His Edna, unlike the greasy Gorgon created by Divine in the 1988 John Waters original or the Kabuki hausfrau rendered so memorably by Harvey Fierstein in the 2002 Broadway musical adaptation, has cleavage and a waist and a kind of geologic sex appeal....Impressive. But what of the argument that the those who care about gay rights should boycott "Hairspray"?
“Playing a woman attracted me,” Mr. Travolta said. “Playing a drag queen did not. The vaudeville idea of a man in a dress is a joke that works better onstage than it does on film, and I didn’t want any winking or camping...."...
There was no film precedent for this approach to Edna. Though Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie” and Robin Williams in “Mrs. Doubtfire” did well donning drag, they were playing explicitly male characters who for plot reasons needed to dress as women....
"[H]ow do I convince you I’m a woman doing that and make you want to watch her for an hour and a half?”
Having grown up the youngest of six children in a bohemian working-class family in Englewood, N.J., he modeled his idea of a watchable woman on his “very sexy mother” (Helen Travolta was a high school drama teacher and sometime actress) and on the bombshells in the European movies they enjoyed: Ms. Loren, Anna Magnani, Anita Ekberg. “I’m not as beautiful as any of those people,” he said, “but I’m not unpleasant to look at, and I thought: ‘This is my library. Not grandmas or Aunt Bee from Mayberry, but the kind of person a blue-collar woman would aspire to be if she had money. What if that kind of woman had gone to flesh?’ ”
In a blog entry posted in May on the Web site of The Washington Blade (washblade.com), a gay newspaper, Kevin Naff, its editor, called for a boycott of “Hairspray” because of Mr. Travolta’s membership in the Church of Scientology, which he described as a cult that “rejects gays and lesbians as members and even operates reparative therapy clinics to ‘cure’ homosexuality.” In a subsequent editorial Mr. Naff added that Mr. Travolta’s appearance in the “iconic gay role” is “even more galling given all the gay rumors that have followed him for years.”There would be an awful lot of boycotting if we avoided movies starring any actor who belonged to a religion that held a belief we found abhorrent. But maybe a special case should be made if the role is somehow "iconic" for you. Travolta makes the point that Edna is not a gay role. Edna is a heterosexual female, traditionally played by a male. As the article points out, this is like the stage play "Peter Pan," where there is nothing gay about the character, but an actor of the opposite sex is always cast in the role.
Let's look at how Naff put it -- in writing and in this fair-and-balanced fight with Bill O'Reilly:
My thought on watching that was that people should go to the movie if they want to see it, but Naff did a great job of picking an issue that would get him some publicity and he handles his argument well even if he persuades no one.
What are you going to do with the subject of whether religions offer people fraudulent treatments? It's one thing if a psychologist purports to be able to cure homosexuality, but religions purport to solve all sorts of problems, including mortality. I can see why gay rights activists think it makes sense to single out one issue to make a big deal about, but boycotting the work of one religion's adherents seems wrong. Many religions are negative toward gay people. The only thing that makes Scientology stand out is that its approach resembles what therapists do. But it's a religion!