June is Pride Month, and with everything happening in America right now, Pride feels more important than ever. The intersection of Black Lives Matter protests and Pride marches all across the country are a clarion call to the reality we can no longer afford to marginalize groups of people and treat them as the other. They are America and we have to start hearing and telling their stories.
One of the greatest ways of stepping into someone else’s story, connecting with their experience, is through the medium of film. Queer stories have always been told in cinema, but the past decade has found an explosion of stories in both movies and TV about the queer experience. The LGBTQ+ community isn’t a monolith, but a spectrum, and some of the most interesting writing in film criticism right now is coming from writers whose sexuality and/or gender are fluid or, at the very least, not heteronormative. Here are some great pieces from LGBTQ+ film critics.
1. George M. Johnson – Pride Is And Always Was About Rebellion, This Year More Than Ever
But first, let’s kick it off with a piece not about movies or film criticism, but about the Pride movement itself. Even before the Stonewall riots, to be queer was to be a rebel. Activist George M. Johnson breaks down how queer and trans Black folk have always been at the forefront of the civil rights movements of two different worlds, both for the Black community and for the LGBTQ+ community, though they’re often marginalized in both:
“As celebrities, the government, liberals, and conservatives continue to condemn the protesters currently fighting against police brutality and the systems that breed it, we must lean into history and how it guides us. Looting is not the issue. You can’t destroy “your own city” in a place you never felt like you belong. Property can be replaced. George, Tony, Breonna, and Ahmaud cannot. As people who were once deemed property, I’ll be damned if anyone tells us that we are less than that ever again. “
2. Leigh Monson – Queer Underworld: Swamp Thing (1982)
For those uninitiated to the world of LGBTQ+ writing, “queering” (short for “queer reading”) is the act of taking a text or film and analyzing it through the lens of its queer subtext. Leigh Monson’s excellent Queer Underworld column over at BMD takes a look at genre movies through this lens. Their piece on 1982’s Swamp Thing puts an intriguing spin on the camp film:
“Swamp Thing is a marriage of masculine force and feminine compassion, a protector rather than an attacker. When Alice flees the paramilitary forces with the last-surviving notes detailing the Holland’s formula, it’s Swamp Thing who fends off the soldiers. But Swamp Thing is initially feared and shunned, not only by those he combats, but by Alice herself, who fails to understand how this radically different being could be the same flirtatious scientist she met only a day prior. This is how coming out can feel, particularly for those with the privilege of socially passing as straight or cisgender.”
3. Valerie Complex – 5 Queer Movie Tropes That Need To Be Retired Immediately
Hollywood…tries. Well, sort of. Unfortunately, so much representation of marginalized groups end up falling prey to stereotypes, with writers and directors using tired tropes as shorthand, creating stock queer characters rather than well-rounded characters with nuance and a wealth of lived experience. Valerie Complex writes about a handful of these LGBTQ+ movie tropes that need to get gone:
“You know this one. The gay characters who are sure to be the comic relief with a great sense of fashion and heavily into or employed in the arts: musical theater, acting, dancing, or hair, and makeup. These characters usually exist in a world of mostly straight people and serve to further the story arc of the straight protagonist and don’t have any agency outside of that. The gay friend/family member is typically reserved for men, and Mrs. Doubtfire provides the perfect example of this. “
4. Megan Logan – Crisis Of Visibility: Why Queer Character Deaths Always Matter
If we want to talk about queer representation on screen, then another trope that needs to be retired is the Bury Your Gays trope. Similar to the Women In Refrigerators trope, lesbian and bisexual characters are killed off in television in spades, their tragic ends meant to clear a path to straight protagonists having their happy ending. Megan Logan writes about why this is so damaging and why it needs to stop:
“For many audiences, character deaths are impactful, but for LGBT audiences, the death of a queer character can be striking blow that shatters one of the few existing examples of meaningful representation and leaves fans hurt and angry. It leaves fans searching for another show. Many went to The Walking Dead. That didn’t turn out so well. And so it’s onto the next one, and the pickings are slim.”
5. Drew Gregory – I Didn’t Understand ‘Gone Girl’ Until I Was A Woman
None of us ever view a film without some bias. It’s unintentional, but the experiences we’ve accumulated because of gender, race, family, social setting, trauma, etc. color how we watch a movie. In a movie that so uniquely speaks to being a woman in the world as Gone Girl, it’s almost impossible to fully grasp the nuance of it unless you are yourself a woman. Drew Gregory writes about how her relationship to the film changed once she realized he true gender identity and came out as a woman:
“Like Amy, I tried to live up to an ideal. Like Amy, I always fell short of amazing.
