This post contains a content notice for discussion of homophobia, misogyny, rape, and rape culture. It contains a detailed description. Please read with caution.
While I was home for Christmas break, my dad and I went to see Chris Rock’s movie “Top Five.” My dad and I have been going to see movies together for years; we are both movie buffs and love the theater experience. We have somewhat similar tastes in film, enjoying science fiction and clever action movies the best, but willing to see just about anything.
I’ve resigned myself to the feelings of awkwardness that come with watching grown-up movies with my own dad; mostly we don’t talk about it. But watching “Top Five” brought on new levels of awkward discomfort, so much so that we actually spoke about it. My dad said it was “inappropriate”. I’ll say, here, that it was a film that presented a sexual assault on film in a way that seemed to play it for laughs. It was also deeply homophobic.
The character Chelsea Brown, played by Rosario Dawson, relates the story of her just-ended relationship with her boyfriend to Andre Allen (Chris Rock). She has just found out that her boyfriend has been cheating on her with a man. Chelsea says that the boyfriend was into anal play (as if straight men can’t be into that), and after an instance where he humiliated her with a cutting comment at dinner, she decides to insert a tampon covered with hot sauce into his ass. She confesses this, but the way it’s filmed, it’s played for laughs. And Allen even says, “It’s funny.”
The message here is that, men can’t be bisexual. Men can’t like doing anal play with their girlfriends: it means they are gay. Men should be punished for liking anal sex, by getting raped. Women are enforcers to these cultural rules for men, even women who, like Chelsea, have dated other women. Remember that Chelsea is a protagonist of the film: we, the audience, are supposed to be rooting for her and Allen.
An earlier scene in the movie shows Allen at his lowest point, the incident that helped him decide to quit drinking. Jazzy Dee (Cedric the Entertainer) arranges for two prostitutes to come to Allen’s hotel room. These women are “angels.” But when Jazzy Dee shows up to join in, suddenly Allen feels scared and humiliated. So, a threesome involving two women and a man is great fun, but a foursome involving two women and two men is a boner-killer. Bisexuality is all right for women, apparently, if the focus is on men, but again, bisexuality is not ok for men.
When the women show up at Allen’s door later in the night, expecting payment, he refuses, and they literally cry rape. This is ridiculous and perpetuates the false notion that women lie about rape in order to control and extort men. Sex workers are one of the most vulnerable types of workers in society, at risk of rape and murder, and should be treated with respect.
“Top Five” has nearly an all-black cast (and yet the queer men in the film are white); it’s refreshing to see movies with so many people of color, but it’s ruined for me when I feel like it’s a shit sandwich*. I’m white: I imagine it’s worse for black queer folks. It’s so hard when activists don’t understand intersectionality. That’s the whole point: you can’t be anti-racist without also being for the rights and acceptance of queer people, because black queer people exist.
There are good parts of this film; the parts where Allen grapples with his career as a comic trying to make a come-back while sober; the part where he is really honest about things that other people don’t talk about. The ideas about creativity and failure and fear. The scene where he is just hanging out with his family in an apartment, laughing, being affectionately rude with each other, was wonderful. Gabrielle Union as Allen’s high-maintenance, reality-star fiancee was a joy to watch.
Perhaps a fan can make a cut of this film that is “the Good Parts version”; in the mean time, I advise skipping the shit sandwich.
* YouTube video on homophobia as a shit sandwhich No More Mr. Nice Gay: Ender’s Game