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Depiction of Homosexuality in Film

By sunnie12334 Dec 02, 2013 7858 Words
With all of the current media coverage homosexuals are receiving it should come as no surprise that more and more gay characters and gay-themed movies are emerging from Hollywood. These characters and movies often tend to fully personify the homosexual stereotypes that exist in our society today. Many gay-themed movies have made their way into the lime-light and gay characters are popping up in dozens of mainstream movies. By looking closely at these movies and characters we can see the different messages Hollywood is now sending out about gays. Though homosexual stereotypes are emerging in the movie industry, the stereotypes being generated are extremely different from one another. The gay-themed movies often create one picture of homosexuals, while mainstream movies tend to paint an entirely different picture. Gays are portrayed in perceivably negative ways in some movies and in others their characteristics are emphasized in a positive light. Mainstream movies, nowadays, often include minor characters that are gay. With the addition of so many minor, gay characters, endless stereotypes abound in these mainstream movies. Unfortunately, mainstream movies often focus on the negative stereotypes that have already been generated by society, thereby furthering the impact they have on people’s views towards gays. The movies focus on surface-level aspects of homosexuals like the way they act, look, and talk. Most often the movies don’t delve into the deeper sides of these characters, thereby sending the message that gays are one-dimensional. Some strong examples of stereotypes in mainstream movies are Mean Girls, As Good as it Gets, and My Best Friend’s Wedding – all movies that a large number of people have seen. In Mean Girls Damien, who is played by Daniel Franzes, is shown as always being into what the girls are wearing and if it matches or not. He acts, talks, and gesticulates in a flamboyant and colorful manner. The film even makes a point of showing us that his favorite article of clothing is a light pink polo shirt. In As Good as it Gets Simon, who is played by Greg Kinnear, is portrayed in a very similar, feminine manner. He even owns a tiny, yipping dog, which is often associated with women. The movie basically shows the audience that Simon is a painter who likes to garden and therefore he is gay, or vice versa. His whole lifestyle and environment all seem to point to his feminine aspects. Lastly, in My Best Friend’s Wedding, George, who is played by Rupert Everett, is also portrayed in a stereotypical, feminine way, with his flamboyant laugh and his song number, “I Say a Little Prayer for You.” This feminine stereotyping of gays is only perpetuating the myth that gay men are flamboyant and basically women trapped in male bodies. In truth, these ongoing stereotypes (that gay men are feminine and lesbians are masculine or “butch”) are far from adequately representing the gay population in America today. In actuality it is estimated that only 15 percent of homosexual men fall into this stereotype, while only five percent of homosexual women do (Byer 386). On the other side of the movie spectrum are gay-themed movies. Unlike mainstream movies, these often portray gays in more human aspects. They look deeper into the lives of homosexuals and open a door into their thoughts and feelings, not simply focusing on what they wear or look like. Unfortunately most of these movies are never viewed by conventional audiences. Some examples of gay-themed movies that portray homosexuality in a different light than mainstream movies are Angels in America, Beautiful Thing, and Big Eden. Angels in America focuses on the 1980’s era when AIDS began ravaging the gay community. The movie portrays gays in a variety of ways allowing viewers to see the spectrum of diversity that exists in the gay community. The gay characters consist of a masculine Jewish man, a couple of ex-drag queens, a closeted Mormon, and a famous, right-wing lawyer. With such a variety in personalities and tendencies gays are portrayed as a truly diverse group, which in reality they are. In this movie we also see a very real and emotional side of homosexuals. They are presented as real people, with real fears and real dreams just like everyone else. Gays are represented in a similar manner in both Beautiful Thing and Big Eden. Though these movies focus more on the genuine relationships that gays can share with one another, they also portray gays as more like “normal” people. The characters are just like normal men except they choose to have relationships with other men rather than women. Once again we see that they have emotions and feelings that are just as real as heterosexuals. With all the conflicting stereotypes of gays in movies today, it is extremely important that people step back and look at the big picture. They should view some of the lesser-known gay-themed movies so they are presented with a more real look at homosexuals. Too often people try to peg homosexuals as definitively acting one way or another, and if we only view movies that perpetuate stereotypes than our personal ideas of homosexual behavior will most likely remain. Instead, it is important for people to understand that, outside of who they sleep with, gays are no different from everyone else. Media’s Portrayal of Homosexuality as a Reflection of Cultural Acceptance Will & Grace stands as a representation of when homosexual relationships portrayed by mass media- radio, television, and movies- began to be broadly accepted within society. From the breakthrough Will & Grace helped establish, homosexuality is slowly finding accurate representation within mass media today. Shows such as As the World Turns, Grey’s Anatomy, Greek, Ugly Betty, Modern Family and One Life to Live depict homosexual characters that are actively engaged in onscreen relationships that very closely reflect the heterosexual relationships with which they share the screen. The Contact Hypothesis, along with the Para-social Interaction Hypothesis, allows us to examine these progressive movements within media and their application to culture’s growing perception and acceptance of homosexuality. In order to parallel the onscreen evolution of homosexuality and the application of the change that is occurring within culture, I will use the Contact Hypothesis as well as several theories that have developed upon the foundation that the Contact Hypothesis established. The Contact Hypothesis) was originally developed by Gordan W. Allport in 1954 and published in The Nature of Prejudice. Although the theory is over five decades old, it is still considered to be “one of the most influential and often-cited publications in the entire field of intergroup relations” (Katz 125) and to have current application especially when bridging prejudices that arise towards the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community (Herek 1987). According to the American Psychological Association, the Contact Hypothesis is the most often used theoretical framework for understanding approaches that emphasize attention to categories. In this framework, people make sense of their social world by creating categories of the individuals around them, which includes separating the categories into in–groups and out– groups.” In other words, the contact theory predicts that members of a majority who have contact with a member of a minority will be more inclined to accept this minority as a whole (Allport, 1954).

