Gene Shalit doesn't typically respond to reviews of his reviews. But that was before the Great Brokeback Mountain Brouhaha.
The veteran Today Show film critic wrote a note expressing regret for a thumbs-down review of the Oscar hopeful that angered many in the gay community.
But it wasn't the negative notice of the gay cowboy flick that had drawn complaints; it was his description of one of the film's character.
Shalit sought to clarify his critique in a letter of apology to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, stating that in no way did he mean any offense by labeling Jake Gyllenhaal's Jack a "sexual predator" who "tracks Ennis [Heath Ledger] down and coaxes him into sporadic trysts." (Shalit went on to praise the acting of Ledger, however.)
"In describing the behavior of Jack, I used words ('sexual predator') that I now discover have angered, agitated and hurt many people," Shalit wrote. "I did not intend to use a word that many in the gay community consider incendiary...I certainly had no intention of casting aspersions on anyone in the gay community or on the community itself. I regret any emotional hurt that may have resulted from my review of Brokeback Mountain."
GLAAD issued a statement of its own applauding the mustachioed movie reviewer's mea culpa.
"[GLAAD] thanks and applauds Mr. Shalit for charifying his comments and making clear in his statement that his words were not intended to be defamatory to the LGBT community," the organization said.
Last week, GLAAD ripped Shalit for the review, which aired during his "Critic's Choice" segment last Thursday, saying the reviewer promoted "defamatory anti-gay prejudice to a national audience," and issued an action alert urging its supporters to call NBC and complain.
According to the group, the "bizarre characterization of Jack as a 'predator' and Ennis as a victim reflected a fundamental lack of understanding about the central relationship in the film and gay relationships in general...It seems highly doubtful that Shalit would similarly claim that Titanic's Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) was a 'sexual predator' because he was pursuing a romantic relationship with Rose (Kate Winslet)."
On Monday, Shalit's gay son, physician and author Peter Shalit, wrote a letter of his own to GLAAD defending his father.
"He had no idea that his review of a movie, and his reaction to a particular character, would be seen as homophobia. Of course he is not homophobic," said the younger Shalit. "Agreed, he didn't particularly seem to like Brokeback Mountain, and he found the character of Jack unsympathetic. But his negative response to a particular character is not 'defamation' and had nothing to do with the sexual orientation of the character.
"Incidentally, I loved the movie--and it sure isn't the first time I disagreed with my dad about one of his reviews," Peter Shalit continued, adding that he felt compelled to write after talking to friends and seeing the "buzz online," in which some "bloggers are talking about [the elder Shalit] as if he's an enemy of gay people."
"We are all really on the same side," the younger Shalit summed up.
Gene Shalit's diss aside, Brokeback Mountain is shaping up to be the movie to beat at this year's Academy Awards. The film dominated the Critics' Choice Awards this week, including a win for Best Picture. It has also been named Best Picture by both the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the New York Film Critics Circle, was selected as one of 2005's 10 best by the American Film Institute and is up for key prizes at the Independent Spirit Awards, as well as the writers, producers and actors guilds.
Brokeback's truest test for Oscar viability will come Monday, when it competes for a leading seven Golden Globes. Nominations for the Academy Awards will be announced on Jan. 31.