The Visibility of Stereotypes – LGB

Nathan Lane does a classic camp 'oh my WORD' gesture

I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I’ve noticed that in the attempt to bring better representation of women and minorities to the big screen, Hollywood’s missed the point somewhat. In this article I’ll be discussing the view of gays, lesbians and bisexuals in films. Apologies, this one’s a bit more ranty than the last.

You could be forgiven for thinking that Hollywood isn’t keen on gays, lesbians and bisexuals. Why, nothing could be further from the truth! They make great best friends (Willie Garson as Stanford in Sex and the City (2008), Rupert Everett as Julianne’s boss George in My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997)), psychopathic murderers (Bruce Glover’s Mr Wint and Putter Smith’s Mr Kidd in Diamonds are Forever (1971), Sharon Stone as bisexual Catherine Tramell in both Basic Instincts) and comedy stereotypes (Sacha Baron Cohen’s Brüno (2009) and, in some respects, Nathan Lane as Albert in The Birdcage (1996)). Even one of my favourite films, Bound (1996), portrays a lesbian couple as ruthless and greedy – although perhaps less ruthless and greedy than most of the other characters.

Sometimes they even get lead roles, like in Brokeback Mountain. True, one ends up heartbroken and the other ends up dead, but let’s not be ungrateful, it’s a lead role for crying out loud! So, funny, evil or dead. Such an array of roles; I’m truly dazzled.

Sarcasm aside, this isn’t the same as the disability issue. Rather than being inadvertently being missed, LGB characters are deliberately sidelined or demonised. Despite equality for gays being enshrined in law now, at least in Britain, there’s still a lot of prejudice. As well as the rabid homophobia of weird religious fringe groups, there’s also the mainstream religious (specifically Christian and Muslim) disapproval, which manifests not in hatred and abuse, but in avoidance – which means fewer people buying cinema tickets, if there’s a gay theme or lead role, because it makes them uncomfortable. Coupled with a more secular view of “oh, they’re gay, well that’s nothing to do with my life”, it seems stories featuring gay characters are box-office poison. Unless one of them is Heath Ledger.

What can be done? Great change would require two things: a major societal shift on the part of the audience, and a bit more bravery from production companies and distributors. If gays, lesbians and bisexuals are portrayed as normal in films, this will seep into the public consciousness.

The rainbow flag - a symbol of the LGBT community and of the hope that one day, they'll get decent roles in mainstream films

I am sure at least one person reading this will be thinking: “But I don’t want gays to be normalised.” Unlike with disabilities, homosexuality is considered by many to be a moral issue, and I’m not surprised Hollywood is afraid to preach. However, reader, consider this: if you consider that homosexuality is wrong and shouldn’t be portrayed, why aren’t you also out there protesting films with guns and violence? Killing is wrong, more wrong then having sex with someone, yet you lie supine as this is glamorised on the big screen by films like Hitman and Crank. Picket the next crime thriller, because Ocean’s 11 and its remakes and sequels show thieves as sympathetic and exciting – and isn’t stealing wrong? In films, people cheat on their spouses, they take drugs, they commit crimes – and yet there are those who will take their placards out and claim that showing a loving gay couple on screen will take down society as we know it.

As for the audience’s major societal shift: well, in the last fifty years, we’ve legalised gay sex, set the age of consent at the same age as heterosexual sex, and legalised a form of gay married. We’re changing, Hollywood, and it’s time you caught up.

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3 Comments on “The Visibility of Stereotypes – LGB”

  1. You do realize, don’t you—-well probably not based on the rant—that some of the films are based on novels and play, and the characters in the movies are played the way they were written? Birdcage is based on “La Cage aux Folles, and the characters are supposed to be stereotypical. The play (and movie) doesn’t work otherwise. Brokeback Mountain was a wonderful short story set in the in 1963, through the next 20 years. The characters are that way for a reason. Perhaps you should not quit your day job to become a movie critic.

    • A couple of points I’d wish to make:

      1. This blog isn’t designed to be a critic website – it’s designed for all things to do with films, making them, studying them and tips on every aspect of filmmaking. Sometimes people disagree on things – and that’s fine. It’s all part of the nature of art (interpretation).

      2. Hollywood “re-envisions” things all the time. How close they keep to the source of the book is completely on the filmmaker’s hands.

      3. The choice of things from which to adapt is also key. Not to mention those original screenplays.

      I’ve read your latest blog and I think you and the author (Vicki) share similar attitudes to equality issues. I hope you continue to voice your opinions on the blog, even if they (like this) are in contrast with the posts themselves.

    • Vicki says:

      Thanks for your comment, which I found interesting. First of all, don’t worry, I don’t plan to do this professionally; I enjoy my day job very much!

      Secondly, I think you missed the point of the article somewhat. If you’ll allow me a little revenge snark, perhaps you shouldn’t quit your job to become a literary critic. ^_^ I’m not saying that it’s terrible that the characters in The Birdcage/La Cage Aux Folles are camp stereotypes, nor that it was a poor ending for Brokeback Mountain. On the contrary, the ending for Brokeback Mountain was the only logical one for the time, considering (as you say) the setting, and The Birdcage probably wouldn’t have worked with subtle characterisation.

      What I was saying is that that’s all that’s out there. There are hardly any decent roles for gay characters in mainstream films. I was using those films as examples, not to criticise the plots – come on, Brokeback Mountain is virtually critic-proof! It would be nice if there was a little more variety than the main categories I listed in the article. Of course, if you can think of a few good gay roles, please recommend the films as I’d be interested in seeing them.

      I don’t have regular net access, but seeing as Paul found your blog interesting I’ll be sure to take a look when I get the chance.


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