Two years after Allport released his contact theory, Horton and Wohl (1956) released a study that built upon Allport’s findings, entitled Mass Communication and Para-social Interaction. In this article, Horton and Wohl propose that because of the recent influx and continual growth of media, “one of the striking characteristics of the new mass media- radio, television, and the movies, is that they give the illusion of face-to-face relationships with the performer.” Further, Horton and Wohl “propose to call this seeming face-to-face relationship between spectator and performer a para-social relationship” (251). Others who have also developed on the grounds Allport’s theory created are Herek and Glunt. As authors of the Interpersonal Contact and Heterosexuals’ Attitudes Toward Gay Men: Results from a National Survey that they conducted in 1993, they stated, “many heterosexuals in his country now express accepting and supportive attitudes toward gay people.” They directly associate this progress with the application of the contact hypothesis, stating “heterosexual men and women who report knowing someone who is gay express generally more positive attitudes toward lesbians and gay men then do heterosexuals who lack contact experiences” (239). This progression towards acceptance can be seen by specifically analyzing popular shows within today’s culture. A perfect example is Will & Grace, a primetime television show that lasted from 1998-2006 and entered syndication in 2002, as well as primetime shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, Greek, Ugly Betty, and Modern Family and daytime shows such as As the World Turns and One Life to Live. Even though the viewership of these daytime shows is primarily female, they are still valid representations of the onscreen evolution of homosexuality. In discussing Will & Grace, recognition must be given to one of its greatest predecessors. Ellen DeGeneres’s critically acclaimed role in Ellen is generally regarded by most as a breakthrough within media and culture. Ellen presented audiences with the realization that homosexuality was very much a part of culture, which may have opened the door for the reception of Will & Grace. However, Ellen did not have the varied viewership or prestigious recognition that was garnered by Will & Grace (Schiappa et al 15). Furthermore, Ellen is generally regarded for the breakthroughs it established in culture for lesbians, not specifically gay males. Will & Grace is viewed by both men and women of all orientations, age groups, and ethnicities. During its peak, it averaged 17.3 million viewers a week (Schiappa et al 15), and even in its final season, it saw an average of 8 million viewers (USA Today). Will & Grace is one of the first primetime shows in which two of the four main characters are definitively gay. The show’s namesake Will Truman, a gay attorney, lives with his best friend Grace Alder, an interior designer. Beyond Will’s coiffed appearance, his orientation is not at first made aware to the viewer. Jack McFarland, however, fills the shoes of the exaggerated, stereotypical homosexual male. Besides being self-confident, proud, and secure with his identity, Jack embodies the “flamboyantly gay, continually unemployed, self-described actor/dancer/ choreographer” (Schiappa et al 15). His heterosexual counterpart is Karen Walker, who makes up the last of the four main characters. She is married, works for Grace, and is known for her disregard of money that is made apparent through her “socialite and alcoholic” ways (Battles & Hilton-Morrow, 2002, p. 88). Together, Jack and Karen rely heavily on their exaggerated characters to make the show’s comedic relief, whereas Will and Grace are the balanced, somewhat normal characters. Over its eight-year run, Will & Grace received much critical acclaim earning sixteen Emmy Awards and eighty-three nominations. To quote the New York magazine, “Will & Grace may have helped establish the vain, uptight, loveless gay male stereotype.” This exploitation of stereotypes is the main criticism Will & Grace has received over the past decade. However, the advancements the show has made for the LGBT community– culture’s changing perception of homosexuality– can be seen through applying the aforementioned theories. By applying the Psychology’s Contact Hypothesis and Mass Communication’s Parasocial Contact Hypothesis analysis to Will & Grace, support is seen for the sociopolitical events that were occurring as the show aired. Just prior to the start of Will & Grace, and possibly spurred by the controversy Ellen created, gay marriage legislation reached the pinnacle of scrutiny with the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. Although the show had plenty of entendre-laden dialogue and two openly-gay main characters, Will & Grace took controversial issues a step farther. In the eighth season of Will & Grace, America watched as Will married Vince and the two raised a son together. This not only contradicts the heterosexual idea of marriage and The Defense of Marriage Act, but also the common perception that a same-sex couple cannot properly raise a child. Furthermore, this union is an example of just one instance of the egalitarian ground Will & Grace established for LGBT community. Will & Grace is known for opening the door for many other homosexual-friendly primetime shows to follow (Schiappa et al 15). Homosexuality as depicted in the media has evolved from the supposed heterosexual living situation of Will and Grace, to Noah and Luke consummating their relationship on As the World Turns. This progression shows that slowly but surely homosexual relationships are becoming more and more common onscreen. Surprisingly and in contrast to Will & Grace, As the World Turns has been boycotted by many gays for not being “gay enough.” This is due to the fact that Luke and Noah’s