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Published on 15th June 2018

Clipped Fest judge Jake Stone backtracks on comments sledging queer music video

Last week, the winners of the 2018 Clipped Music Video Festival were announced, after a live deliberation by judges at Sydney’s Carriageworks. However, in the wake of these celebrations, allegations have emerged of unfair bias from festival judge Jake Stone.

The former Bluejuice frontman, brother of Orange Is The New Black star Yael Stone and All Our Exes Live In Texas vocalist Elana Stone, made disparaging comments about the "gay" content in the video for the Ruby Boots track Don’t Talk About It. Stone has now issued an apology, stating: "I should have delivered my thoughts with more consideration to the language that I used," adding in apparent mitigation, "I don’t speak publicly about my sexuality, suffice to say it’s not a straightforward conversation."

Directed by award-winning filmmaker Aimee-Lee Xu Hsien Curran, who has also created music videos for The Laurels and Thundamentals, the Don’t Talk About It video (shown below) features a stereotypical nuclear family eating breakfast, which is cut with scenes revealing secret truths about these characters. There is one same-sex relationship depicted between two women, but the other characters express passions that are best characterised as non-heteronormative, but not directly referencing sexuality: a business-suit clad father longs to be an online exercise guru; a mother wants to have the freedom to eat whatever she wants, a commentary on the body politics faced by many women; and a young son is intrigued by his sister's clothes, challenging traditional gender expectations.

In his response to the film, Stone – who has previously been a vocal advocate for marriage equality, gender equality and the It Gets Better movement supporting LGBTQ youth – asserted that it was “statistically improbable for so many members of one family to be gay.” He also said the narrative depicted was “cheap, lame and desperate,” and that it “prostituted” the lifestyles it represented. Stone did not provide any statistical evidence to support his claims. Attendees of the Clipped Festival told The Music that Stone had also delivered excessively harsh critiques of other videos during the live judging event.

The creatives behind the Don't Talk About It video have now come forward to challenge Stone’s comments and behaviour. Shalane Connors, an actor who appears in the Ruby Boots video, said: “What should have been a celebration of creative alignments and painstaking achievements, quickly turned into an ego-driven roasting session... Not only was the feedback unconstructive, it was exceedingly rude and often incorrect. ‘What, so the whole family’s gay?’ No, Jake. One person in the family is in a non-hetero relationship. The dad does Zumba and the son experiments with clothing. You clearly need to educate yourself instead of perpetuating the idea that certain activities and clothing choices have any correlation whatsoever with one’s sexuality.”

Chattiya Peace, a queer person of colour who also appears in the film, and who attended the Clipped Fest live judging, shared how “humiliating” she found Stone’s comments: “He [Stone] should not have been given a platform to project his presumptuous, entitled, heteronormative bitching... First of all not everyone in the clip was gay — not that it would be wrong if that was the case. I think it’s actually part of toxic masculinity for him to assume that just because the dad was indulging in his passions flamboyantly it was a reflection on his sexuality. And ‘prostituting?’ Just because two girls kiss? Why can’t that be the norm, too? To say that it was disrespectful to the lifestyles that were represented is actually so shit to hear. Like, why can’t we just be represented and it be about love?”

Curran responded with additional analysis from Dr Rebecca Sheehan, the Program Director of Gender Studies at Macquarie University. Curran said, “To Stone, I ask, was your intention to raise your concern that the music video was too gay? Because it featured same-sex interactions and characters challenging typically masculine stereotypes? Because myself, my cast, and many people I spoke to that evening certainly took your venomous vitriol to imply just that.

"As Dr Sheehan highlights, ‘Non-normative gender behaviour doesn’t have to say or mean anything about a person’s gender identity or sexuality – something that Annie Lennox taught us in music videos 35 years ago.’ More to the point, what would it matter if everyone in the video were gay? Why is it so outlandish to depict queer characters on screen?”

Of the video, Dr Sheehan added: “Along with the ‘don't talk about it’ lyric, the music video shows how the construct of the heteronormative family constrains and silences expressions of joy and difference through the maintenance of heterosexual and patriarchal gender norms. It shows how all of these controlling constructs compromise not just individuals, but families as well. And the scenes of how it might otherwise be, interspersed at the table towards the end, show the grey straitjacketed existence we all end up with as the result. If you watch this music video and only see a family of gay people rather than the complexity that’s there, it’s evidence of how myths of Australian macho masculinity and expectations of heteronormativity colonise people’s brains.”

When approached for comment by The Music, Stone backtracked on his judging responses, offering "respect and apologies to the creatives involved".

"In the case of the Ruby Boots video, my primary concern was not that the clip featured homosexuality, however I am sorry if that is how this came across. What I didn't share was that while I do appreciate the message - that acceptance makes us all more able to be ourselves, and love one another - I should have delivered my thoughts with more consideration to the language that I used. My criticism of the clip was rooted in the mechanics of the story and the video, not of the lifestyles and sexualities depicted therein. Also, I’m conscious of the clumsy way my own band may have dealt with similar issues in the past. Ridiculous as we were, Bluejuice were always public advocates and allies to the LGTBQIA community. We toured under a banner that read ‘Bluejuice for Gay Marriage’ at the Big Day Out in 2015 and though I don’t speak publicly about my sexuality, suffice to say it’s not a straightforward conversation. If my critical comments have caused the LGTBQIA community offence or distress, then I am deeply unhappy and regretful, because I consider myself an ally, however imperfect," Stone said.

Clipped Music Video Festival management pledged to review the format of the live judging in light of the backlash against Stone's comments. In an unattributed statement, Clipped Fest told The Music: "We publicly showcase the judging process to an audience for the purpose of transparency. Clipped is a young festival and we continue to learn from experience and feedback, we are currently reviewing the format of the awards ceremony so that we foster shared discussion in a spirited, passionate, respectful forum."