The echoes of gender dysphoria I sensed all my life sharpened when I began my transition. It felt like I, too, was living a life parallel to an alternate perfection. Instead of a children’s book character I had my fantasy of a self who’d come out earlier, who no longer had a beard, or who’d never even grown one; a self who knew how to put on makeup and didn’t bleed every time she shaved her legs. It’s not just that Amy and I failed to live up to Stepford womanhood. It’s that we didn’t even want it in the first place. It feels especially awful to fail at a desire that isn’t your own.”
6. Tre’Vell Anderson – How A Straight Man Is Telling Well-Rounded Queer Stories In Hollywood
Just as it’s important to get white people to start talking about race and racism and being more compassionate and inclusive in the stories they tell about Black people and people of color, it’s just as important for hetero and cisgender writers and filmmakers to tell queer stories with equal compassion and depth. Tre’Vell Anderson explores how Barry Jenkins is doing just that:
“The play, however, unlike the film, wasn’t triptychly structured. Rather, it played out in a circular motion with life happening for the youngest, middle and oldest versions of the character all at once. (Imagine a kid waking up and brushing his teeth, followed by his adolescent self and adult self doing the same actions.) Jenkins took this foundation, which couldn’t be filmed, and turned it into Moonlight, and though he is not gay, he was able to convey and maintain the most intimate parts of McCraney’s story.”
7. Reyna Cervantes – ‘Assasination Nation’ And The Fear Of Existing As A Girl In The Modern World
Being a girl in the world is tough. We’re constantly sexualized, subject to sexual harassment and assault in overwhelming numbers, paid less to do more, both undermined and held to a double standard in ways big and small. This is even more complicated when you’re a trans girl or nonbinary, especially one that presents as femme, writes Reyna Cervantes in her exploration of Assassination Nation.
“Social media regularly puts violence and sex at our fingertips for better or worse. We live in an age where heinous acts are live streamed, sexual “alt” accounts are far more common and tweets are held against their authors. Social media gives everyone a voice but some awful people still wish to see those voices silenced. Assassination Nation doesn’t sugarcoat the possible negative effects of today’s social climate by presenting us with a violent, over the top portrayal of social media at its core and the possible violence and hostility that stems from it.”
8. Danielle Ryan – Let Us In: On Horror Inclusivity
The horror community can be incredible. The LGBTQ+ community has naturally gravitated to horror for decades as the standard-bearer genre for outcasts, the ostracized, the weird, the lonely, and the queer. But inclusion must evolve and in 2020, the horror community can feel as elitist and exclusionary as any gatekeeping crowd in geek fandoms. Danielle Ryan writes about how the horror community needs to do some soul-searching to become a truly inclusive community of fans and cinephiles:
“We do understand. We’ve been here all along: queer horror fans, horror fans of color, horror fans with disabilities, and female horror fans. We’ve watched the same VHS of Evil Dead II so many times that our VCR eventually chewed it up and spit it out. We’ve cried over lost heroes of the community. We’ve inked iconography from our favorite horror onto our skin. We love horror and we’ve always loved horror, and we’re tired of feeling like the horror community doesn’t have any love for us. Many have been afraid to speak out for fear of ostracization or worse.”
9. Allie Gemmill – Let’s Talk About Why It’s Time For A Non-Binary Revolution At The Movies
Transgender and nonbinary people aren’t a new thing. Various cultures throughout history have revered them as spiritual advisors or a respected third gender. Our own history books are full of stories of men who lived as women and women who lived as men. The difference is that in recent years, trans and enby folks are living their truth openly and bravely. Allie Gemmill writes about how Hollywood must start reflecting what is reality for a growing number of people and portray more nonbinary characters:
“If movies are meant to be an extension of or mirror to the world we exist in on a daily basis, then how could it be anything less than expected that I would call for better non-binary representation onscreen? This is a reality. This is my lived reality. This is the lived reality of so, so many people and we come to the table with a variety of experiences related to our non-binary identity — a fundamental part of who we are. The real kicker (and you’ll find this is the case with many folks who aren’t cis, straight, white, and/or male) is that my experience as a non-binary person is not the same as the next non-binary, agender, genderfluid, genderqueer, or other gender non-conforming person you meet. “
10. Doctor Jon Paul – From ‘Blackbird’ To ‘Moonlight’: Black Queer Men Are More Than Enough
If queer folks are marginalized and Black people are, too, then queer Black folks get the worst of it. Black trans women are particularly susceptible to violence, being assaulted or murdered in sobering numbers. But Black men have their own unique challenges, and lives that are fully lived. Unfortunately, as Doctor John Paul writers, the stories of Black queer men told in movies are usually those of the struggle or tragedy. He argues it’s time to see some happiness because Black queer men and their lives are enough:
“When celebrating these films, we must take into account how each of these storylines feeds into the problematic rhetoric that all queer black men are somehow fragile and fragmented. Though it is important for me as a queer black man to see my story represented in films like Blackbird and Moonlight, it is also important for filmmakers to explore the positive lived experiences that queer black men have.”
