LGBTQ+ in film

In recent years, the number of films focusing on LGBTQ+ themes, or even those merely having Queer characters, has increased significantly. Emerging from an era of relatively few LGBTQ+ films, the 2000’s and 2010’s have brought about a plethora of great flicks for us to enjoy. A short history of the various films within the genre is needed to truly understand how LGBT people have been represented across time in our film media, and how they will hopefully be portrayed in the future years to come. These are only some of the movies that represents the LGBTQ+ community but among the most influential.

The Bird Cage (1996), starring Robin Williams, was one of the first films of its time to focus on LGBTQ+ issues, and explore the concept through a quirky, comedic tone. It explores a homosexual cabaret owner and his husband, agreeing to put on a false front for their son, in order to impress his fiance’s conservative parents. Upon release, it was highly praised by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), who were especially impressed with the way it challenged stereotypes and celebrated differences in the LGBTQ+ community. Films like these, ones that challenged the norm of the time, were often downplayed and criticised and never truly being raised to the level of attention that they deserved to be taken to, but, as can be seen recently, this trend appears to be shifting.

In recent years however, we have seen a burst in Hollywood of dramatic films that have explored the tragic history behind the LGBTQ+ movement. The Imitation Game (2012), is a film that explores the story of Alan Turing, an English mathematician and computer scientist who during the Second World War, cracked the Nazi German ‘Enigma Code’, which would eventually assist the Allies in winning the war. Despite his contributions to society, Turing was homosexual, and was publically prosecuted and chemically castrated, eventually taking his own life. Other films, like Dallas Buyers Club (2013), starring Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey, give viewers a look into the struggles of transgender people and those suffering from sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS. Displaying themes that are rather unexplored in film media, it was a fresh and unique film, one complimented with brilliant acting and stellar cinematography. These films bring stories of historical LGBTQ+ people to the average viewer, and gives them a look into how far we have come as a society since those times.

The Danish Girl (2015), was yet another brilliant film that explored the early history of sexual reassignment surgery, and the first person who undertook it during the 1920-30s. Starring Eddie Redmayne as Lili Elbe, the film was highly praised by the trans community for its brilliant portrayal of the historical struggle for identity and acceptance. Further, a film like Moonlight (2016), truly encapsulates the struggles of race and sexuality in the modern world. Exploring the different eras of a man’s life: from childhood, to adolescence, and finishing with adulthood, it has been received as tragically relatable to any LGBTQ+ person viewing. It’s dark, tragic and gives a beautiful look into the struggles that many queers face daily. Another highly praised film, Call Me By Your Name (2017), was directed by Luca Guadagnino, a gay man himself, and explores a romance between a young adult and an older man. It has been heavily praised by both the Allied community and the Queer community, and has swept awards shows, displaying that Hollywood and audiences are enjoying and supporting these types of productions.  

Almost all of these films in some way or another, have received Academy Acclaim. The Imitation Game, Dallas Buyers Club, and Call Me By Your Name all received nominations for Best Picture, amongst other acting categories, and Moonlight even went so far as to win the Award in 2017. With a trend of Academy recognition, and a growing trend of more and more queer movies every year, it appears that we are on a good track towards having a diverse and accepting film industry.

Similarly, queer representation in our television industry has risen to a much higher level then in recent years. If you name a current popular TV show, be it comedy, drama, fantasy or sci-fi, it is more than likely that one character within it is LGBTQ+. This is a great step towards bringing our community into the spotlight of the overall audience. Now, queer are able to have arcs and plots that they may have not had at all.

Perhaps the most famous LGBTQ+ pair currently on TV are Cameron and Mitch from the hit American Broadcasting Company (ABC) show, Modern Family, who both present a comedic and lighthearted portrayal of a homosexual couple to millions of homes around the world. Other particular representations in hit shows include Kurt Hummel in Glee, portrayed by Chris Colfer. One of the first main role depictions of a gay person in a leading role, Colfer has been praised for his performance as the character, and has been heralded as an extremely influential figure in the LGBT movement. More recently, Orange is The New Black has been praised for being incredibly complex and features nuanced depictions of sexuality and gender, particular for lesbian, trans and bisexual people.  

Shows such as Bojack Horseman have brought typically non-explored asexual characters to the small screen, through characters such as Todd Chavez, and others, such as Shameless, have brought us closeted teenagers, through the depiction of Ian Gallagher, and vividly depicted their struggles through anxiety and depression towards seeking acceptance in their families and communities.

Even in some of the more fantasy based shows, such as Star Trek: Discovery or Game of Thrones, LGBT characters are now making appearances in both featured and leading roles, and this just goes to show that society is moving forwards towards a more diverse range of personalities and stories in the production process. From a recent study from GLAAD, it was discovered that all LGBT characters in major US television productions, make up a total of 6.5% of all characters, making it the highest percentage in 22 years of the study. Characters like Jesus in The Walking Dead or Loras Tyrell in Game of Thrones, provide evidence that we are progressing to a more open media, one of which will be welcoming to a more diversified range of characters and personalities.

Web series have become a quintessential platform for LGBTQ+ filmmakers to produce content for an online platform. One of the most notable online web series is Australian made Starting From Now (SFN), which explores the lives of four inner-Sydney lesbians as they struggle to work out who they are, find a place where they belong, and maybe even find someone to love along the way. Directed by Julie Kalceff, her work in the LGBTQ+ film industry is extensive: her short, ex, was an official selection at over 20 film festivals, winning awards such as the Panavision Award, My Queer Career: Mardi Gras Film Festival, and Best Gal’s Short, Phoenix International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, and was also a writer/director on the 2011 web series The Newtown Girls. If you’re a tumblr addict, you’ll find the Creampuff community – a community dedicated to the Canadian web series Carmilla. Featuring Elise Bauman as Laura, a student at a fictional eastern European university, the series depicts a story of her encounter with vampires, monsters, and queer romance.

Overall, there is definitely much more progress to be made. Both film, web series and television depictions of queer characters are still very new and fresh, and are not as mainstream as they have the potential to be. Every year, we are getting more and more brilliant films and shows that depict our communities in a positive light, and explore all the different bright aspects that we face everyday. From all of the above pieces of media, it’s looking like a bright future for all of us!