Road movie protagonists, even if they travel in small groups, are usually isolated and solitary. Their silhouettes in the expanse of a landscape often graphically convey this isolation. But their journeys are inevitably social. While the standard American protagonist - the white male frontiersman-adventurer - frequently entertains a temporary relationship to community, it is usually marked by anticipation or nostalgia, and remains steadfastly remote. Whatever his relationship to a community, it is structured in and through a reciprocal gaze. If the most conventional road movies follow a protagonist whose journey inscribes a deviation or a series of deviations from an imagined proper path, when socially “marginal” protagonists - any women at all, gays, and people of color - hit the road, they themselves come to embody the deviation that their travels also represent (Thelma and Louise, 1991, might be the most striking case in point here). 1 That is, the central point and problem that define the journey reside in embodiment and visibility, as all meanings tend to be organized by race, gender, and sexuality. Shaped by the readings of the community that witnesses it, the meaning of the trip is inevitably understood through the meanings the witnesses assign to the bodies of the travelers.
Two recent examples of the genre that feature black and Latin characters, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995) and Boys on the Side (1995), have in common certain formal structures. Both are shaped somewhat comedically, and both resemble fairy tales. Even more striking, the racially mixed trios that operate as these films' protagonists are distinguished by their sexuality - three drag queens and one or more lesbians, respectively. To Wong Foo's travelers configure a “balanced” triangle as two older drag queens, the white Vida Boheme (Patrick Swayze) and the African-American Noxeema Jackson (Wesley Snipes) meet and take under their wings another contestant from a drag show, the Latino Chi Chi Rodriguez (John Leguizamo). Boys on the Side pairs Jane (Whoopi Goldberg) with “the whitest woman in the world, ” Robin (Mary Louise Parker), in a road trip to California, during which they pick up Jane's friend and object of