Oct 26th, 2020, 05:44 PM

Please, Please, Please Don’t Protect Me from LGBTQ Cinema

By Imaniushindi Fanga
Photoset of Gay Cinema Posters in the Last Decade
Photoset and Compilation of Film Posters Scanned and Edited, Image Credit: Imaniushindi K Fanga
European Filmmakers Popularize LGBTQ Films around the world

In recent years, Call Me by Your Name (2017) by Luca Gaudagnino and Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) by Abdellatif Kechiche have made huge staples in Hollywood. The stars of these top Gay European films have become household names in Hollywood and in the last decade have generated a lot of cash for the film studio system. However, Gay cinema has a more punk-rock and genre-bending history than both the aforementioned and commercially successful films. If you did not already know, Europe has a very laid-back approach to displays of sexuality and gayness. Europe contests most other countries with this pedagogy, and it is for this reason that gay cinema across the globe has risen in popularity.

Directors like Pedro Almodóvar, Terence Davies, Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant, and John Waters played overarching roles in making gay cinema more explicit, accessible, and acceptable. After the 1970s and 1980’s gay cinema had room to breathe and was less condemned and codified by tabooed social norms propagated by cinematic restrictions. These directors helped launch LGBTQ films that went outside codified gender norms of male domination and female subordination. All these directors are openly gay. Once Emmanuel Levy, actor, composer, and film journalist asked Almodóvar what kind of lifestyle he leads, he posited, “My life is dominated by work. I have dedicated all my time to the profession. I would love to enjoy an intense sex life and adventures, like those of my characters, but I am totally surrendered to work, perhaps because I have to justify that I am a self-made man”. This philosophy has fueled the work of many similar LGBTQ directors in recent years. What unites this diverse selection of gay male directors is their comparative perspective and methodological strategies. All their best-known projects, Pepi, Luci, Bom by Almodóvar (1980), Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) by Terrence Davies, or My Own Private Idaho (1991) by Gus Van Sant birthed a movement that was interested in non-normative expressions of gender and sexuality that are still considered “deviant” from the viewpoint of mainstream society and dominant cultures, despite recent progress to accept alternate lifestyles and same-sex unions.

AUP Graduate student, Kevin Jarussi, and an openly gay male had this to add to gay cinemas' place in pop culture and in politics: "Media influences minds, which then influences politics." This powerful quote Jarussi supported with his growing love for Almadovar films such as All About My Mother (1999), and Bad Education (2004) . This love started in his youth during his first years spent in France before becoming an AUP student. Jarussi also sees similar films listed here, like Hedwig and the Angry Inch, as films that are, "All films that have a central gay or trans character, or both, and from my perspective it is completely different from the way trans or homosexual issues are expressed in American cinema; it's [European cinema] that is more creative, more nuanced, more vulnerable, more honest, and real."

These films echo the pains, woes, and pitfalls of gay and lesbian love stories plus the adversities that come along, but with their own bright humor, wit, and sensibilities. Films like Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) by John Cameron Michelle, Bent (1997) by Sean Mathias , Young Soul Rebels (1991) by Issac Julien, Bad Education (2004) by Pablo Almadovor or the heavy European style of Woody Allen’s Vicky & Christina Barcelona (2008) have covered the spectrum of what gay love can and might look like. Strong directional motivations, cinematography, set designs, costumes, plus compelling acting styles make that all fall into full circle. What I think many often take for granted is that these films are not only sources of quality and controversial entertainment, but they have a sharp and long history. For Lynn Klein, Journalist and MD at Sheffield University, the first filmed labeled LGBTQ was The Dickson Experimental Sound Film (1895) by William Dickson where a dance between two men is considered the first depiction of homosexuality in a commercial film.