characters are not stereotypical gays. However, this shortcoming may speak volumes about the change in mindset on equality that is taking place within culture and represented by media. For instance, Noah and Luke’s characters do not embody culture’s stereotypical perception of the gay male as seen in the character of Jack McFarland from Will & Grace. Forbes March, who recently played the character of Mason, a “gay indie moviemaker” who is Noah’s professor on ATWT, made this statement about the characters of Luke and Noah: Their gay characters aren’t very gay! If someone turned on the soap for the first time, I think it would take them a while to figure out Mason was gay. Let’s face it — Luke and Noah are two J. Crew guys, two of the nicest and most wholesome gay boys you’ll ever meet. (AfterElton) As the World Turns represents just one instance by media of homosexuality being depicted in a “normal” light that has generally only been reserved for heterosexual relationships. Furthermore, by erring on the side of normalcy, representation and depiction of homosexual characters does not try to exaggerate or play upon perceived homosexual stereotypes. An example of this can be seen in the portrayal and dialogue used by the characters of Kyle and Oliver in One Life to Life. Phrases in Kyle and Oliver’s dialogue such as “I am not a home wrecker,” and even “I love you,” all express a perception that a homosexual relationship functions no differently than a heterosexual relationship. The casting of the characters of Kyle and Oliver, neither of which express outward signs of homosexuality such as being overtly feminine, make it possible to conceive that homosexuality is no different than heterosexuality. From this balanced perception of homosexuals that does not monopolize on stereotypical gay qualities, an individual’s orientation becomes only one facet of their character instead of the complete definer. One organization that has recently seen much success in the cultural progression towards equality is the Human Rights Campaign: The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all. Most recently, the Human Rights Campaign worked alongside the National Equality March NEM which took place on Sunday, October 12, 2009. At this march, hundreds of thousands turn up to show support in Washington, D.C. and according to NEM, “The NEM put queer issues back on the national agenda after years of both parties trying to keep all of them same sex marriage from being addressed in any way at all in Congress and the media.” Furthermore, this march helped create the newly formed Equality across America, which exists to support grassroots organizing in all 435 Congressional Districts to achieve full equality. These efforts in politics reflect the onscreen proliferation of homosexual characters in almost all major networks. One example is the America’s Broadcasting Channel (ABC), who has been instrumental in promoting “a new kind of family.” The channel hosts numerous LGBT friendly shows in its primetime line-up, including Grey’s Anatomy, Greek, Ugly Betty, and Modern Family. Grey’s Anatomy, a show as diverse as its viewing audience, has depicted an onscreen lesbian relationship between characters Callie Torres and Erica Hahn. It has also presented a controversial episode that questioned the Army’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, where two gay soldiers’ relationship was exposed. Greek, as its name implies, follows the lives of college students in sororities and fraternities. A blooming interracial, gay relationship between fraternity boys Calvin and Grant is very much a part of its developing storyline in the third season. The gradual onscreen development of Calvin and Grant’s relationship shows how a same-sex couple faces the same struggles as an opposite sex couple. Similarly, Ugly Betty and Modern Family both have main characters in gay relationships. Ugly Betty depicts the flamboyant, fashion savvy character of Marc St. James who falls for a very unlikely candidate represented by the unkempt, fashion ignorant character of Cliff. This odd coupling supports the typically heterosexual idea that opposites really do attract. In addition, Modern Family, ABC’s newest comedy about families, portrays characters Mitchell Pritchett and Cameron Tucker, boyfriends of five years, and their adopted a Vietnamese daughter named Lily. Modern Family addresses how culture defines who can be a family and plays off culture’s stereotypical impressions of same-sex couples through skillfully crafted humor. In retrospect, these shows represent just a slice of the LGBT movement that is unfolding on television. Will & Grace, through humorous overtones, kept the need for equality in the public’s eye. Furthermore, it helped introduce audience members to believable gay characters. Will & Grace also helped enable shows like As the World Turns, One Life to Live, Grey’s Anatomy, Greek, Ugly Betty, and Modern Family to evolve from the stereotypical characters that were ideally homosexual, to characters whose orientation is just one dimension of who they are. In other words, the separation of those who identify with the LGBT community and those who identify with heterosexuality is gradually becoming less of an issue. Legislation promoting equality is more than ever a focus of the government. For example, same-sex marriage is now accepted in five out of the fifty states. The evolution of homosexual characters in media and the resulting broader acceptance of the LGBT community within culture give credence to the ideas presented in Allport’s Contact Hypothesis and in Horton and Wohl’s Para-social Hypothesis. Although the acceptance and rights of the LGBT community still has ground to gain, the media’s more accurate portrayal of homosexual characters leads the way. By depicting homosexuals as in-depth, multi-faceted human