Exeter, Devon UK • May 24, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Screen Pride of place: queer representation in film

Pride of place: queer representation in film

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Being John Malkovich (1999)

Released in 1999, the feature debut of both director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman, Being John Malkovich serves not only as a commentary on the nature of celebrity in modern American culture, but also as an analysis of sexuality and self.
These themes exist in Kaufman’s other films (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind debates the role of memories in a person’s identity), but never has his writing been more overtly queer than in Being John Malkovich. While it is hard to discuss the plot without spoiling it, it can be noted that the characters are as queer and lively as the plot of the film itself.
The premise of the film is about Craig’s (played by a dishevelled John Cusack) entanglement in a love triangle with his distanced wife (Cameron Diaz) and his attractive co-worker (Catherine Keener) after discovering a tunnel in his office which leads inside the head of actor John Malkovich (played by himself). It’s magical realism to the extreme; bizarre, hilarious, and somewhat disturbing.
It presents a unique opportunity to present queer identities in their most pure and abstract. The transgender metaphor here is obvious, especially as a later plot arc involves a cis-gendered female character utilising the Malkovich portal in an attempt at sexual liberation in a man’s body. Kaufman’s later work, Synecdoche, New York, deals directly with transgender issues, featuring characters that utilise acting and theatre to transition over the course of the film.
Being John Malkovich blends absurd imagery and concepts with characters that feel relatable and moments that feel inevitable. The movie brings you into its world with such determination that viewing it feels like crawling into the head of Kaufman himself.
Ryan Allen

‘Pride is hilarious and full of witty one liners, but then transitions into beautiful and poignant moments of powerful solidarity in the face of shared adversity’

Pride (2014)

THERE’S something so touching about Pride (2014). It’s the sort of film where you realise you are smiling and hadn’t even noticed. A combination of beautiful cinematography, carefully crafted by an artistic eye: vibrant colours, eighties outfits, the wealth of incredible characters – all recipes for a beautiful, one of a kind film.
Pride is hilarious and full of witty one liners, but then transitions into beautiful and poignant moments of powerful solidarity in the face of shared adversity – the need for friendship and finding a place you belong. It’s uplifting but real, funny, yet heartbreaking. There is a richness about each character, with so many storylines seamlessly weaved together. The depth in the multitude of personalities and backgrounds unite and lead to such touching encounters. An undercurrent of heartbreak runs throughout. Pride deals with the realities of life for the LGBTQ+ community in the 1980s in a realistic, tender way. It’s Bromley walking home in the half light, not realising what awaits him, his secrets laid bare on the kitchen table for all to see.
Watching Pride several years on feels a little like coming home. It’s a reminder that sometimes, against all odds, change comes a little at a time in the most unexpected ways, and that hope is always on the horizon. It’s a film that encourages you to stand up, and “have some pride”, whoever you are. Perhaps that’s why it stirs so much nostalgia, a message every sixteen-year-old needed to hear. It’s the cry of Gethen: “I’m in Wales and I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not”, to Jonathan encouraging Sian to do brave things with her life.
That beaten up yellow van, winding its way through those green hills, made history in so many ways.
– Lissy Webb

Aligarh (2015)

QUEER cinema in India is an underground phenomenon, one that is acknowledged, yet not spoken about in public for fear of breaking Section 377, the colonial law that criminalizes homosexuality. The treatment of LGBTQ+ people in India is a direct parallel to Indian queer cinema – trans hijras are forced into poverty, and those who identify as LGBTQ+ are tolerated, unless exposed as a member of the community. The film Aligarh tells the true story of one such exposure: the late Ramachandra Siras, a professor of poetry in the renowned Aligarh University outed for having a covert relationship with a male rickshaw driver.
Professor Siras, a sensitive man who loved poetry, had his house broken into and his personal life invaded by TV crews that filmed intimate moments with his lover. Yet instead of the film crews being arrested, Professor Siras was ousted from the university on grounds of “morality”, and a court case filed against him.
Technically, the film is beautiful. Wide Allahabad sunsets, open swathes of water, and almost romantic conversations between Bajpayee and Rajkummar Rao. Wide-angle shots are used to centre Bajpayee in a crowd, often highlighting the multitudes of dirty looks and sneers he received after he was outed. The dialogue is poetic, as Professor Siras’ own poetry is read out during montages.
The technical aspects emphasise the ugly subject matter: how the very visible, yet incredibly ignored, LGBTQ+ community in India is treated. The film was boycotted for its subject matter by the people whom would have benefitted the most by hearing it. As Professor Siras says, “how can you understand who a lover is, when you don’t understand love itself?”

– Neha Shaji, Features Editor

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