Sarah Gough explores whether homosexuality is something that Hollywood has truly come to terms with.
Ellen Page’s emotive coming out speech at the Human Rights Campaign Time to Thrive Conference on Valentine’s Day was undoubtedly inspirational for many – most of all, for those struggling with and bullied for their sexuality.
This time, rather than an impregnated, hormonal teenager at the end of the burger-phone, it was Ellen Page, ‘the-girl-from-Juno’, standing up and speaking out as a gay woman. Her ballsy, for the want of a better word, affirmation of self allowed her to kill two prejudices with one stone, as she also made a massive swipe at Hollywood’s crushing standards of heteronormativity: “it’s weird, because here I am, an actress, representing, at least in some sense, an industry that places crushing standards on all of us…of beauty, of a good life, of success.”
She’s right, of course.
It is without question that the film industry, together with the media at large, provides boundless coverage of the beautiful, successful, white, heterosexual couple – coverage that wildly outstrips that of the white or black homosexual. We see this same heteronormative image again and again, over and over – in the cinema, in the paper, in the adverts, and after this sustained period of single-minded saturation, it is what we have come to refer to as “the norm”.
The Gay Test, modelled on the more widely known Bechdel Test, provides substantial evidence for the under-representation of the LGBTQ community by testing each film by a few requirements. In order to pass, the movie must: include two gay characters who interact in some way, do not offer sassy advice to the protagonist Kurt Hummel style, and are not dead by the end of the credits.
I’ll tell you now, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any Academy Award winning film to pass this test with flying colours.
In the highly acclaimed Brokeback Mountain (2005), one of the two gay male protagonists dies. In The Hours (2002), the only gay male character kills himself before AIDS does it for him. Theoretically, Black Swan (2010) passes with its infamous inclusion of a lesbian sequence between Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, but let’s bear in mind that it’s presented as a figment of the insane imagination. 2008 double Oscar winning film Milk stars Sean Penn as Harvey Milk – the real-life gay activist who became California’s first openly homosexual elected official – but he gets assassinated.
Whilst this year’s Oscar nominations include Philomena – a film about a mother’s search for her gay son, who also turns out to be dead. Along with Dallas Buyer’s Club, where Jared Leto, nominated for Best Supporting Actor, plays a trans woman with AIDS. To summarise, therefore, the film industry’s most successful pictures, if inclusive of homosexuality at all, represent it by death, impending death or insanity.
The Academy’s only real saviour is in its host: the wonderfully funny, openly gay, Ellen DeGeneres.
To hark back to the immortal words of the other Ellen: “too many dropouts, too much abuse, too many homeless, too many suicides”, a more diverse, representative media culture is a necessity. Many have criticised her speech, arguing that homosexuality should no longer have to be news, questioning why ‘coming out’ should still be of interest. Well, put simply, it needs to be of interest when we are still being manufactured, packaged up and sold this superficial image of “the norm” on our silver screens.
It needs to be of interest when we live in a world where the Vladimir Putin’s are empowered and passing anti-gay legislation. Where there is homophobia, homosexuality needs to be news and it needs to be championed by strong, public figures like Ellen Page. She prided the Human Rights Campaign’s core motivation: “the simple fact that this world would be a whole lot better if we just made an effort to be less horrible to one another” – a statement to which Hollywood, the media and poor, bigoted Vlad need to sit up and listen to.
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