beings, no different from their heterosexual counterparts, media speaks to the equality we can hope to see championed within our very diverse society. In fact, homosexuality, or the suggestion of it, has been with us since the movies were born. One of the earliest surviving motion picture images is a primitive test made at Thomas Edison's studio, in which two men dance together while a third plays the fiddle. From the very beginning movies could rely on homosexuality as a surefire source of humor. In early comedies of the teens and twenties, the possibility of homo behavior was a common joke. In "The Florida Enchantment," two women dance off together, leaving their bewildered menfolk to shrug, and dance off together themselves. A popular gag in parodies of the western was to insert a flamboyantly effeminate pansy into the world of the macho cowboy ("Wanderer of the West," "The Soilers"). As film historian Richard Dyer demonstrates, describing a scene in which a burly stagehand taunts Charlie Chaplin for supposedly kissing a boy in "Behind the Screen," the equation of male homosexuality with effeminacy was already "so firmly in place that a popular mainstream film could assume that the audience would know what that swishy was all about." Enter the Sissy -- Hollywood's first gay stock character. The Sissy made everyone feel more manly or more womanly by occupying the space in between. He didn't seemed to have a sexuality, so Hollywood allowed him to thrive. Talkies offered new opportunities for fun with effeminate men. An early film by gay director George Cukor, "Our Betters," includes Mr. Ernest -- an astonishingly swishy fop. Character actors like Edward Everett Horton made careers out of characters of vague sexuality. Backstage stories like "Broadway Melody" and "Myrt and Marge" featured fey costume designers -- comic characters whose humor was based on male effeminacy. Screenwriter Jay Presson Allen recalls these sissy characters from her youth: "There were sissies, and they were never addressed as homosexuals. It was a convention that was totally accepted. They were perceived as homosexuals just subliminally. This was a subject that was not discussed, privately. Certainly not publicly." Gay screenwriter Arthur Laurents recalls being offended by them: "They were a cliché... like Steppin Fetchit for the blacks." But gay actor/screenwriter Harvey Fierstein, from a later generation, disagrees: "I like the sissy. Is it used in negative ways? Yeah, but... I'd rather have negative than nothing. That's just my own particular view -- and also cause I am a sissy!" The movies were loose enough in those days that one Clara Bow movie ("Call Her Savage") could take us slumming in Hollywood's first big screen gay bar (this freedom wouldn't last -- it would also be the last big screen gay bar until Otto Preminger's "Advise and Consent" 30 years later)."Sissy characters in movies were always a joke," explains elder queen Quentin Crisp. "There's no sin like being a woman. When a man dresses as a woman, the audience laughs. When a woman dressed as a man, nobody laughed. They just thought she looked wonderful." Indeed, Marlene Dietrich caused a sensation when she finished a number in a nightclub in "Morocco" (1930) by kissing a young woman in the audience on the lips. Queer pop culture critic Susie Bright attests to the scene's enduring power to titillate, and Arthur Laurents agrees: "The thing worked for everybody of every sex. And what's amazing, I don't think they've done anything as deliciously sexy as that since." Even Greta Garbo raised eyebrows with her portrait of "Queen Christina" (1933), based on the life of a sixteenth century lesbian ruler of Sweden. While the movie invented a heterosexual romance with John Gilbert, hints of lesbianism remained, notably in her very affectionate relationship with her lady-in-waiting. When Christina is admonished by her Chancellor, "But your Majesty, you cannot die an old maid," Garbo proudly retorts, "I have no intention to, Chancellor. I shall die a bachelor!" But such freedom would be short-lived. Powerful forces were already at work. Religious and women's groups had been protesting the movies' permissiveness throughout the twenties and thirties, lobbying for federal censorship of the movies. Screenwriter Gore Vidal describes how the movie moguls responded by attempting to censor themselves: "Let's save Hollywood. We must get an outsider, preferably some politician who is above reproach. So they looked into the cabinet of Warren G. Harding -- at that time there were a number of unindicted members of his cabinet -- and they picked the Postmaster General, Will Hays of Indiana." Will Hays would head the movies' first voluntary effort at self-censorship. The early Hays Code was a token gesture, seldom taken seriously. But by 1934 the Catholic Church had devised a scheme of its own. The Legion of Decency not only rated movies as to content [an A rating meant a movie was acceptable; a B indicated it was morally objectionable; and a C meant it was condemned] -- but threatened massive boycotts. Hollywood promised to play by the rules. Code director Joe Breen ran Hollywood's censorship machinery for over two decades. He was authorized to change words, personalities, and plots. "The Lost Weekend," a novel about a sexually confused alcoholic, became a movie about an alcoholic with writer's block. "The Brick Foxhole," a novel about gay-bashing and murder, became" Crossfire," a movie about anti Semitism and murder. As Jay Presson Allen explains, "The Hays code just set up a series of rules that were inviolable." In addition to depictions of homosexuality -- or "sex perversion," as it was called -- other restrictions of the 1934 Hays Code included: open-mouthed kissing, lustful embraces, seduction, rape, abortion, prostitution and white slavery, nudity, obscenity and profanity.

