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Homophobic, Racist and Sexist Jokes in “The Outpost”: Boys Being Boys, or Bullying?

Roar writer Luca Galli Zugaro reviews The Outpost (2020) and whether its use of homophobic, racist and sexist jokes is justifiable.

Rod Lurie’s movie The Outpost (2020), based on the book that goes by the same title written by CNN journalist Jake Tapper, goes above and beyond telling the true story of the Battle of Kamdesh, when in 2009, fifty-four American soldiers fought off over 300 Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan despite having all the odds stacked against them.

Lurie wanted the movie to be as realistic as possible – in every way imaginable. Three of the surviving soldiers were cast to play themselves in the film and the entire script was written alongside those who were directly involved. As a result, the script is littered with language that some would dismiss as boys being boys and what others might call bullying. The offensive terms ‘f*ggot’, ‘n*gger’, and ‘white trash’ are all used regularly throughout the movie which also includes racist jokes targeted towards Mexicans, behaviour mocking homosexuality, and the putting down of the female gender.

Although the events in the movie took place in 2009, prior to the abolition of the controversial ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy in the US military, it just landed on Amazon Prime Video in June 2020. Due to current world affairs such as the coronavirus and BLM, the language used in The Outpost is not being scrutinised as much as it should have been, especially since its star studded cast includes Orlando Bloom, Scott Eastwood, Milo Gibson and Caleb Landry Jones.

The question at hand isn’t whether or not such language is still being used in militaries around the world, nor is it what can be done to stop it, because it most likely can’t be. Unfortunately, this kind of ‘banter’ is a harsh reality for many soldiers. Countless stories tell of homophobia and racism in the armed forces directly contributing to suicide. Instead, the question at hand is whether or not The Outpost could have done without the inclusion of such language – to which the answer could be both yes and no.

Yes, The Outpost could have done without such dialogue, since it doesn’t necessarily affect the plot and doesn’t contribute to the story that is trying to be told. There’s no doubt that 54 soldiers sleeping and fighting together for months on end would form an unbreakable brotherhood. Them constantly joking about one another’s origins and appearance is not needed to support or emphasise this notion. In addition to this, the spewing of homophobic slurs between characters in every other sentence is definitely not being utilised to enrich the plot, but rather as gap fillers when nothing interesting is going on. In fact, this language is only used in scenes that would otherwise feel pretty bland and boring without. Once the guns come out and the shooting begins, the movie begins to focus on what really matters; telling the story.

On the other hand, authenticity is what makes movies that are based on true stories succeed. Excluding the genuine language used by soldiers, especially when they assisted in writing the script, would simply be brushing the issue under the rug. The decision to include such r-rated lingo is a wake up call, almost to remind viewers that this still happens, and people still suffer the consequences. Not everybody is the same. Some can take a joke better than others, and some people have thicker skin. Just because you aren’t offended when you’re on the receiving end of a racist, sexist or homophobic joke, it doesn’t mean that nobody else is.

However, categorising banter between soldiers with other examples of racism, homophobia and sexism in the military is wrong. Although there are policies and guidelines in place regarding the examples of discrimination in the following paragraph, they are just formalities that won’t make a difference until they are properly enforced. The fact that personnel in the armed forces have to acknowledge freedom of speech, religion and are warned about sexual harassment during their processing just makes things worse – they know they shouldn’t be doing or saying certain things yet they still do.

Telling soldiers what they can and cannot say as if they’re back in preschool should come after everything else.  After allowing Hispanics soldiers to speak between themselves in Spanish without being told off, after allowing Black soldiers to wear their hair comfortably, and after bolstering protections for LGBTQ soldiers to come out without fearing physical assault. These are only a few real examples of discrimination some soldiers face on a day-to-day basis.

Whether you consider it boys being boys or bullying, discrimination within armed forces around the world is a serious problem that isn’t getting the attention it deserves.

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