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While Oliver Stone’s film “Alexander” tells the epic tale of the Macedonian King’s conquest of much of the known world in the 4th Century BCE, it’s not the scenes showing the ancient wonders of Babylon or the bloody battles fought to win that city that have raised eyebrows. It’s the onscreen relationship between Alexander (Colin Farrell), and his friend and fellow warrior, Hephaistion (Jared Leto), that has sparked the wrath of some.
According to published reports, a group of Greek lawyers is threatening to sue director Oliver Stone for his film’s portrayal of Alexander as a bisexual man, a representation the attorneys said wasn’t supported by historical data. The lawyers are said to be demanding the movie’s title credits be changed to inform viewers the film is fictional.
Traianos Gagos, Associate Professor of Papyrology and Greek at the University of Michigan, said he can’t understand why the idea of bisexuality in ancient Greece could be considered controversial.
“The literature we read commonly refers to men having relations with men and women,” he said.
These relationships weren’t casual contacts, said Gagos.
“It’s not just a sexual relationship,” he said. “It developed as a result of a deep relationship between men.”
Wives living in that era weren’t threatened by these strong male friendships, Gagos said.
“Women were in competition with other women,” he said.
Upper class women rarely ventured out into public spaces, said Gagos, though both kings and queens would make appearances as a royal couple.
“Women in public were part of the lower classes who went out to work,” he said.
While unwed heterosexual couples depicted on the big screen don’t draw legal threats, that type of relationship would raise some eyebrows in Alexander’s day, Gagos said.
“People could live together without being married, but that wasn’t respectable,” Gagos said.
While relationships between men were often found in ancient literature, depictions of women’s love for each other were less common, he said.
“That’s something the records don’t talk much about,” said Gagos. “Apart from Sappho, I don’t know if any other account exists.”
The absence of similar works may not be due to the populations’ negative feelings about women loving women.
“Women weren’t recorded extensively in Greek literature because they didn’t participate in public affairs,” he said. “What we study is representations and constructions of women and men. We don’t know how biased these authors were.”
Stephanie Newman, producer of the Triangle Foundation’s annual gay film festival, Reel Pride, said she wasn’t surprised to hear grumblings from some quarters about an onscreen rendering of Alexander’s sexual orientation.
“It seems to me any time we make a step forward, there’s someone there to knock us back,” she said. “I think the fact Oliver Stone tried to portray a historically correct version of Alexander the Great is fabulous.”
While films geared primarily to LGBT audiences haven’t always been of the highest caliber, Newman said she thought that negative trend was changing.
“For the first time in a few years, gay film is on the rise in terms of quality, content and entertainment value,” she said. “Queer film has come to light not only for queer people, but for straight people.”
While audience acceptance of LGBT characters has grown in the general public, as shown by the popularity of shows like “Will and Grace,” not everyone has gotten the message.
Newman said she thought threats to sue Oliver Stone for portraying a bisexual Alexander the Great were ridiculous.
“I’d say these people are taking it as a personal slam to their heritage,” she said. “I would be proud to have Alexander as part of my heritage, gay, straight or bi.”
Also appearing in “Alexander” is Val Kilmer, Angelina Jolie, Anthony Hopkins, and Rosario Dawson. “Alexander” was released on Nov. 24, and can be seen in area theaters. For more information visit http://alexanderthemovie.warnerbros.com.