For all its efforts, the Production Code didn't erase homosexuals from the screen; it just made them harder to find. And now they had a new identity -- as cold-blooded villains. Gloria Holden as "Dracula's Daughter," Judith Anderson as the ominous Mrs. Danvers in Hitchcock's "Rebecca," and Peter Lorre as Joel Cairo in "The Maltese Falcon," begin a long line of movie characters in which subtle hints of homosexuality are used to make villains more menacing. "The guys that ran that Code weren't rocket scientists," Jay Presson Allen recalls. "They missed a lot of stuff, and if a director was subtle enough, and clever enough, they got around it." "I don't think the censors at that time realized that this was about gay people," says Arthur Laurents of Hitchcock's film "Rope", for which Laurents wrote the screenplay, based on the true story of gay psychopathic murderers Leopold and Loeb. While Rope star Farley Granger makes it clear that the actors knew they were playing gay characters, Laurents thinks the censors "didn't have a clue what was and what wasn't. That's how it got by." By the early fifties, lesbians are suggested on the screen by tough bulldykes behind bars ("Caged") or as a troublesome neurotic (Lauren Bacall in "Young Man With a Horn"). "These women were a warning to ladies," explains Allen, "to just watch it and get back to the kitchen, where God meant them to be." The fifties were a time of sexual conformity; for men, masculinity ruled. The tension between sensitivity and masculinity was represented on the screen by characters who are accused of being gay (Tom Lee in "Tea and Sympathy"); or by characters who seemed to be gay (Sal Mineo as Plato in "Rebel Without a Cause"). For gay movie-goers in those repressed years, these were the images that spoke to them. "Rebel" screenwriter Stewart Stern acknowledges a gay reading of the movie: "Any film is at the same time an expression of a writer, and it's an offering to an audience to create their own film." Gore Vidal explains, "You got very good at projecting subtext without saying a word about what you were doing." Using his experiences as a screenwriter of "Ben-Hur", Vidal illustrates how a writer, working together with the director and an actor, can hint at a gay relationship even in a biblical epic. Hollywood had learned to write movies between the lines. And some members of the audience had learned to watch them that way."It's amazing," says Susie Bright, "how if you're a gay audience and you're accustomed to crumbs, how you will watch an entire movie just to see somebody wear an outfit that you think means that they're homosexual." Doris Day dressed as a man and singing "Secret Love"as "Calamity Jane;" a very butch Joan Crawford challenging a very butch Mercedes McCambridge in "Johnny Guitar;" Montgomery Clift and John Ireland admiring each others' guns in "Red River;" Gloria Grahame getting worked on by a big butch masseuse in "In a Lonely Place;" tough guy Glenn Ford's flirtatious relationship with his effete employer in "Gilda" -- "Gay audiences [were] desperate to find something," according to Arthur Laurents. "I think all minority audiences watch movies with hope: they hope they will see what they want to see. That's why nobody really sees the same movie." Richard Dyer, reflecting on the movies of this period, finds parallels with what it was like for gay people in the real world: "We could only express ourselves indirectly, just as people on the screen could only express themselves indirectly... the characters are in the closet, the movie is in the closet, and we were in the closet." But as gay screenwriter Paul Rudnick argues, "you can't keep gay life, gay behavior out of the movies. It's like keeping it out of life in general -- so it sort of pops up, often in somewhat hidden, or somewhat coded ways." Comedies, in particular, have often found ways to push the boundaries of acceptable behavior, precisely because they're not to be taken seriously. "In the film of 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,'" Rudnick continues, "there's a gym full of bodybuilders who have absolutely no interest in Jane Russell" -- singing "Ain't There Anyone Here For Love?" Sissy characters survived in such comedies as" Lover, Come Back," in which Doris Day is confounded by a decorator's insistence on a lilac floor for a kitchen. And gay author Armistead Maupin recalls watching Rock Hudson - Doris Day movies with a group of gay men in Hudson's screening room, and enjoying the "gay in-jokes occurring in almost all of those light comedies." In "Pillow Talk," for example, "the character that Rock Hudson played posed as gay in order to get a woman into bed. It was tremendously ironic, because here was a gay man impersonating a straight man impersonating a gay man." Tony Curtis describes how our ambiguous sexuality, "that kind of sexuality of ours that overlaps -- some like it hard, some