As LGBTQ people, we have always had a hard time finding suitable role models. Mainstream media definitely does not give us great representation . When I was growing up, it was almost guaranteed that the characters I saw in tv shows and movies were the most stereotypical of ideals from straight writers and directors. Even LGBTQ writers and directors oftentimes had to censor or change characters to fit Hollywood. Its true that movies have made leaps in the representation of LGBTQ characters. But a short time ago that wasn’t the case. Today I wanted to show some of the baddest of the bad of portrayals of LGBTQ people.
Wow this movie is offensive on so many levels. The inaccurate representation of mountain and country people. The movie takes places in northeastern Georgia. Four friends decide to leave the trappings of their day to day life for a weekend canoe trip. It doesnt take long for them to realize that the “backwoods residents” dont want them there. Shortly after, they’re taken captive tortured. Most of us know the scene where Ned Beatty has to strip in front of Jon Voight and is then raped. This is a constant trope in films that portray LGBTQ characters as predators. It also implies that gay sex is a forced and deviant behavior practiced by inbred, backwoods locals. A double slap targeting LGBTQ people and those country and mountain folk.\
The Maltese Falcon
From the 1920’s to the 50’s, gay representation was shown through the use of innuendos and stereotypes. It was common to show gay men by using perfumed scent, effeminate, or soft spoken. They would often appear physically weaker than the leading man. This effect was called gay coding. The Maltese Falcon is a movie that is rife with gay coding. We’re introduced to Joel Cairo, the bad guy, by way of a floral scented business card. If that isn’t bad enough, you get to watch his suggestive handling of his cane and his more demure nature to Sam Spade. Spade realized Cairo’s intention as he pulls his gun on him. This is the type of stigma we deal with from movies, that gay people were untrustworthy, promiscuous, and immoral.
Rope and Cruising
These weren’t the only ways that gay men were portrayed. A common trope for early movies, and more recent times, was to show gay men as deviants. It was often common to showcase us as murderers. Lets look at the 1948 movie Rope. This movies is based on the life of gay serial killers Leopold and Loeb. Okay, I know what you’re going to say, “but Keith this movie is about two gay serial killers. Why is this bad?” Well kiddies, it is because this was already a common thread for movies, to make us appear dark, sinister and dangerous. Take two killers that happen to be gay to bolster your story for the audience. This was another chapter in the disinformation LGBTQ handbook that was being passed around. Remember we were also tied in with communists for a long period of time.
To show how this continues, lets flash forward to 1980 and the release of the movie Cruising, starring Al Pacino. This movie was about a killer plaguing New York City’s gay leather community and Pacino is sent in to round up this killer. The portrayal of the leather and gay community is that of villainous and illegal. It tried to draw correlations between homosexuality and crime. It also showed how gay men and their dangerous influences were problematic for straight men. We watch as Pacino wrestles with an attraction to this lifestyle and his wife. It is almost used as a parable to teach straight men the dangers of the dark and deadly gay influence and that its better to retreat the safety to straight marriage. I have always felt this movie was more like the Village People on a criminal rampage in how our people are shown.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
So if you haven’t seen this…..gem? It stars Adam Sandler and Kevin James. Before we start I need to share a quote from the director Alexander Payne, “I was quite proud of that screenplay, then they…. Sandlerized it.”
Chuck and Larry is about two straight firemen who pretend to be gay. Wait I saw this movie and it didn’t involve Kevin James or Adam Sandler, just hot sweaty firemen doing very dirty things with hoses.. No wait in this version the pretend to be gay so they can receive domestic partner benefits. This movie is one bad gay joke after another. This more sounds like an educational film for the religious right in how they perceive us. Adam Sandler is reason enough to not watch this but if you believe in any form of LGBTQ rights or acceptance, then skip this polished turd.
With this type of movie, it is clear that the LGBTQ people should start making movies that portray straight men and women. It cant be any worse than this ball of awesomeness.
It can be considered progressive that Hollywood directors see how the world is changing and want to exhibit that in their works. It shows there are progressive minds out there and are willing to accept us for as equal parts of humanity. That being said, Zoolander 2 is not one of those films.
2016, when this movie came out, marked a time when more people and celebrities started to affirm to the world their non-binary status. Zoolander 2 decided this made it a topic to poke light of. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the character “All” who identifies as non-binary. Cumberbatch plays the role over the cop and too campy even by gay standards. It does more damage to trans and non-binary characters than any hopes of positivity. One reporter was quoted as saying “This is the modern equivalent of using blackface to represent a minority.”
Ace Ventura:Pet Detective
Not all bad LGBTQ representation comes from using bad versions of LGBTQ people. It can come from how the characters handle LGBTQ situations, also. Why directors or writers chose to make these choices are rarely clear, whether it be for comedic effect or just stupidity. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective is a good example of this. This movie decided to make a parody of the Crying Game by revealing Ventura’s love interest is actually a trans woman. We all remember or know this scene in the Crying Game. Similarly, Ventura kisses Lois Einhorn, who is revealed as being Ray Finkle. Upon this revelation, Ventura runs to the bathroom and retches ,continuously. Jim Carey claims he played his character on purpose, to push boundaries so people couldnt possibly take it seriously. Considering the backlash that Crying Game got for that scene you have to wonder if that is the truth.
Proof that not all bad LGBTQ representation comes for badly written characters or situations. in the movie Stonewall, we see a blatant omission of the real history of Stonewall. Firstly, let me say that this movie is directed by Roland Emmerich. If you look at his catalog of movies you see that he is all about catering to mainstream audiences. take Independence Day and the Godzilla movie remake with Matthew Broderick, as examples.
This movie is about Danny Withers and his coming to Christopher Street at the onset of the the Christopher Street Riots and Stonewall. The entirety of this movie focus on a young, white, cis-gendered small town kid. We all know that Stonewall is about the struggles of trans women of color and sex workers. Sure it helped push forward LGBTQ rights, but it was at the blood and sweat of our trans people. Emmerich and writer Jon Robin Baitz rewrote history for their own purposes. Emmerich was quoted as saying “I didn’t make this movie only for gay people, I made it also for straight people… As a director, you have to put yourself in your movies, and I’m white and gay.” Shame on you Roland Emmerich for whitewashing a key moment in our history and reducing it the same way that those we fight against have for so long. You should know better.
As you have seen, LGBTQ people have come a long way in movies. This doesnt mean we can sleep on society, we still have a long way to go before we are shown in the same light as mainstream media. It is imperative that we get sympathetic writers and directors. Actually, we should look to our own communities to produce the kind of movies we want to see, just not you Roland Emmerich.