Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell believe in LGBT rights enough that they waited to marry until the right was extended to same sex couples. So you wouldn’t think he’d be having to fend off accusations of homophobia, but there’s been a bit of disquiet about the film version of CHiPS, which he wrote, directed and stars in, about whether some of its jokes are actually anti-gay.
That includes Michael Pena’s undercover FBI character, Poncho, accidentally face-planting in his partners crotch and freaking out while holding a naked Baker (Shepard), and also his discomfort when he’s [as reported by TheWrap) ‘confronted with a glory shot of Baker’s bulge in tighty whities in the police locker room, where other bros engage in bare-chested hugs and the camera watches the many bulges bounce off each another as Ponch’s face twists in horror’.
It’s humour rooted in gay panic, and while it can be funny when smartly used to show the ridiculousness of some expressions of masculinity, in many cases it’s used purely as a cheap laugh and rooted in homophobia itself. The latter is what some have accused CHiPS of – although TheWrap does acknowledge that the film tries to deal with some of the issues it raises in terms of Poncho’s hyper-masculinity.
There are also three gay characters in the movie itself – a corrupt cop and his armored car driver who are secretly a couple, and an inept policeman who is more interested in lusting after his fellow officers in their uniform, and talking about how many people he’s slept with. All are essentially used as a punchline.
Aware of how some might see the film’s humour, Shepard told HuffPo, “I do think it’s fun and challenging to have a topic like homophobia be in this movie and to do it correctly. That’s a very fun challenge. The intent isn’t homophobic, the intent is actually to be progressive and still deal with that issue because that issue is always going to be funny ― all those issues are going to be funny.”
Although it appears his heart is in the right place, it also doesn’t sound like he’s fully thought out what he’s doing, as while the intent may not have been homophobic, if the audience laughs out of a homophobic impulse, it’s not exactly progressive.
Bell, show also stars in CHiPS, adds, “There are certain things at face value you could say, because we’re exploring the topic, ‘Oh, that seems homophobic or that seems sexist,’ but it’s not. It’s the exploration of the topic and the exploration of the different points of view involved in the topic to open up the conversation to cure the disease that we’re riddled with…
“If you really look at it and you hear Dax’s arguments about why he wrote it, he’s a feminist, for sure, and he’s also about the most un-homophobic person you could ever find ― I mean, we waited until everyone could get married before we got married, based on principle.”