like it soft..." was subtly exploited in Billy Wilder's drag opus with Curtis and Jack Lemmon, "Some Like It Hot." When Lemmon, disguised as Daphne, tries to convince Osgood (Joe E Brown) that they can't get married because Lemmon is really a man, Osgood is unfazed. "Well," he declares, "nobody's perfect." But when the subject turned serious -- and actual sex was suggested -- out came the blue pencil, the scissors and the scene. Tony Curtis again, this time as Antoninus, Lawrence Olivier's "body servant" in Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus, describes the suggestive scene in which he bathes his master, and which was cut from the final film. "I've never seen such a time in my life with censorship,"" says Gore Vidal. "They cut and cut 'Cat On a Hot Tin Roof.'" There was no way that Brick [Paul Newman] could have had any kind of sexual desire for his buddy." Vidal describes his own battles with the censors when he adapted another Tennessee Williams play," Suddenly Last Summer," for the screen. The drama between Elizabeth Taylor, Katherine Hepburn and Montgomery Clift revolves around the unsavory habits of Sebastian Venable, a character who is seen in the film only in flashback -- and whose face is never shown. Sebastian Venable was the perfect homosexual for his times -- one without a face or a voice. Since he lives as a monster, he must die as one. Sebastian meets his end at the hands of the young boys he's been using sexually, who chase him up a mountain and ultimately devour him -- in a scene eerily reminiscent of the early horror classic "The Bride of Frankenstein" (which incidentally was directed by James Whale, one of the few openly gay directors in Hollywood history). As American filmmakers were struggling to make homosexual material acceptable to the Hays Office and the Legion of Decency, a film came out of Great Britain in which an explicitly gay (or at least bisexual) character actually stands up to fight the system that oppresses homosexuals: "Victim," starring Dirk Bogarde as the screen's first gay hero. Hollywood was hurting. Faced with competition from more sexually explicit foreign films, as well as from the newly popular invention, television, filmmakers searched for new ways to attract audiences. Producers were convinced that audiences would pay to see films with more adult themes. By the early sixties, the Code had gradually been whittled away. The only remaining restriction was "sex perversion." Two filmmakers set out to make films that would smash the last taboo. Otto Preminger forced the issue by announcing (prematurely) that the Production Code had been revised to allow him to film the bestseller "Advise and Consent" -- including the subplot concerning a US Senator (Don Murray) who is blackmailed about a homosexual affair in his past. And William Wyler's "The Children's Hour," based on the play by Lillian Hellman and starring Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn, dealt with accusations of lesbianism in a girls' school. In the view of Shirley MacLaine, though, the film was a failure. "We might have been the forerunners but we weren't really, because we didn't do the picture right." According to MacLaine, there was so little awareness of what homosexuality was all about that the subject was never even discussed during the making of the film. Both these films dealt with homosexuality as something shameful, a dirty secret -- and, as Susie Bright and Armistead Maupin attest, these films often had a devastating affect on the psyches of young gay people in the audience. As gay screenwriter Barry Sandler explains, "Growing up in that period in the sixties, all we had were images of unhappy, suicidal, desperate gay people." "Walk On the Wild Side," adapted from the novel, is the first movie that actually added a lesbian angle en route to the screen -- Barbara Stanwyck as the tough madam of a New Orleans brothel who is desperately attracted to a glamorous young prostitute (Capucine). Even "The Detective," a Frank Sinatra movie that tried to be daringly enlightened about homosexuality, presented a view of homosexuals as desperate, unhappy, self-loathing -- and ultimately murderous. Sandy Dennis' lesbian character in "The Fox" is a pathetic spinster taunted by Keir Dullea, who suggests that her problem is that she's never had a man. Says lesbian filmmaker Jan Oxenberg, "These images magnify the sadness, the hatred of us, the prediction that we will not find love." "I think the fate of gay characters in American literature, plays, films, is really the same as the fate of all characters who are sexually free," reflects Arthur Laurents. "You must pay. You must suffer. If you're a woman who commits adultery you're only put out in the storm. If you're a woman who has another woman, you better go hang yourself. It's a question of degree. And certainly if you're gay, you have to do real penance -- die."

