Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil in Power of the Dog

Benedict Cumberbatch Responds to Sam Elliott Insulting ‘The Power of the Dog’

Elliott trashed the film during an appearance on the podcast 'WTF With Marc Maron'.

Veteran actor Sam Elliott had some harsh words for Jane Campion’s ‘The Power of the Dog’, which leads the Oscar race with 12 nominations. During an appearance on the WTF With Marc Maron podcast, Elliott slammed the western, calling it a “piece of shit.” Elliott also took issue with the film’s queer content and male sexuality, comparing the cowboys in the film to Chippendales dancers and saying “That’s what all these fucking cowboys in that movie looked like. They’re all running around in chaps and no shirts. There’s all these allusions to homosexuality throughout the fucking movie.” 

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Sir, those are not allusions to homosexuality—those are actual gay characters! The film is literally about a man with repressed gay longing who directs his anger and fear at everyone around him. It’s a comment on the prison of toxic masculinity. That’s the point of the film, and you missed it. Wait until Sam Elliott hears that Brokeback Mountain wasn’t about fishing! Elliott continued, criticizing director Jane Campion and the choice to film the movie in New Zealand instead of America. It’s a weird, unsettling rant, to be honest, that is homophobic, sexist, and a touch nationalistic.

The film’s star Benedict Cumberbatch responded to Elliott’s insults during a BAFTA Film Sessions interview, calling it “a very odd reaction.” He continued, Beyond that reaction, that sort of denial that anybody could have any other than a heteronormative existence because of what they do for a living or where they’re born, there’s also a massive intolerance within the world at large towards homosexuality still and toward an acceptance of the other and anything kind of difference. No more so than in this prism of conformity of what’s expected of a man in the Western archetype mold of masculinity. To deconstruct that through Phil, it’s not a history lesson.”

Cumberbatch continued, “These people still exist in our world. Whether it’s on our doorstep or whether it’s down the road or whether it’s someone we meet in a bar or pub or on the sports field, there is aggression and anger and frustration and an inability to control or know who you are in that moment that causes damage to that person and, as we know, damage to those around them…[There is] no harm in looking at a character to get to the root causes of that. This is a very specific case of repression, but also due to an intolerance for that true identity that Phil is that he can’t fully be. The more we look under the hood of toxic masculinity and try to discover the root causes of it, the bigger chances we have of dealing with it when it arises with our children.”

It’s a thoughtful, eloquent response to Elliott’s criticism, and to the toxicity that fuels homophobia. If Elliott has a problem with gays in westerns, he is free to watch any of the thousands of straight western films made throughout history.

(image: Netflix)

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.