• Leeds LGBT+ Literature Festival

Representations Of Celebratory Queerness In Cinema

Content Warnings: References to queerphobia, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, prejudice, the AIDS pandemic and Clause 28.


Real-life queer stories are filled with the joys of life, the excitement of a new romance, the comfort of finding acceptance, the inner-strength and perseverance every queer person has due to overcoming the prejudices they are faced with. This positive queer experience is important and deserves to be represented within cinema – we deserve to see people like us succeed and thrive.


By Oliver Bagshaw


It has become almost a stereotype of queer cinema that many narratives it delivers end in tragedy, heartbreak, and pain. The devastation on offer within successful queer films such as Ang Lee’s three-time Oscar-winning dramatic western Brokeback Mountain (2005) – focusing on a love between two gay men that was destined to fall apart – and Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name (2017) – another successful romance between two lovers who inevitably become distant and separated, only left to connect together in their own thoughts – can be reflective of queer struggles that many of us face.


A struggle to connect with another person; the difficulties of dating; the social stigma attached to queerness; outright homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and other forms of prejudice aimed at the queer community – popular films such as Brokeback Mountain and Call Me By Your Name capture these troubling emotions that, as queer people, we may be all too familiar with.


While there is a need for tragedies – Aristotle, in his Poetics, suggests that tragedy can offer catharsis, a sense of relief by releasing intense emotions of sadness and anger – and many of these tragedies can provide a significant reflection on empathy towards queerness, challenging homophobic attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community within mainstream audiences: tragedies are not all that we experience as queer people.


Real-life queer stories are filled with the joys of life, the excitement of a new romance, the comfort of finding acceptance, the inner-strength and perseverance every queer person has due to overcoming the prejudices they are faced with. This positive queer experience is important and deserves to be represented within cinema – we deserve to see people like us succeed and thrive.


When considering celebratory representations of queerness, comedy is a wonderful place to start. Matthew Warchus’ beautifully optimistic film Pride (2014) demonstrated that a celebration of queerness portrayed in mainstream cinema can be successful, keeping queerness accessible for mainstream audiences unfamiliar with the LGBTQ+ community with a light sense of humour and a motivating underdog story.


Focusing on the birth of the Lesbians and Gays Support The Miners (LGSM) alliance, the film portrays an initial reluctance – and even the homophobic reaction – of a community of miners made redundant in 1984, unwilling to accept the queer support. A time when the National Union of Mineworkers were on strike, the LGSM decided to provide support to the modest Welsh community of Onllwyn, devastated by these redundancies. Despite this negative reaction from the villagers, the LGSM continued to support, and march for the miners, under solidarity that Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party rule had also negatively impacted the queer community during the AIDS pandemic and the enforcement of Clause 28 (a British law which prohibited any “promotion of homosexuality” resulting in job losses and rise in stigma for the British LGBTQ+ community).


With a good sense of humour and a strong sense of morals against injustice (a highlight in Pride is Ben Schnetzer as Mark Ashton, never without a quick, punchy response, and not one to back down from what he believed in), Pride is a film which portrayed an unlikely union between two very different communities, and two very different senses of pride: the pride of being a worker, and the pride of being queer. When these two communities come to march together in London, it is a wonderful celebratory protest for equal rights, human decency, and respect.


Pride is a film which aims to uplift the viewer, intending to encourage the continuation of the fight for equal human rights, and a celebration of the importance of LGBTQ+ pride – that, as the queer community, we are much stronger when we march together. Pride is a beautiful commemoration of true unity, and that is worth celebrating.


Steering towards the realm of documentary, Jeanie Finlay’s documentary Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth (2019) focuses on Freddy McConnell, a transgender man who wishes to become a father and birth his own child. The documentary chronicles the struggles Freddy faces while doing this, from altering his HRT; the turbulences in his relationship; his connection to his masculinity; and the feelings of isolation arising from other people’s difficulty with understanding such a unique path towards fatherhood.


