Cinemagoers in Utah, USA, were disappointed when screenings of the acclaimed gay cowboy film, Brokeback Mountain, were cancelled on Friday. The move came as a surprise since the cinema, at the Megaplex 17 in a suburb of Salt Lake City, had advertised the screenings beforehand in the local newspaper. At the last minute, the film was pulled from the schedule.

A written message placed at the ticket counter of the cinema read: “There has been a change in booking and we will not be showing ‘Brokeback Mountain.‘ We apologize for any inconvenience.”

While the cinema’s owners – in the traditionally conservative region of the USA – have declined to comment on the rationale behind the move, it is thought to be a reaction against the award-winning film’s gay subject matter. According to the films’ distributor, Brokeback Mountain was pulled just hours before its screening with no explanation. Conservatives groups have hailed the decision.

A similar scenario took place in Poulsbo, Washington, when another cinema also suddenly took the film off its line-up after running ads in the local Kitsap Sun newspaper.

Brokeback Mountain, which concerns an illicit affair between two cowboys in the 1960’s, has become a leading Oscar contender, with a growing number of influential awards under its belt.

Further controversy has flared up around the film after well-known television critic Gene Shalit came under fire from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation after he described one of the film’s character as a “sexual predator who tracks down” the other male character “and coaxes him into sporadic trysts” in his review.

The “characterization of Jack as a ‘predator’ and Ennis (Heath Ledger) as a victim reflects a fundamental lack of understanding about the central relationship in the film and about gay relationships in general,” GLAAD said in a statement. “It seems highly doubtful that Shalit would similarly claim that Titanic’s Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) was a ‘sexual predator’ because he was pursuing a romantic relationship with Rose (Kate Winslet).”

In related news, Capote, about the gay writer Truman Captote, has been named best picture of 2005 by the National Society of Film Critics in the United States.

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