In silent films, such as Charlie Chaplin’s The Masquerader, it was quite popular for men to dress up as women for comedic effect. However, up until the 1940s, most gay characters were based on stereotypes and gender conventions; effeminate men and their butch lesbian counterparts whom were used to shock a shrinking audience. These prejudices have evolved since, particularly, because in the late 1970s during the protest of the Vietnam War, the rise of the hippy movement, as well as the rise of adolescents using mind-altering drugs and substances to heighten sexual experiences. Gaydom has reached a new plateau since and because of this time. However, gayness has a deep tradition that goes back to 6th century and 7th century B.C.E, Late Greek and Roman antiquity, where same-sex relationships were very common in both Gnostic and Celtic-pagan groups. These regions and people had wilder concepts of love (Plato’s famous dialectic entitled the Symposium, for example) than we do now in the 21st century. Now, the main focus has shifted on male and female bodies as sources of bastardized sexual entertainment and corporate commodity. 

Once these two empires converted to Christianity, suspected homosexuals where subject to gross punishments like public burnings. Since then, laws concerning homosexual activities have fluctuated from harsh austerity to more recent times where trends set by contemporary gay films have deepened our conversations on love. Gayness across the globe is widely misunderstood for all its worth and richness about the varied types of love languages in our world. New media has advanced mainstream perceptions since Web 2.0. However, it is up to the spectator to interpret these new ideas and discern whether these examples of gay or even heterosexual love are good or bad.

In recent times, commercially and award-winning films like Call Me by Your Name and Blue is the Warmest Color, both coming of age films that parallel each other in terms of relationship dynamics and intimate love scenes have changed a majority of western European and even American’s opinions on gayness. Concepts of gay love and unions have evolved beyond something that is shamed or criminalized. These two stories touch on topics of sexual insecurities, shyness, sexual discovery for adolescents and adults, burning hormones, and elucidated sexual awakenings between men and women of two different generations or socio-economic classes. These couples, Elio and Oliver in Call Me by Your Name and Adele and Emma in Blue is the Warmest Color, come together in an explosion of love.

The film Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) and Young Soul Rebels (1991) follow a more counter-cultured theme. Both films are heavily pushed by their individual soundtracks; Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a film heavily influenced by counter-cultured glam rock and drag scenes composed by Stephen Trask. The Young Soul Rebels soundtrack is influenced by 90’s underground disco. These two films are extremely punk in their approach to depicting underground music, experimental sex, and drugs. Bent (1997) by Sean Mathias is a cinematic piece about Nazi Occupation and invasion against two gay lovers from the UK living in Berlin, Max and Ruby. The film depicts extreme violence and sodomy that may be graphic or harsh for most, but is still an important lesson in empathy for the suffering of all sexual orientations. Bad Education  by Pablo Almavora and Vicky, Christina Barcelona are both set in Spain, but during different time periods in Spanish history; the former set in late 70s and the latter in the early 2000s. Both are divine examples of the progression of gayness and its treatment in Spain spanning a 30 years difference. These two films juxtapose each other well as films that tackle sexual perversion towards young children and the trauma that remains. In the Woody Allen film sexual adventurousness, sexual openness, and polyamory between two women and a man are at the film’s thematic apex. For me, these films encapsulate and elucidate varied types of gay love, complexity, and expressions that must be acknowledged and legitimized.

According to the U.N Human Rights YouTube channel video entitled The Riddle: new anti-homophobia (2013), same-sex marriage is illegal in 76 countries. Because of these unjust punitive laws, in these 76 countries, gay men and women of all orientations are not legitimized in the eyes of the law; thus, many live in fear, shame, trauma, unemployment, and imprisonment under the false epithet of “abnormal.” Most are even given the death penalty.

This aforementioned fact is remarkable, yet unnerving, and speaks to the inevitable importance of gay cinema around the world. This confirms what Micheal Foucault also wrote in Friendship as A Way of Life (1985), “To be ‘gay’ is not an identity with psychological traits… But to try and define and develop a new way of life.” I second that emotion and will add that being sexually liberated is an intrinsic need to resolve pain with a revolt that embodies our dynamic life experiences.