The Big Picture: LGBTQ and The Silver Screen
The past twelve months have been impressive for cinema, and this month’s Oscar judges will have some big decisions to make in order to rightfully reward the cinematic talent displayed on the big screen this year. However, is the season’s hype really as deserved as we think? February is also – and more importantly – LGBT history month, which means that now is the perfect time to call into question how fairly the LGBTQ community are being represented in film and entertainment media as a whole.
My initial response to this would be: poorly. The portrayal of LGBTQ in film has been feeble throughout cinema history, especially in the awards arena. There are some notable exceptions including Philadelphia and Brokeback Mountain, but when was the last time you saw a transsexual in the lead role of a Hollywood movie? This is especially annoying when you consider how regularly studios and directors present us with horrific acts of violence and abuse such as rape and torture – yet cringe at the thought of conveying consensual adults enjoying same-sex romance. Am I crazy, or is there something seriously wrong going on here?
Last year GLAAD – Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation – carried out research into how the top film studios present LGBT in their films. They found that only 17 of the 102 key films studied featured LGBT characters and that the majority of these representations were offensive or unflattering. Take one of the biggest movie events of last year for example, The Wolf of Wall Street; the gay butler’s ‘orgy scene’ serves absolutely no purpose to the narrative of the film other than to glamourize Jordan Belford’s shameless homophobia. What is equally disheartening is that even works that receive critical praise struggle to allow characters to transcend their sexual identity.
It’s not all bad though. There has been some commendable effort from cinema in its endeavours towards a fairer representation of society, such as Pride by Matthew Warchus which hilariously but sensitively illustrates the struggles homosexuals had to face in 1980s Britain. For me though, the main breakthrough for LGBTQ cinema this past year has to be Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game. Benedict Cumberbatch interprets the role of code breaker Alan Turing wonderfully, and for the first time I was able to witness a gay protagonist who was not entirely defined or limited by his sexuality. Also, the film itself has sparked a massive movement to pardon 49,000 men who fell victim to the Gross Indecency charge that targeted homosexuals in the mid-20th Century. The petition wears both Tyldum and Cumberbatch’s signatures alongside many others who have been moved by the film’s depiction of such an injustice.
So, film is improving –even if it’s at snail’s pace- but it is still miles behind television in terms of providing a true reflection of society’s fabric. Television has offered a platform for LGBTQ characters for a while in some much loved programs such as, Brooklyn Nine Nine, Glee and Modern Family which all include essential gay/lesbian characters. However, I will by no means suggest that TV is ‘there’ with its representation of the LGBTQ community because there are still some gaping holes in their idea of equality. For example, we are still subjected to a few uncomfortable homophobic slurs – the ‘gay prank’ pulled on Jamie on Made in Chelsea NYC springs to mind here. Also you may have noticed that most casting is skewed towards white, non-disabled males in gay roles making it more difficult to achieve lesbian, bisexual and transgender visibility.
So, film is improving – even if it’s at a snail’s pace, but it is still miles behind television in terms of providing a true reflection of society’s fabric
Having said this, Netflix sensation, Orange Is The New Black includes all of the above in its cast. Piper’s experiences in a women’s prison provide for some hilarious scenarios and the quality of this series is only further enhanced by its colourful sexual palette. Still, I would say that one program waves the flag more vigorously than the rest and that is Russell T Davies’ exciting new Cucumber, Banana, Tofu series. It has been described as “dead funny and very, very human” by The Guardian and in my opinion is one of the first examples of a non-hetero relationships comedy to which people of all sexualities can relate. The most recent instalment to the Banana series was a personal favourite of mine. It followed the story of Scotty – a young black lesbian who falls hard in love with a married woman twice her age. It was definitely a heartfelt ‘tilt-of-the-cap’ to all those who have ever loved without being loved in return.
Do I think that the LGBTQ community are getting the voice they deserve on the entertainment media platform? No. Do I think their reflection in film/TV is improving? Yes, slowly, and I applaud the actors and directors dedicated to increasing LGBTQ visibility. I eagerly anticipate the day when every member of modern society can sit in front of the box, or the big screen, and see someone relatable. It is sad that our society prides itself on being so open-minded and progressive yet we have only just begun to turn the stage lights towards LGBTQ. Once the audio-visual industries begin to explore LGBTQ a whole new spectrum of creative possibility will be revealed.