Saturday, November 27, 2010

Guest Post & Giveaway: What makes a movie gay?

Today's guest post and giveaway comes from Nikola at Nikola's Book Blog. Thanks for being with us Nikola!

To label a motion picture as a gay movie seems like an easy thing to do. However, if one thinks about it, it gets much harder deciding on a gay (or, for that part, lesbian or transgender) movie. What parameters should one take into account? Sure, there are a lot of romantic comedies where there's a gay best friend featured. However, does this make a movie gay? Since mainstream comedies (as well as other genres) rarely deal with the issues their gay characters face, they shouldn't be regarded as gay movies.

So, for the debate's sake, I'd like to propose that we divide what we would label gay movies – movies where gay characters/issues are central to the story – into two groups: "straight gay" movies and "gay gay" movies.

This might seem silly, but go along with my theory and then judge for yourself. I’m sure you've seen Brokeback Mountain. The whole world has seen Brokeback Mountain and cried over the faiths of the two protagonists. However, when the Academy Awards rolled around, guess what movie won? Crash. Obviously, there was a strong public response, many people accusing the Academy of being homophobic. But here's the thing: Brokeback Mountain is a straight man's gay movie. Why do you think almost everyone embraced it? The gay sex in the movie is almost implied and apart from some kissing, the two cowboys barely seem intimate. Furthermore, as the movie is set in the early 1960's, it is further dislocated from us, tackling few contemporary problems. Crash, on the other hand, with its explicit depictions of racism in L.A. is a much bigger challenge to the movie-goer.

On the other hand, there are movies aimed squarely at the GLBT community, which are usually much more upfront about the issues they explore. A great example would be the Showtime TV series Queer as Folk, a personal favorite of mine. Often called a gay man's Sex and the City, it was one of the few really queer productions to be embraced in the mainstream. Other such titles include The L Word, A Single Man and A Home at the End of the World.

Other than these popular flicks, there's a great number of low-budget, arthouse and indie productions that are honest and made with passion. A good place to look would be TLAVideo, an online retailer that specializes in gay cinema – everything from porn to high culture (don’t worry, it's work safe and you don't have to browse porn if you don't want to). It is like a goldmine for lesser-known gay movies. And why should you, for example, see Were the World Mine, a gay musical retelling of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream? Or Eating Out, a hilarious comedy of mistaken identity? Because they are honest and unafraid to tackle issues not usually touched by big studio movies. Try and watch one of these and I'm sure your perception of the gay community and art will change drastically.

What was your movie pick for the month of November? Visit my blog for a TLA video DVD giveaway.


Erastes said...

My definition of a gay film would be one (Like books) where the main protagonist(s) are gay. BBM may not embrace today's problems in the main, but the problems faced by the characters still ring true in many areas in the world, not just rural or bible belt America, places where it is dangerous to be gay, even if it's legal.

Maurice similarly would certainly be a gay film, dealing as it does with young men finding their sexual orientation in the Edwardian era.

I don't think that a gay film - or indeed a gay book - should ever be defined by the fact that the sex is explicit because few people's lives are really governed by sex, not even gay men. It should simply be: are the main characters gay? then this is a gay film.

Amanda said...

I would actually have to disagree that a main character that's gay makes a film a GLBT film. I mean, by that criteria, Dumbledore is gay and he's a main character of many of the Harry Potter movies, and yet those are not GLBT movies. I think it has more to do with the issues brought up in the movie itself.

For example, if you have a movie where the straight main protag is dealing with the fact that his/her brother/sister/friend/father/etc has come out, even if that character is not in the film at all, it's still a GLBT film in my opinion.

Trisha said...

For me, in order for a film to be classified as "gay" one of two things needs to be true: either the main characters need to be homosexual or the primary plot line needs to deal with homosexual issues. In that light, I would classify Brokeback Mountain as a gay film, even though it is a less radical one.

On a side note, the first 'gay' film I saw was Trick, and it still holds a place as one of my favorites.

Erastes said...

I really can't agree that a straight character dealing with gay themes would make it a gay movie, and as a LGBT person I wouldn't be drawn to that as a plot line. "In and Out" is a gay film (a closeted man coming to terms with his sexuality as the main character) - whereas "As Good As it Gets" (Misanthropic man comes to terms with the fact he can like his bisexual/gay neighbour) isn't.

I would be drawn to something like "The Steel Remains" by Richard Morgan which is a classic sword and sourcery type of book but the main character is gay and he's off having adventures and it has nothing to do with his sexuality. If you advertised the film plot you mention as a gay film and gay people went to see it I think they would be angry at the misrepresentation. They go to see gay characters going through things they can relate to, not watching straight people deal with things that are happening - particularly off-stage.

I wouldn't ever have called Dumbledore a main character in the Potter books (and by association, films, he's very much a secondary character, although a guiding force-- and as for his gayness, that's impossible to tell in the book itself, and it's only JKR who said he was after the series was published.

Amanda said...

To Lee Rowan - I'm afraid I had to delete your comment because it was offensive and insulting to people here, without respect for their opinions. Comments are welcome, but respect is key. We will not tolerate anyone flaming anyone else on this blog, for any reason. fyi.

Shooting Stars Mag said...

Wonderful post. I really want to see Were the World Mine. And I agree, I think for it to be a LGBT has to really deal with those issues. Queer as Folk is an amazing show, I do agree. I wish more films were as well-recieved as Brokeback Mountain but are definitely more focused on the gay you say. More contemporary and real.


Brigid Daull Brockway said...

Such an interesting question... Brokeback Mountain is an especially interesting one to consider because it, I think, brought GLBT issues into the living rooms of straight folk in a way that was somehow less threatening than gay-gay films. I have wondered whether my being more part of a GLBT culture colored my opinion of the relationship between the two men. It was so unhealthy, and so deeply colored by the effects of the straight world upon it.
I personally loved "A Single Man" as a gay-gay film. It worked really well for GLBT audiences and non GLBT folks alike.
Plus Colin Firth= too dreamy.