11. Alice Collins – How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ Again
Sometimes, when we’re struggling with expressing or identifying something deep within ourselves, whether it’s a problem we’re grappling with or coming to the realization that we are not the gender we were assigned at birth, the unknowable thing can be clarified by seeing a version of it on screen. Movies can provide us with the answers to questions we ask even before we know what we’re asking. For Alice Collins, that movie was The Rocky Horror Picture Show and that question was whether or not it was okay to live how she wished as a trans woman:
“The first depiction of a trans person I ever saw was Frank. I never thought they were freaky or weird. They looked like fun, and I enjoyed that they didn’t care what anyone else thought and how they were unabashedly themselves. I thought it was so cool and wanted to be like that: giving zero cares as to what anyone thought of me. It gave me strength to grow a thicker skin and try more things out of the ordinary; I looked up to Frank. For the longest time before seeing the movie I’d always wished I could switch between gender at will and it was really cool to see someone who could at least on the surface do so before my eyes.”
12. Kristy Puchko – Review: ‘Portrait Of A Lady On Fire’ Is A Must-See Marvel
It’s so rare to see queer romances told with such tenderness and fullness on screen that when a movie like Portrait of a Lady on Fire comes along, it feels like a blessing. Kristy Puchko writes about how profoundly moved and impacted she was by the powerful portrayal of a lesbian romance that is authentic and offers both compassion and passion for its characters:
“My breath caught in my throat, choked but ecstatic. My skin erupted into goosebumps, making the fine hair on my arms stand on end, scratching at the denim of the jacket the covered them. My scalp felt electrified, as if every hair with pulsing with the music, a classical concerto I’ve heard a million times before feel like a spontaneous miracle. The physical pleasure of this elation raced down to the ends of my toes, curling them reflexively. This is the effect the final scene of Portrait of a Lady on Fire had over me. I was overcome and astonished, experiencing the full-bodied enthrallment of the enraptured woman, who held the final frame with a riveting yet effortless intensity.”
13. Daniel Reynolds – The True Story Behind ‘Out,’ Pixar’s Groundbreaking Gay Short Film
Pixar has always been a groundbreaking company, not just for how it pushes the boundaries in animation, but also for the stories it tells. Their beautiful short, Out, the first Pixar film to feature a gay lead character, debuted on Disney+ to acclaim. Daniel Reynolds interviewed writer-director Steven Clay Hunter on the process of making such an important short and the outpouring of love it received:
“Out was one of the films released on Disney+ as part of Pixar’s SparkShorts series. Hunter began work on it two years ago, and as he brainstormed ideas for a topic, his mind kept coming back to coming out. ‘I needed to process, you know. But it means to hide who you are. That lingers,’ he said.
In creating Out, Hunter looked outside of his own story. He spoke with friends and other gay men about their experiences. He was struck by how different they all were.
‘There’s so many positive ones, there’s so many negative ones, there’s so many right in between,’ Hunter said. ‘There are people that are still struggling with it, even at my age.'”
14. Trace Thurman & Joe Lipsett (Horror Queers Podcast) – Hellbent (2004)/Killer Unicorn (2018) feat. Sam Wineman
Not all criticism is the written word. Some of the best breakdown and analysis of film from queer critics is in the podcast world. To kick off Pride Month, Trace Thurman and Joe Lipsett had a special episode of their Horror Queers podcast where they explored queer slasher films Hellbent and Killer Unicorn with their special guest, Sam Wineman, the director of Shudder’s upcoming documentary on the history of queer horror.
15. Gayly Dreadful – Pride 2020 Content
Last but not least, the Gayly Dreadful team is churning out a bunch of content for Pride 2020, so it’s worth clicking the link above to read through it all. But the most important thing is the month-long fundraiser they’re doing for The Trevor Project, a non-profit organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention support services to LGBTQ+ youth under the age of 25.
To donate to Gayly Dreadful’s fundraiser for The Trevor Project, click the button below:
Who are some of your favorite LGBTQ+ film critics and writers?