The Needle Is Not Moving On LGBTQ+ Representation And Equality In The Film Industry
By Mason Z.
Imagine a young boy and his family walks into a movie theater. The smell of popcorn and baked pretzels fills the room with familiarity and comfort. Now, also imagine the young boy identifies as gay but hasn’t come out to his parents yet. He spent all last month convincing his parents to see the movie ‘The Prom’ where he knows a gay man is featured in the movie. The young boy hopes that seeing this movie will be a chance to spark conversation and open up to his parents about his sexuality. As the movie begins the gay man played by James Corden, a straight actor, is instead portrayed as a gross and offensive rendition of a stereotypical gay man who flails his hands everywhere, wears tuxedos, talks with a gay lisp, and is a theater kid. Suddenly the boy's heart dropped and a movie where he thought he’d be represented, only feeds into the offensive perception people have about gay males. The boy felt humiliated and embarrassed that he could be perceived that way by others.
It’s one of the most beautiful and creative industries out there. A medium to express emotions, address societal issues, promote change, and entertain. The Film Industry. But with all that beauty there lies a big problem of inequality. Specifically inequality in the LGBTQ community. Filmmakers lack the representation needed in their films. Roles like that of Barry Glickman played by James Corden can make people in the community feel bad about their own identity and can feed into the toxic stereotypes of gay men. In an NBC News article, Zoey Luna a transgender actor, plays a transgender teen in the movie “The Craft.” She explains how cisgender actors that play trans roles can’t bring any real representation or experience as a transgender actor would, “I think when a cis person goes in to play a trans role…they’re bringing more of a projection.” Jasmine, an openly transgender junior at Mountain Range adds to the conversation, “It doesn’t bother me that much. It only adds to the misrepresentation if trans people are played as a joke.” Jasmine further gives details on how representation is important, mentioning the 1994 ‘Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,’ “misrepresentation makes me feel like a joke…[Ace Ventura] shows a certain representation that being trans is a disgusting thing…but it’s important to know that we exist.” While transgender students and actors have differing opinions when it comes to the importance of the type of actor that plays an LGBTQ role, it is clear that roles that are portrayed in an offensive manner are harmful and shameful to the community.
Coming out wasn’t always an easy thing for people to do, especially in this industry. NBC News explains that in the 90s, Wilson Cruz played the first openly gay character in the show as an openly gay man himself. This later inspired a generation of directors and writers who wanted to see actors fit for roles and have different representations in their own work. Even though coming out has been normalized more and more in recent years, the inequality and industry standards still remain. In 2010, Rupert Everett told U.K’s Radio 4 that he was “very lucky” at the beginning of his career, but after he came out, his opportunities dried up. From then on, he was only cast to play homosexual male roles while the heterosexual roles were left to straight actors. This demonstrates that, while there may not be blatant inequality and homophobia within this industry, it is difficult for gay actors to find work. Heterosexual actors can play a plethora of roles including roles outside of their own sexual orientation, while it seems homosexual actors are only reserved for roles pertaining to their own sexuality and identity. Straight actors are praised for their portrayal of gay characters like, Timothée Chalamet’s ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal’s ‘Broke Back Mountain,’ or Tom Hank in ‘Philadephia’ where he won an Academy Award for his performance. Why is it that straight actors are allowed to play “straight” roles and praised for playing “gay” roles, while gay actors seem to only be allowed to play gay roles? Many can agree representation is important and it isn’t a bad thing that straight actors are playing non-offensive LGBTQ roles, it just adds to the inequality that exists when gay actors' role opportunities are limited due to their own sexuality.
Films have always been an important part of my life. Since I can remember film making and creating videos were something I could express myself with. I always loved films that tackled uncomfortable topics, challenged our beliefs, or even films that featured characters and stories that my friends or myself could relate to. This is why I feel so passionate about the representation of the LGBTQ community in films. As someone who is openly gay, it means so much to me to see myself reflected in characters on the big screen. It means even more to me when these characters aren’t the stereotypical gay male tropes and we aren’t portrayed as the “gay best friend” or “gay supporting cast member.” Any representation is always important but showcasing that diverse range of LGBTQ stories is crucial. It took me a while to be able to accept myself and my identity, and that was partly because of the harmful stereotypes being perpetuated in film. It casts a bad light on the community as a whole and makes people feel ashamed about their own selves, I know it did to me. Shows and movies like ‘Love, Victor’ and ‘Love, Simon’ although having their faults are so revolutionary for representation in the LGBTQ community because they don’t follow the generic and offensive gay male stereotypes, often showing the struggle of accepting yourself and your loved ones accepting you in the coming out process. This is so exceptional because it breaks the usual trends we see for shows or movies that follow gay teens. Millions of teens are struggling with their own identity and who they are, having films that don’t just follow the same old stereotypes and films that instead showcase a variety of stories and situations, gives these teens characters they can see themselves in and gives them the courage to be themselves.
The movies are a great way to entertain and give people an escape from reality for a couple of hours, but they can also be a great way to challenge stereotypes/societal issues, and promote change in the world by sharing stories from different perspectives through this beautiful visual media. Whether it is accurate depictions of the LGBTQ community, casting actors fit for the roles, or the importance of including representation in films, the industry still has a long way to go before there is little to no LGBTQ inequality. When filmmakers start realizing how important and crucial representation in their work is, is when we can start to see real change in this ever-changing industry.