It won’t come as much of a shock to anyone with an interest in film for me to say that the industry, generally speaking has a problem. It’s a problem rooted in archaic values and borne from old fashioned prejudices that, even in 2015, just don’t seem to go away.
The problem I’m talking about is once again, the diversity and range of Hollywood and beyond. Despite this year being the tenth anniversary of the release of the critically acclaimed gay romance Brokeback Mountain, it seems as though the number and style of LGBT representations on film is still not quite as progressive as we’d like it to be.
On the surface it’s easy for the casual observer to gloss over the size of this issue. Superficially, the LGBT community has been represented fairly and consistently over the last few years on the big screen. Both Pride, a film that directly deals with the gay rights movement and The Imitation Game, which features a gay protagonist were box office successes last year. On top of this, the Toronto Film festival also saw an impressive rise in the number of LGBT films that were being screened at this year’s festival, over 20, almost twice as many as were included in the 2014 festival’s selection.
But when we look at the numerical figures, the actual reality of how far LGBT characters and LGBT concerns are marginalised in Hollywood is pretty astonishing, even today. A study undertaken by the University of Carolina recently examined 700 films made between 2007 and 2014 and found that only 0.4% of the films they looked at included an LGBT main character. As well as this, researchers noted that very few gay characters were portrayed as being in a healthy relationship, rather the subject of the films usually featured persecution, betrayal or dysfunctional relationships.
Very few gay characters were portrayed as being in a healthy relationship
And this for me, this is where the real issue lies. At the heart of the problem is not just the numerical point that there aren’t enough movies depicting LGBT characters being made, or enough LGBT actors and directors supported and being praised for their work. The first thing that needs to be altered, before anything else is likely to change, is the way in which these concerns and characters are presented to us in the first place. As useful as a film like Pride is in challenging and highlighting prejudice that still exists in the film industry, it’s still a film that makes the sexuality of the characters the film’s primary focus.
To a certain degree it still pushes a mainly heterosexual audience into thinking of these pictures as being ostensibly ‘gay’ movies. What should be encouraged and what I’d love to see more of is for this to not be the focal point of films made about the LGBT community. Why don’t we see many films that show us, quite simply, a relationship between two human beings that features love, loss, betrayal and heartbreak, common elements that we seem to take for granted in movies about straight people, elements that are desperately lacking in the majority of LGTB representations on screen?
Of course, it would be ignorant to simply ignore the problems that do clearly still exist in the film industry, and indeed the world today, but does this have to overshadow the rest of the film, and the other interesting and touching themes that could also be explored in more detail? Besides this, does sexuality itself even need to always be the focus of every film about LGBT characters that is made? Off the top of my head, I can’t name a lot of action movies that have written in a gay protagonist, for example.
This isn’t to say that there have been no films made recently that have represented an LGBT relationship in a progressive way. The wonderful Blue is the Warmest Colour, for example, is a French film that depicts a teenage girl’s journey into sexual maturity. Though some of the characters struggle with homophobia, and prejudice is mentioned as part of the context of the film, I wouldn’t say it’s a film that gets too bogged down in this detail. What’s so great about Blue is the realism and beauty of how the relationship between the two girls, Adele and Emma blossoms and grows, and the electricity and chemistry of the two actresses in the movie. The problem is that Blue is an exception to the rule, rather than the rule itself.
Film is a medium that can, and should challenge societal injustice, but sometimes the best course of action isn’t necessarily the obvious, direct one. Let’s have more characters struggling in love, stumbling through life, failing at everything, disappointing themselves, and generally being lame, but maybe sometimes they don’t have to be straight. Maybe straight doesn’t have to always be the default option.