Gay Chorus Deep South Review – Did Airbnb Productions Just Create the Perfect Emotional Advertisement?

Which makes the mildly insidious, mildly noxious way that Gay Chorus Deep South operates as a hidden Airbnb product feel, well, icky.

I want to be clear, there is no Airbnb branding in the film itself. At no point is the company mentioned, nor do the actions of the subjects suggest that people need to use Airbnb when travelling in these states. But, the mere fact that there’s a vibe of making the South approachable feels odd. There are shots of houses draped in signs praising Jesus, and we hear how difficult it is in the South, but as we also hear the story of a gay pastor who has a loving, caring congregation, showing that tolerance and acceptance does exist. Not every outwardly proud Jesus-fan is also going to be a homophobe. My cynical mind is ringing alarm bells, making me wonder just what was Airbnb’s intention of co-funding this film?

In the past, there has been a genuine problem with LGBTIQ+ acceptance in the Airbnb community, with some hosts denying trans guests from using their properties. These problems are so prevalent that they have caused the creation of outwardly and actively supportive LGBTIQ+ versions of Airbnb, with MisterBNB catering to both male guests, and female guests seeking safety and fun. There have been calls from the Airbnb community to create an LGBTIQ+ friendly badge for hosts, but many have argued against this, saying that by tokenising acceptance, you’re outwardly accepting intolerance too. And sure, one can point to Airbnb’s support of this film, as well as their updated anti-discrimination policies, as a sign that they do require all host facilities to be LGBTIQ+ friendly, but this kind of hidden support can sometimes only go so far.

A lack of an LGBTIQ+ friendly badge on Airbnb listings doesn’t say that they openly discriminate against the community at all (far from it), but it also doesn’t act as a ringing endorsement of the queer community. One could argue that by providing hosts with the option of having the badge, they are then essentially forcing the Airbnb host community to welcome and support all LGBTIQ+ folks. Arguably, those without the badge would likely have less patronage than those with the badge. This is most certainly further corporatisation of the queer community, but as has been witnessed by the increased deplatforming of alt-right voices, removing financial support for vocal opponents to marginalised communities helps decrease hate speech. Let’s call it, intolerance for intolerance.

If there’s so much of a monopolisation of marginalised communities from corporations, then why do they limit their support to the use of the rainbow flag? Why don’t fast food restaurants that recolour their logos have gender neutral toilets yet? Why don’t corporations employ more queer people? Why don’t they financially support marginalised communities outside of tokenistic support? Twitter account Sleeping Giants does a fantastic job of calling out organisations that fail to carry through with their vocal support, and through their activism, genuine change has taken place.  

But, again, corporations sell brands, and brands work to sell items, goods and services. A corporation will do anything to sell the most items, goods, or services. So, in the most terrifying, desperately devastating way, the LGBTIQ+ community is one of the biggest communities to monopolise and corporatise. It takes little for an organisation to outwardly appear as an ‘ally’ of the community, with people opting for one chicken store over another merely due to the vocal allegiance to the community. The way that corporations and mammoth religious entities like churches, can align themselves with or against a community shows how much the world sees them as ‘people’.

Gay Chorus Deep South is a film about the fractures in society, about the manufactured and societal ‘differences’ that divide us. Given the harmony that exists in this community, it should be enough to show how ludicrous it is to have the opinion someone’s sexual identity is a choice. Being gay, trans, lesbian, bi, asexual, or any other colour on the rainbow, is not a choice. You don’t wake up one morning and decide you will only like men from now on. You are born with your sexual identity in your core.  

Which brings back the appearance of a vocally lesbian girl protesting against the LGBTIQ+ choir, and reminds us how this kind of internalised homophobia is all the more devastating. She says it was her choice to move away from being attracted to women, and to honour her commitment to her religion, but through the pain that we see on the different men singing their hearts out, we know what her struggles and her journey is like. History is repeating, and while all the openness and acceptance in the world exists, there is still a permeating element of homophobia and shame that keeps people in the closet, or denying their own sexuality.

There is an argument to be made that the more corporations use the safety of their success to support marginalised communities that the faster the barriers can be broken down, but when the community they’re championing struggles to get any change to stick, then one can’t help but ask… what result is this outward support doing other than helping their bottom line?

I hate that I’ve turned the discussion of a truly wonderful film into a discussion about the caustic nature of corporations and how they say they have our best intentions at heart, but I couldn’t help but feel manipulated at the end.

As I watched Gay Chorus Deep South, and I commented on the beautiful landscapes and the impressive architecture, I was already earmarking cities to visit on my next journey to America. I was neither more likely or less likely to use Airbnb at the end of the film, but naturally, given the prominence of a company like Airbnb, its affordability and ease of access, I’d likely use their service if I did visit the areas featured in the film.

Emotional advertising/marketing is a thing, one that utilises our empathy buttons to make us feel, before hitting us with the fact that you were watching a dog food commercial all along, or that Google is corporatising nostalgia, love, grief, and ageing under the guise of a mans love for his wife Loretta. Film is a collaborative medium, so that means I can’t say that Gay Chorus Deep South is one of the finest emotional advertisements yet, especially because (again) it doesn’t end with the Airbnb logo, but being keenly aware of marketing manipulation, I can’t help but think, did they just perfect the art of emotional advertising?

Did Airbnb, through their production company, merely create a new form of advertising by supporting films like this? Is this an ethical act, and should corporations be financially supporting the arts in this way? This is a topic that I’ve been exploring lately in regards to mining companies dollars being used for local arts festivals, and I was genuinely surprised to find that a company like Airbnb was getting into this kind of work. Maybe I’m making a bigger deal of this than needs to be made, but as companies become aware of the audience ire at extensive product placement in films, they are likely going to find alternative routes for marketing their wares in pop culture entertainment.

Let me firmly remove my tinfoil hat and say, ignore my cynicism and seek out Gay Chorus Deep South and let yourself be utterly moved and lifted up by the plentiful characters and harmonies that flourish within this sumptuous and caring story. It is a genuinely beautiful film, one that does deserve a piece of your heart.

Director: David Charles Rodrigues

Writers: Jeff Seymann Gilbert, David Charles Rodrigues

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