Ismail Merchant No Longer Gay in Obits

Turns out there is a cure for being gay – death. Washington Blade has a great story on how the late Ismail Merchant’s gayness was deleted in his obituaries:

Merchant Ivory Productions is synonymous with films that are rooted in ornate and authentic history. With the death of film producer Ismail Merchant on Wednesday, May 25, however, some major news organizations are rewriting history, or at least omitting some of it.

It is well known that the 44-year relationship between Merchant and James Ivory — who was the director of the duo’s films like Oscar-nominated “Howard’s End,” “Room with a View,” and “Remains of the Day” — was romantic as well as creative.

Of the mainstream news accounts reviewed for this article, only the Los Angeles Times explicitly states that the two were a gay couple.

“In a business where professional marriages last hardly any longer than personal ones,” the L.A. Times writes, “Merchant’s association with the German-born [screenwriter Rita Rawer] Jhabvala and the American Ivory, who was also Merchant’s life partner, spanned more than 40 years and yielded as many movies.”

The New York Times, Associated Press, Reuters and the Washington Post all omitted the fact that Merchant and Ivory were life partners.

The Post obit writer, who included a very old quote in which Merchant said he had a “crush” on an actress, defended omitting Merchant’s relationship with Ivory because he said he could not find definitive proof that they were a couple.

“I feel uncomfortable writing about someone’s personal life unless it’s something they talked about extensively in print,” the Post’s obit writer Adam Bernstein told The Blade. Bernstein pointed out that the Post routinely lists gay partners as survivors in obituaries if the relationship can be proved.

The Blade’s Brian Moylan also points out that a similar “de-gaying” happened recently when Susan Sontag died. Many obituaries glossed over her relationships with women, including famed photographer Annie Liebowitz.


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