LGBTQ+ Representation in Film

By Ally Yager

Film is one of the most versatile, influential art forms of the modern day, entertaining and attracting vast audiences from all across the globe. Each individual motion picture is its own boundless realm of creativity and imagination, inspired by a plethora of cinematic masterpieces throughout the age. As something that is evolving and morphing continually — never truly constrained by the unfolding chronology of events — it is more important than ever that filmmakers emphasize the importance of LGBTQ+ people in film as the world begins to embrace intersectionality more. Whether they be actors, directors, producers or set designers, allowing LGBTQ+ voices to be heard in film is a phenomenal place to start. 

We’ve seen it so many times before: Straight actors will portray LGBTQ+ characters in popular movies and television series and receive over-the-top praise, money and fame. The obligatory, “You’re so brave for taking on a role like this!” and the, “Was it difficult to shoot scenes with so much… you know… chemistry?” do nothing but enforce harmful stereotypes and drown out the LGBTQ+ perspective. 

Love Simon, for instance, tells the story of a privileged, upper-to-middle class boy who’s cisgender, masculine and popular. The film does nothing but perpetuate the idea that being gay is an abnormality, and because Nick Robinson (who stars as the movie’s protagonist, Simon Spier) isn’t actually a member of the LGBTQ+ community, the journey of a queer kid in high school is not accurately depicted and also feels very surface-level. 

Everyone’s favorite token gay cinematic masterpiece, Call Me By Your Name, also puts forth a damaging narrative for LGBTQ+ individuals. I won’t argue that the soundtrack isn’t beautiful (thank you, Sufjan Stevens), the scenery isn’t breathtaking and the acting isn’t anything short of melancholy and lovely, but Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet, once again, are straight, conventionally-attractive white men. Additionally, the film has the potential to detrimentally impact gay people and the way they view sex and relationships, because it normalizes a type of sexual predation and grooming strategy that is both a harmful stereotype and a prevalent issue in the community already. 

While there are countless instances of movies and television shows that display LGBTQ+ characters in a harmful light, so many studios are beginning to do it well and right. Pose is a phenomenal example of this. The Netflix series revolves around 80s ballroom culture, an underground subculture originating in New York City for African American and Latin American LGBTQ+ communities. Not only is it rich with history and plot, it also is full of talented queer individuals who play LGBTQ+ characters while also identifying as such in real life! If more cinema is able to make room for this kind of representation, then we are headed in a very good direction. 

While it’s good for LGBTQ+ people to play characters that have similar journeys and life stories as them, it is also essential for them to play cisgender and/or heteronormative roles without their queerness being the focus point. The notion that queer people need to be vocal about their journey and lifestyle still exists and is quite strong, so casting them as characters that aren’t the “token LGBTQ+ role” helps to promote queer representation, as well as diversity in the roles these actors play. 

Although this piece mostly illustrated the importance of LGBTQ+ representation in the cinematic world, their excellence in this one particular art form can translate to and influence numerous others such as music, visual arts and dance. To be able to actually see fragments of yourself represented in your favorite movies and tv shows is crucial, and I’m optimistic that this type of positivity can only spread throughout this special community of artists.