| CLAYTON WALTER
HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS ONLY want a rainbow if they know there’s a pot of gold to be found at its end. This year, April marks the beginning of blockbuster season for Hollywood, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier getting the popcorn parade started a month earlier than usual. Hollywood is sure to fill our screens with plenty of explosions, car chases, and steamy (straight) romances over the next few months, as the money-hungry studios always do. Studios tend to target young men with their tentpole releases (a term referring to those huge movies that serve as anchors for a studio’s slate), and sadly, that focus excludes depictions of homosexuality and queerness.
Why is Hollywood so shy to go gay? At the movies, every decision is about the money, but even so, history suggests that studios should take a chance on an LGBTQ movie once in a while. While movies that specifically target queer audiences tend to lack box office traction – a certain level of camp turns off more casual movie-goers – certain prestigious titles break out, especially when they garner Oscar love. While not blockbusters by any stretch of the imagination, movies like The Kids Are All Right and Dallas Buyers Club are huge profit-makers: both quintupled their production budget in domestic grosses.
Brokeback Mountain was extremely buzzy upon release and considered edgy, given its release predated the surge of greater tolerance and acceptance the LGBTQ community has received in recent years. The modern classic grossed more than 150 million dollars worldwide, against a measly 14 million dollar budget (according to Box Office Mojo). That’s incredible.
And then there’s Frozen, Disney’s mega-hit animated musical that became one of the highest-grossing animated offerings from the House of Mouse. The tale of Elsa’s quest for self-acceptance versus society’s fear of the outsider can be read as a thinly veiled allegory for coming out of the closet. As such, Disney could claim Frozen as the highest-grossing LGBTQ movie ever. But of course they won’t, because who knows what outcry would ensue?
For now, queer stories on the big screen are left to specialty distributors, such as Sony Pictures Classics, which is releasing Ira Sachs’ latest gay romance, Love is Strange later this year. Other notable releases usually hail from other countries (this year’s well-received Stranger By the Lake, for instance), are little-seen documentaries (such as God Loves Uganda, about the plight of the LGBTQ community in the eponymous nation) or barely make it to theaters at all. Even James Franco’s involvement couldn’t help Interior. Leather Bar. make a splash earlier this year, though the hardcore quasi-documentary was never destined to be widely seen.
As the face of our country changes, we must be patient for Hollywood to catch up. Hopefully the days of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans characters being used as punchlines are largely behind us, though disgusting examples do still occur. Shedding bad habits doesn’t mean the show business bigwigs know how to treat our community, how to appeal to us, how to celebrate us or how to depict us. As tolerance increases and equality spreads, hopefully that progress will be reflected on the silver screen with more nuanced portrayals of sexual minorities. For now, Netflix and specialty theaters are the bastions of such cinema.
"Disney could claim Frozen as the highest-grossing LGBTQ movie ever."
| CLAYTON WALTER
GROWING UP IN A series of small, mostly white, conservative Midwest towns, I wasn’t exposed to the LGBTQ community for most of my childhood. The first out people I knew were a few guys who were brave enough to come out during high school; how they mustered the courage to do so, I’m not sure. At the time, bearing a Christian upbringing and boasting a cadre of friends from similar backgrounds, the thought of being out – and being proud of who I was – was less than a dream; it was an impossibility.
For many of my friends and families, homosexuality was almost like a fantasy, something they never came in contact with in their insular social circles in their small, church-going towns. It was conjured in nightmarish fashion from the pulpit and in the conservative media, like an illness one should consider him- or herself lucky to have not contracted, and more so, to have not come in contact with. Homophobia didn’t exactly run rampant, at least not in the aggressively hateful style of Westboro Baptist Church and their ilk. Instead, it was a passive, ignorant state of being: out of (immediate) sight, out of mind.
I’m a frequent visitor of PostSecret.com, a website where people anonymously send in postcards bearing their deepest secrets, which are then posted for the world to see. Most of the cards (posted every Sunday) land with a punch of emotion or humor, then quickly fade from memory. But one has always lingered in my mind: a postcard bearing the image of Mitch and Cam, gay characters on ABC’s hit comedy Modern Family, along with the following text: “These two characters cured my homophobia. Best thing that ever happened to me.
That secret has resonated with me, remained with me, because it speaks to the power of popular images. It’s easy to dismiss shows like Glee and Modern Family, both of which have fallen somewhat into predictable patterns after being on for many years. But both are brimming with positive messages about minorities, and that’s not a light burden. For people in small, heternormative towns where minorities of any sort are rare, these images of queerness can help to inform minds that might otherwise be warped by damning religious doctrine or hateful political stances.
These images tend to mostly crop up on television.Whereas LGBTQ movies often end in tragedy – whether it’s infidelity, illness or a retreat into the closet – television programs often embrace such characters and let them find their happy endings. And with viewers getting to know them more and more each week, social change can happen on an individual level. It’s an awesome thing to see.
And as viewers become more comfortable seeing LGBTQ characters on shows they love to watch, maybe they’ll even be emboldened to take a deeper dive with something like HBO’s new gay dramedy, Looking, which presents the gay community with astounding honesty and humor. Those glowing boxes in our living rooms are powerful things. I’m glad some creative types are using that power for good.
| Clayton Walter