Name some popular films for me. How many are there? Now name some specifically LGBTQ+ films, without looking them up. There are considerably less titles in that second list, I imagine. Thankfully, it looks like the tides might be changing.
Most releases have straight cisgender characters, but films are focusing more on LGBTQ+ people than ever before. Recent titles include Pride and Kill Your Darlings, with films like About Ray and The Danish Girl being released in rapid succession. The future of LGBTQ+ cinema is seemingly headed in a good direction, yet members of the LGBTQ+ community are critical about many of these films.
One problematic issue is that trans characters are often played by cisgender actors, which contributes to a long and harmful narrative about the trans community. For example, stereotypical Rayon from Dallas Buyers Club is mainly exploited for comic relief. The actor portraying her didn’t understand the issue, but this kind of practice brings stigmatisation and takes opportunities from trans actors who might otherwise show positive representation.
The Stonewall movie goes further by erasing real people from the historical Stonewall Riots. The film diminishes the impact that activists like Marsha P Johnson, a trans woman of colour, had on early equal rights movements. Instead the director replaces them with whitewashed fictional characters and panders to straight cisgender audiences with an easily-digestible gay white male for a protagonist.
Thankfully, it was a total flop.
LGBTQ+ movies are slowly moving into mainstream spaces, shown by well-known film festivals such as Sundance and Cannes, with the latter showcasing Blue is the Warmest Colour and The Clouds of Sils Maria in recent years. Both films are highly praised but have also received their fair share of criticisms. The straight director of Blue was accused of mistreating the lead actresses, and the lengthy sex scenes are very typically aimed at the male gaze. It’s important to note some directors may care less about equality and more about using LGBTQ+ stories as edgy artistic statements.
It’s not all bad though. Indie LGBTQ+ films showcased at pride festivals and events such as BFI Flare are usually well made and avoid the problematic mistakes seen elsewhere. Coupleish, Almost Adults, Pride Denied, and Happy Birthday Marsha look promising. These are all made by LGBTQ+ people who wanted to share stories in a positive way, and seem creative and well thought out. The latter two also bring LGBTQ+ history and issues to the public’s awareness, which is difficult to do when the focus isn’t simply on same-sex marriage.
Praising films simply for being superficially inclusive is lovely, but these same films must be approached with caution and criticised for their problematic moments. With a lot of work, hopefully more and more LGBT+ films will be well crafted, easy to find and will provide positive representation and attention.