Nobolov novel for which the film was based on originally. In all fairness, there was NEVER a romantic relationship between the dashing older and well-established professor Humbert Humbert (James Mason) and cute teen sexpot Dolores “Lolita” Haze (Sue Lyon). The forbidden (and highly inappropriate) aspect is Professor Humbert’s curious infatuation and love for the shapely and impish minor Lolita. It is so disturbing and hauntingly comical that Humbert’s hypnotic obsession with Lolita was so intense that he ended up marrying the child’s widowed mother Charlotte (Shelley Winters) just to get closer to his sizzling teenybopper object of affection. Lolita has exposed the secretive psyches of certain “dirty old men” and their desire to chase young females (let alone forbidden underage girls not legal to even think about amorously…PERIOD).
7.) Mississippi Masala (1991) featuring Demetrius Williams and Meena
The usual strife between forbidden interracial romance seems reserved for black and white lovers. However, this is not always the case as other mixed couples in love come in all colors and cultures. In director Mira Nair’s Mississippi Masala she focuses on the romantic relationship involving minorities and culture clashing between lovers of color. An ostracized Indian family in Uganda flees the Idi Amin regime and relocates to the American south in Mississippi where they are surrounded by American blacks. Already feeling “victimized” by the black population in Uganda this particular Indian family are somewhat guarded about the southern blacks. Still, it does not stop the incredibly pretty Indian daughter Meena (Sarita Choudhoury) from falling in love with her handsome American black man Demetrius Williams (Denzel Washington). Both Meena’s and Demetrius’s families have their doubts about the lovebirds’ relationship they deem questionable. In particular, Meena’s parents are cautious due to the political black power move that sent them packing to America. So now what does Meena’s connection to her African-American lover mean for this Indian family trying to assimilate in the vastly populated Southern black community?
8.) Romeo and Juliet (1968) featuring Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet
One cannot have any list about forbidden love without mentioning Shakespeare’s famous literary young star-crossed lovers in Franco Zeffirelli’s glossy screen version of Romeo and Juliet. We all know the familiar Shakespearean story of Romeo (Leonard Whiting) and Juliet (Olivia Hussey) as their affection for one another is being usurped by the on-going dissension concerning their feuding families in the Montagues and Capulets. Naturally, the tedious tug-of-war between the familial factions will doom the destined love of the conflicted couple. The inevitable tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is the blueprint for countless young people wanting to follow their hearts as skeptical camps from both sides look on in anticipation of the perceived horror and shame. Young love is forbidden no matter what the circumstances. Parents and kids…beware!
9.) Schindler’s List (1998) featuring Amon Goeth and an unknown Jewish woman
We all know and understand how horrifying and realistically absorbing filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List was as a cinematic achievement in emotional and psychological grounding. One such horror footnote from Spielberg’s Schindler’s List is deplorable German officer Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes in his Oscar-nominated role) and his isolated scene of mistreatment concerning a Jewish woman who he has raped and tortured. It is obviously clear that the demented Goeth has an attraction for the vulnerable woman he has ruthlessly ravaged. But the vicious and self-absorbed Goeth cannot bring himself to admit his actual attraction for the endangered female he has degraded because she is Jewish and it is forbidden for him to consider such genuine feelings for a hapless woman he regards as an inferior and subhuman rag doll. In fact, Goeth and the possible other Jewish women he may have sadistically abused sexually is just plain unthinkable. In short, Amon Goeth is a twisted soul that has a forbidden philosophy and inability to love not just vulnerable Jewish women but embrace his overall humanity.
10.) White Palace (1990) featuring Nora Baker and Max Baron
Luis Mandoki’s White Palace covers a forbidden love scenario that not only showcases an age-issue romance but social class as well. Late twenty-something Max Baron (James Spader) is a grieving widower with a high-paying career as an advertising executive. Eventually, Max becomes romantic with a forty-something, low-paying blue collar waitress Nora Baker (Susan Sarandon). At first the well-meaning and intense romantic sparks between Max and Nora was inspired in sexual sparks. However, the differences in age and social circles will reveal the glaring problems that threaten to invade their forbidden passion for one another. White Palace examines the uphill battle for a mismatched coupling that was questionable from the start. The forbidden fence was not hatched by the standards of society so much as it was finally exposed from Nora and Max’s clashing worlds.
Our Family Wedding (2010) featuring Lucia Ramirez and Marcus Boyd