In film after film ("The Detective," "Caged," "Dracula's Daughter," "The Fox," "Rebel Without a Cause," "Johnny Guitar," "Rebecca," "Suddenly Last Summer," "The Children's Hour") characters of questionable sexuality meet their end in the last reel. Just when it looked like there was no hope for gay characters anywhere. Finally it happened. Hollywood made a movie in which gay people took a long, hard look at their own lives. And, in a refreshing twist, they all survived. The movie was "Boys In the Band," based on the hit off-Broadway play by Mart Crowley, and for young gay men like Barry Sandler, it offered an image of "gay men as having this incredible sense of camaraderie, this sense of belonging to a group which I'd never really felt before." It also presented a rather depressing collection of bitchy, vindictive, self-loathing queens. "I knew a lot of people like those people," says Crowley, "and I would say that probably all nine of them are split off pieces of myself... I think the self-deprecating humor was born out of a low self-esteem, if you will, from a sense of what the times told you about yourself. Homosexuality was still classified as a mental illness. If you went to a gay bar, you were liable to be arrested, or the place be raided... There were still, not just attitudes, there were laws, against one's being, and the core of one's being." In one of the key scenes in the movie, the problem is stated succinctly by one of the miserable characters: "If we could just not hate ourselves so much. That's it, you know. If we could just learn not to hate ourselves quite so very much." And by the time the film was released, thousands of gay men and lesbians had done just that, and had taken to the streets in the name of "gay liberation." As gay people made themselves more visible in the world, they also became more visible on the screen.

Armistead Maupin recalls "Cabaret" as "the first film that really celebrated homosexuality... For me it embodied the very life I was beginning to live in San Francisco, one in which there was no onus placed on homosexuality." "The boy was homosexual," explains Jay Presson Allen, who wrote the screenplay for the film, "and it just seemed rational, it seemed reasonable... that's what the story was. There was no fuss with anybody, none at all. So things change more quickly than you might imagine." Gay male supporting characters began appearing more and more, and the characters often had a depth and self-awareness that was new for the movies (they also often had the best lines). African American actor Antonio Fargas played two such roles in the mid-seventies: in "Next Stop, Greenwich Village" he played a queen called Bernstein, one of a group of Bohemian friends living in Greenwich Village in the fifties; and that same year, he played a queen called Lindy, part of the ensemble that works at the "Car Wash." "I think it was easier for the powers that be to show a black as a homosexual rather than a white character as a homosexual," says Fargas. He likens it to the tendency to present the black experience in comedies and sitcoms rather than in dramas. But as gays (or at least gay men) became more visible, they also became easier targets. In movie after movie, gay male characters were ridiculed, taunted, scape-goated, beat up, or killed. Tom Hanks remembers the absurdly queeny hitch-hikers in "Vanishing Point" as "the first image that I remember... about anybody being gay in a motion picture that I saw." He vividly recalls the stereotypical characterizations of the gay characters, as well as the glee with which he and his high school buddies greeted the moment when "those two homos" received their comeuppance. "Philadelphia" screenwriter Ron Nyswaner recalls similar experiences, but from a gay perspective. He recalls seeing "Freebie and the Bean" with a group of friends, and being appalled by the audience's enthusiastic reaction to the brutal killing of a murderous drag queen. "People were applauding the death of the villain -- but they were also applauding the death of a homosexual." "You know you're watching a heterosexual movie," says Richard Dyer. "You know that's the deal when you pay to see a Hollywood movie. But somehow, you're still not quite ready to be insulted." Barry Sandler points out the astonishing number of movies in which the word "faggot" is casually used -- and argues that the word "nigger" would never be used that indiscriminately. By 1980, the urban gay scene was a visible part of the cultural landscape. The few movies that acknowledged that fact portrayed the gay subculture as a sinister world of kinky danger. When one such film, William Friedkin's "Cruising," was released, Ron Nyswaner describes being attacked by young men who worked in a movie theater: "as I was escaping from the hands of one of them, he said to me, 'if you saw the movie 'Cruising,' you'd know what you deserve.'" "Cruising," "The Fan" and "Windows" all offer glimpses of gay and lesbian characters who are no longer victims but victimizers -- psychopaths, who murder the objects of their affection. But it was "Cruising" that roused gay activists into the streets -- for the first time protesting Hollywood's treatment of gay characters. As the film was being shot in New York's West Village, protesters disrupted the filming and created a cause celebre. In an attempt to balance the overwhelmingly negative stereotypes of the previous decades, Barry Sandler wrote a script about a married man who finds himself attracted to another man, and comes to realize he's gay. The twist this time was that the gay characters would be comfortably masculine, squeaky clean, and played by very attractive young actors. Sherry Lansing green lighted "Making Love" at Fox, but according to the film's producer, Daniel Melnick, "the men were hard to cast, because every one of their