Forward March: ‘A Marine Story’ dissects the damage caused by DADT

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Director Ned Farr and actress Dreya Weber discuss their new film now on DVD

You wouldn’t know it by her powerful portrayal of a closeted lesbian discharged from the military because of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” but actress Dreya Weber is married. To a man.

That man, Ned Farr, also happens to be her boss. Or was, at least, while he was directing her in their new project, “A Marine Story,” a poignant film about discrimination, homophobia, hate crimes, meth labs, and a gay American soldier forced to hide her sexuality – or else.

In a recent interview, the husband and wife team talk about making the film, what they learned about DADT along the way, why gay women have it much harder than gay men in the military, and what they think will happen when the policy’s repeal goes into full effect. Ooh-rah!

MIKEY ROX: Though there’s a lesbian subplot, I wouldn’t rush to call “A Marine Story” a gay film. Sure, the main character, Alex, is gay, but there’s so much more to it than sexuality. Do you consider this a gay film?
NED FARR: This is a civil rights movie – period. If folks start to label it a gay film, they will have missed the point. In fact, the film just won Best Feature at the Beaufort International Film Festival in South Carolina. Beaufort is right next to Parris Island, where the Marine boot camp is located. The audience was full of former Marines and folks with family in the service. To win in such a conservative corner of the country tells me that most audiences don’t consider it a gay film either.

MR: Drugs and alcohol play a major role in the lives of your characters, so much so that tequila is almost a character unto itself. Why is that particular spirit so prominent throughout the film?
NF: I wanted to build in a little back story that one of Alex’s coping mechanisms for suppressing her sex life was to medicate using tequila. It’s also the type of drink that would make her “one of the boys,” which is something many women serving in the military strive to do.

MR: Dreya, your character, Alex, is married to a man to throw people off her trail. How many soldiers do you think are part of similar arrangements?
DREYA WEBER: Whether it worked or not in the individual cases is dependent on the specifics. Certainly, people came up with many ways to try to deal with this discrimination within the military, and marrying someone of the opposite sex, even if it wasn’t a real marriage, was something that people did.
NF: Just last week after a screening a woman came up to me and said that she had a similar arrangement while serving. It’s not uncommon.

MR: There’s a part in the movie that suggests that Alex had to, let’s say, offer compensation to her male superior in order for him to help her avoid getting discharged under DADT. Is that based on true events?
DW: This was a construct – and I’m sure Ned will speak on this more – that I think Ned came up with to aid in the dramatic structure, but since the movie’s come out at festivals we’ve had the opportunity to speak with lots of military personnel, both gay and straight, who have said that our story was spot on and that they’ve witnessed all that we describe in this story. I can only imagine that given the situation that that could happen. In stories that I read, female soldiers mentioned sleeping around with straight male soldiers in order to have a reputation of being straight, even though they were lesbians.
NF: Yes. Painfully true. It’s a tactic for women trying to hide their homosexuality by hooking up with a guy to give themselves cover. They may, in fact, also be hiding from themselves; some young women are still discovering their sexuality when they enter the service, and at 18 years old many have yet to make that final determination. This is what happened to Alex.

MR: Homophobia and hate crimes run rampant throughout the film. Something happens to Alex’s car that a friend of mine, who happens to be a lesbian, also experienced. Do you think gay women are more likely to be targeted for their sexuality than gay men?
NF: Women are a target to begin with. Let’s face it, the bulk of the military is made up of 18- to 22-year-old guys who are far away from their girlfriends. DADT can be used as another leverage of power over a woman, say, because she brushed off an advance from a guy in her unit. He can easily spread a rumor that it’s because she’s gay and not because he’s perhaps unworthy. Talk about getting rid of competition for promotion, too! So women in general are targeted and must constantly navigate this dance of either being too feminine and not being taken seriously by their compatriots, or being too butch and risk being labeled gay by them.
DW: It is statistically true that women were more affected by the DADT policy, and certainly discrimination against women in the military has been a terrible problem that’s easy to read about. It was prevalent in all the materials that I studied to prepare for the film, so I’d say yes, gay women were more likely to be targeted for their sexuality. Which is not to say that men are not targeted – gay men especially – it just seems that the environment and the male attitude against women in general in the military is tough, tends to be very sexist, so being a gay woman is just a second hit.

MR: I find the varying degrees to which lesbianism is accepted to be rather fascinating. For instance, straight men are turned on by two “lipstick” lesbians, yet they’re intimidated and emasculated by “butch” lesbians. That’s what led to the hate crimes in the movie, and I’ve seen it happen in my own experiences. Why do you think that is?
DW: I don’t really know what that dynamic is. I think men are generally very visual, in my understanding, so any attractive female can be sexualized in a positive way, whereas if the perception isn’t personally appealing to the man, they’re just not going to sexualize them, so they can demonize them more easily. I think that Ned might be able to answer that question a little more thoroughly.
NF: I don’t know if I could ever classify Dreya and Alice [Rievel], who plays Nona, as butch lesbians. Is it because they both have strong arms and abs? I make the P90X infomercials so maybe I’m around strong people too much; they seem “lipsticky” to me. The hate crime in the movie is not simply a result of seeing the two women kiss (whether one considers them butch or lipstick) but also because of the shame of having been beaten by a woman in front of a bunch of 
dudes. Shame is a powerful thing.

MR: During your research for the film, what sort of horror stories did you hear from gay soldiers on how they kept their sexuality a secret?
NF: It’s almost all in the movie. I had several Facebook and MySpace contacts with service members currently serving and some who had been kicked out. If I heard of a particular detail more than two or three times, it probably ended up in the movie.

MR: What do you think will happen once the repeal of the DADT policy is fully implemented? Is this the end of the story?
NF: Unfortunately, DADT wasn’t exactly repealed, full stop. The President, Secretary of Defense, and Joint Chief Chairman still have to certify that the repeal will not affect combat readiness, which could take a long time, then another 60 days go by before it’s a done deal. But once the law is fully repealed, I expect that, culturally, equating “gay” with “weak” is going to crumble a bit. And when the more conservative among us see that there aren’t suddenly feather boas in the fox holes, that everyone is still wearing the same uniform and kicking ass, it might really pave the way for another message I snuck in the movie: that once we start to see gay American heroes in service of their country, no damn politician is gonna be able to tell them who they can or can’t marry.

*Mikey Rox is an award-winning writer/journalist, whose work has appeared in more than 100 publications, including The Advocate,CNN.com and The Examiner newspapers, among many others. He can be reached at mikey@paperroxscissors.com.