Content note: Discussion of LGBTQ films, representation, and Hollywood.
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
It’s a category on most streaming services these days. “Gay and Lesbian Films”, or, if you’re lucky, “LGBT films”, usually with trans people tacked on as an afterthought. Bisexual people play maybe a passing role.
Being a gay transman, I always give these a cursory once-over. Before streaming services rose to popularity, it was the library (or maybe even Blockbusters) with its small “Gay and Lesbian Movies” section that allowed young LGBTQ folk like myself to excitedly peruse the tiny selection. When movie rental moved to streaming services, this section continued to be disappointingly populated; maybe a handful of movies about gay men, one or two about lesbians, and Boys Don’t Cry, the infamously depressing biographical film about transman Brandon Teena.
Before streaming services rose to popularity, it was the library (or maybe even Blockbusters) with its small “Gay and Lesbian Movies” section that allowed young LGBTQ folk like myself to excitedly peruse the tiny selection.
Since then, the selection has grown in size. Now you can find a fairly admirable collection of gay and lesbian films, and maybe… I don’t know, three trans films? That’s a lot considering what we’ve had to contend with over the past decade.
Many of them are low budget, since the high budget Hollywood studios don’t see money in making films about LGBTQ folk. Still, plenty of low budget films have been wildly successful. What really bothers me is that they’re all the same.
I’m scrolling through and clicking on various titles in the Netflix “LGBTQ Films” section. A movie about a family who must deal with a painful secret (one of them’s gay). A movie about a real life LGBTQ person who died horribly. A movie about a coming-of-age romance between two same-sex people.
Lots of sad music. People looking dramatically at the viewer, or into the distance. People holding one another through a blue filter.
A lot of words like “dark”, “passionate”, “romantic”. God, this is so boring.
I absolutely don’t begrudge people their enjoyment of these films. If you’re queer, and just coming to terms with it, this kind of thing can be amazing. A film about the exact experience you’re going through – coming out, young romance, and so on – can help you not feel so alone.
But these films bore me. I’m 25 and the last thing I want to do is relive my teenage years through a movie, not to mention most of these depict an experience that isn’t anything like my own, since they all seem to be set in suburban America. I’m also tired of being depressed; news of LGBTQ people being shot, beat up, minimised and hurt are in the media every day. I don’t want to watch a movie about that. I want to get away from that.
I’m tired of being depressed; news of LGBTQ people being shot, beat up, minimised and hurt are in the media every day. I don’t want to watch a movie about that. I want to get away from that.
Let’s look at the homepage for Netflix’s “movies”. That means all the movies they have, not just the LGBTQ ones.
Comedy. Fantasy. Science-fiction. Thrillers.
Yes, there’s romance too, and depressing documentaries, but there’s also dragons. Magic. People dodging bullets and doing kung-fu. Elves and mystical worlds, and sinister murder mysteries, and spine-chilling horror films.
Every LGBTQ person out there is familiar with the shoehorned heterosexual romance that gets pushed into almost every Hollywood movie out there. When it’s done well, and fits with the story, I will happily egg on the couple to get together. (Hilariously, the example that comes to mind here is The Shape of Water!) When it’s stiff, wooden, and seems to be built on a complete lack of chemistry between the two leading characters, I roll my eyes.
There seems to be this idea in Hollywood that a movie – no matter what the genre – isn’t engrossing without a romance. Cishet (cisgender heterosexual) people get romances everywhere. You can’t watch a movie in the theatre without seeing a cishet romance.
TV seems to have made some strides in this area. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by watching a show and finding a character turns out to be LGBTQ in some way, even if the show itself is not classed as a “LGBTQ Show”, i.e., it’s a fantasy/sci-fi/thriller/cop show/whatever. Movies understandably have less time to tell stories in, but the amount of time dedicated to a cishet romance could easily be used instead for a LGBTQ romance – maybe just once in a while?
Movies understandably have less time [than TV shows] to tell stories in, but the amount of time dedicated to a cishet romance could easily be used instead for a LGBTQ romance – maybe just once in a while?
Where is the sci-fi film about a space cop who has to struggle with his feelings for the male villain?
Where is the fantasy film about a female knight who defends a princess she’s secretly in love with?
Where is the action film about a transwoman who has to transition on the black market while she’s being hunted by the authorities for a crime she didn’t commit?
And where, for the love of God, is my musical about being a poor Steampunk orphan who grows up to fall in love with a robot?!
Some Hollywood studios have begun to realise that movies with leading female characters can be successful. We still have a ways to go with that, but it’s reassuring to see some strides being made.
I desperately wish that we could have stories about ourselves on the big screen where our LGBTQ characteristic isn’t the defining feature of the film.
I desperately wish that we could have stories about ourselves on the big screen where our LGBTQ characteristic isn’t the defining feature of the film. It may surprise you to know, but there is more to our lives than being LGBTQ! We have our own stories, our own adventures, and we want to see that reflected in the media we consume.
We don’t even have to be the main character. Just don’t make us a token stereotype (I’m looking at you, Beauty and the Beast remake) and we’re all good.