advisors, both Harry Hamlin and Michael Ontkean, told them not to possibly play someone who is gay, that it would destroy their career." Harry Hamlin concurs, "Hollywood was pretty much of a cowboy town, and a straight cowboy town." By the time the film was finished, the studio had changed hands, and according to Melnick, when he screened the film for the new owner, he was outraged, calling it a "goddam faggot movie." Barry Sandler recalls seeing the finished film on its opening night in Miami. "When they [Hamlin and Ontkean] had the first kiss... people panicked, I mean it was pandemonium, people started storming up the aisles." There was a time when men were free to express tenderness on the screen. For example, in "Wings," the first film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, a handsome young soldier says good-bye to his dying buddy by kissing his lips but as the world grew more aware of homosexuality, male-to-male affection would be seen as an incriminating act. A kiss would become an assault. "The Sergeant," when the repressed homosexual sergeant (Rod Steiger) loses control and forces his mouth onto that of the horrified, disgusted, handsome young private he's obsessed with (John Phillip Law) or an ugly accusation. In "A View from the Bridge," a violent Raf Vallone attacks handsome young Jean Sorel, growling, "I'll show you what you're gonna be what you are what you are!" And kisses him brutally on the mouth as Carol Lawrence screams in horror. And in the quirky buddy movie "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot," Jeff Bridges taunts George Kennedy by clamping his hand over Kennedy's mouth and kissing it. "I'll kill you for that," screams Kennedy. "I think Americans are perhaps more scared of their sexuality," suggests gay British director John Schlesinger. "They're prepared to show violence of all kinds, but when it comes to sexuality I think America is both self-righteous and tries to bury it as if it didn't exist." Schlesinger's "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" is one of the first examples of a film in which homosexuality is presented simply as a part of the lives of the characters, without making a point about it. Schlesinger describes his battle with the screenwriter, who wanted the gay kiss played "in long shot and silhouette, and I said 'no way.' It should just happen. And that's what we did." "There's a world of difference," says Susie Bright, "between how an audience looks at two men getting it on, and two women getting it on." As in "Personal Best," when Mariel Hemingway makes love to Patrice Donnelly, "there's a comfort with female nudity and female girlishness and girlie bonding that can be sexy, and it can be completely palatable, even erotic." On the other hand, says Whoopi Goldberg, "straight men are more uncomfortable with two men making love because somehow that means you're weak." In contrast, she describes her own love scene with Margaret Avery in "The Color Purple" as being less about sex than about intimacy, which is acceptable between women. Similarly, when Susan Sarandon "put the kiss in at the end of 'Thelma and Louise'... my feeling was that they were beyond sexuality, that it was a kind of love... they were really there for each other in the tradition of 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,' except they didn't go down in a rain of bullets." She speculates that had Butch and Sundance kissed at the end of that movie, "they would have had more reason to shoot them." Reflecting on her love scene with Catherine Deneuve in the elegant vampire movie "The Hunger," Sarandon conjectures, "I don't think, for better or worse, that women are taken very seriously in this area... it's actually something that straight men can watch and not be threatened by, and straight men are the ones that are propelling the industry forward... And I suppose when you go to the movies and you see men being affectionate... besides the sex, just the affection itself is just too much. Guys are supposed to be strong and unfeeling." A perfect illustration of Hollywood's ambivalence about male-to-male affection is "Midnight Express," with a screenplay adapted by Oliver Stone from the true story of Billy Hayes' ordeal in a Turkish prison. Whereas in his book Hayes describes making love to a male fellow-prisoner, the movie allows the two men a passionate kiss in a steamy shower -- but before it goes too far, Hayes (Brad Davis) gives his friend a gentle brush-off, shaking his head "no" and kissing his hand before walking away. Susie Bright describes her anger when Hollywood takes a story with a gay angle and then removes that angle: "It's like somebody's just powdered me with fleas the entire time, I'm being irritated that they're not telling the truth." She gives as an example "Fried Green Tomatoes:" "The passion that these two women feel for each other was not presented in an honest way in the movie." Daniel Melnick explains the industry's fear of portraying homosexuality as part of the same conservatism that he sees at the highest levels of most corporations: "We all get paid more than we should, we all get paid more than our fathers ever made, and there's always the fear that they're gonna take it away from us." Shirley MacLaine agrees that "the public is always ahead of us about what they're ready for... And if you do it right, if you pierce the heart-truth of what the public is feeling and thinking, you have a hit." "Philadelphia," featuring a hero who was gay, and who had AIDS, touched a nerve in the movie going public, and became just such a hit. Tom Hanks ascribes some of the film's success to the fact that "my screen persona is pretty much non-threatening... [so] this idea of a gay man with AIDS... doesn't have to be scary. You don't have to be threatened by

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