Despite these moments of emotional struggle, the preparation for fatherhood, and the beautiful moment when Freddy gives birth to his child, are truly poignant – the birthing of life is a celebratory moment, and for trans men who wish to give birth, this moment is unlike anything else. Freddy and his child will always have this beautiful connection that cisgender fathers cannot have. It’s truly wondrous that this perspective towards childbirth is experienced by trans fathers, and the final sequences of the documentary, when we see Freddy tenderly holding his newborn baby, is one of the most compassionate, most sensitive moments of celebration – a celebration of new life – that can be seen in recent LGBTQ+ cinema. Through the struggles Freddy faced, his perseverance to achieve what he always wanted – to become a father – is truly inspiring.


LGBTQ+ cinema is filled with celebratory representations of queer experiences, and these representations are worthy of highlighting and commemorating – our lives are not just tragedies and struggles, but they are also the fantastic achievements in equality, the romantic unions, and the accomplishments. It can feel frustrating when mainstream LGBTQ+ representation steers so close to the downbeat – to truly feel seen, our peaks need portrayals just as much as our lowest moments.


When we see the powerful genderfluidity of trans punk-rock singer Hedwig, using her anger to motivate her confidence in challenging perceptions, and confronting a plagiarist song-writing ex-boyfriend in John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig & The Angry Inch (2001); when we finally see the young lesbian couple united, with no restrictions, and a complete rejection of heteronormative and conservative prejudice at the end of Jamie Babbit’s But I’m A Cheerleader (1999); and when we see the difficulty in coming out to one’s parents for a young gay man (a universal struggle for many LGBTQ+ people) only to discover that his mother always accepted him in Steven Clay Hunter’s short Pixar animation Out (2020) – these are celebratory portrayals of queerness, and these are portrayals of queerness worth celebrating.


The importance of celebratory queerness is monumental. In her book “Writing Diverse Characters For Fiction TV Or Film,” Lucy V. Hay explicitly discusses the call for, and reasoning for more diverse stories:


“We need diverse stories. There is a strong campaign, especially online and across a number of platforms, organisations and individuals, that suggests diverse stories actively change society and break down barriers. Campaigners will say that fiction, film and TV should reflect the world around us and even have the capacity to save lives or boost self-esteem. And how better to achieve this, these campaigners argue, than for creators to present role models who can connect marginalised people, effectively humanising and empowering them, in a world that otherwise ‘others’ and belittles them?”


When discussing diverse stories – the need, demand, and promotion of diverse narrative – we also must include the diversity in queer experiences. From literature to cinema and video games, queerness is essential to represent. Not just our tragedies and struggle, but also a celebration of our successes (no matter how miniscule).


For all the Pride marches, protests for equality and dismantling of prejudice, the queer community has achieved so much, and it is necessary that audiences see this. Not just audiences of queer people, but everyone – we are queer, and we deserve to remain proud of all we have achieved.

Filmography:

- Brokeback Mountain (2005) Directed by Ang Lee. USA: Focus Features. [DVD].

- Call Me By Your Name (2017) Directed by Luca Guadagnino. Italy/France/USA: Frenesy Film Company [DVD].

- Pride (2014) Directed by Matthew Warchus. UK: Pathé UK [DVD].

- Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth (2019) Directed by Jeanie Finlay. UK: Glimmer Films [BBC iPlayer].

- Hedwig & The Angry Inch (2001) Directed by John Cameron Mitchell. USA/Canada: Killer Films/New Line Cinema [Criterion Blu-Ray].

- But I’m A Cheerleader (1999) Directed by Jamie Babbit. USA: Cheerleader LLC/Ignite Entertainment [DVD].

- Out (2020) Directed by Steven Clay Hunter. USA: Pixar Animation Studios [Disney+].


Bibliography:

- Aristotle (335 BC) Poetics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

- Hay, L V. (2017) Writing Diverse Characters For Fiction TV Or Film. Harpenden: Kamera Books.


Oliver Bagshaw is a writer, musician and YouTuber, often writing about a variety of films, including those promoting LGBTQ+ representation.


They are currently studying at Leeds Beckett University for a Masters in Screenwriting.


https://www.youtube.com/youhavebeenwatchingfilms



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