Why Gay Representation in Film Is No Longer Enough
The representation of LGBT+ characters in the film industry is an issue that has been floating around for many years, and in many cases, the situation is not improving. While some recent films have indeed shaped for the better the way queer people are viewed by film audiences – for example Pride, Moonlight, Weekend – there have also been some tremendous flops that portray LGBT characters as nothing more than their stereotypes – I’m looking at you, Sex and the City, Clueless, My Best Friend’s Wedding. And that’s the ones that do feature gay characters. It’s sad but not shocking that a study by GLAAD found that in 2015 a meagre 17.5% of major movies contained LGBT-identifying characters. 2017, so far, appears to be no better – just take Disney’s truly awful attempt at including an “exclusively gay moment” in the remake of Beauty and the Beast as an example (yeah, I missed it, too.) But for me, the most disappointing issue is the common theme that can be seen in all the examples mentioned above – this seemingly progressive diversity is, in reality, just a repetitive depiction of relationships between gay men. Last time I checked it was ‘LGBT’, not ‘GGGG’.
Rewind 10 or so years to the release of what is arguably one of the pinnacle moments of queer cinema’s (relatively short) timeline. Critics are calling Brokeback Mountain “ground-breaking”, “controversial”, “a landmark film”. And they’re right; it’s changing the way modern audiences view homosexual males from sexless sidekicks or lonely creeps to real people with real emotions, histories, hopes and dreams, and most importantly: real love. It’s getting the ball rolling for conversations about homosexuality and it’s showing vulnerable gay teens what is probably their first positive representation of themselves on the big screen. Coming just 40 years after gay sex was legalised in the UK, it is revolutionary.
But fast forward again to the present day, and gay boys can now choose from a plethora of positive and beautiful representations of their relationships. Some of my favourites of these films include The Way He Looks and Moonlight, because it makes a refreshing and much needed change to see a homosexual male take a starring role as opposed to resigning himself to a side character in his heterosexual friend’s love story, or a backing character who winds up with the only other gay guy in the movie. And don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great not only for gay men, but to increase understanding and acceptance within the general public too.
But why do we draw the line there? Hollywood seems to fall into this unhealthy trap of believing that in 2017, a single depiction of a relationship between two white males can still be deemed as progressive. In a film world where LGBT representation is rare in the first place, this is sadly seen as true by the majority of the general public. However, aren’t we forgetting about an important part of the queer community? The ones who identify as the ‘L’, the ‘B’, the ‘T’; the ones who don’t make the main part of the anagram, the ‘P’s and the ‘NB’s and the ‘A’s and the ‘I’s. That is, the lesbian, bisexual, transgender, pansexual, non-binary, asexual and intersex people who make up the bulk of the LGBTQ+ community, among many others. It’s just as important, if not more, for us to see people of gender identities and sexualities on the big screen that mirror our own. Firstly, because you don’t know how important this can be for LGBT youth until you’ve seen someone who’s just like you on the silver screen and realised that you’re not alone. Secondly, because representation plays a key part in promoting understanding among the public and thus eliminating prejudice. If gay men, the most represented part of the LGBT community, are still stigmatised daily, what hope is there for the rest of us? We need film to start normalising these “other” genders and sexualities so society can start normalising them too. TV rivals such as Orange Is the New Black, Transparent, Orphan Black or Cable Girls may be leaps ahead with diversity in their LGBT representation, but the film industry is still firmly rooted in the past.
Hollywood, it’s time to move into 2017 and give the rest of the LGBT community a chance to see themselves on the silver screen.