Queer Issues in LGBT Film Representation

Written by Mariah

Edited by Joaquin

Visual by Allison

In the past decade, queer characters have developed a media presence. We now see gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and other queer individuals on television and mainstream film. However, despite the progress in representation, LGBT characters are often portrayed with unrealistic stereotypes and biased character tropes. Perhaps you’ve heard of the gay best friend, the manly lesbian, or the psychotic bisexual who never discloses their sexuality. Or the queer character who’s just queer. This is where the film industry gets their representation wrong: they tend to centralize and stereotype a character’s sexuality or gender identity in the story.

While stories that focus on the character’s queerness promote awareness of the LGBT’s community’s status, it must not overshadow other aspects of their personality or the plot in general. For example, the award-winning rom-com “Love, Simon” does a great portrayal of embodying the anxieties of a closeted gay teen, but it does not characterize on other aspects the main character Simon, such as his ups and downs as a student. “Love, Simon” succeeded in its LGBT representation, but it did not create an original character arc different from those of heterosexual romance films. Although the appearance of queer characters earns a little check mark in the box of representation, it gets a negative point in its unauthenticity. Focusing on a character’s sexuality or gender identity doesn’t make them realistic. Meanwhile, stereotypical representation of queer personalities, such as the gay best friend in “My Best Friend’s Wedding” and the deceitful trans woman who sleeps with a straight man only for him to find out her true identity in “The Crying Game” causes more harm than good. Stereotypical representation can make queer individuals struggle with their identities as the media has ingrained in their minds that certain sexualities and gender identities fit in specific personality types.

Hence the importance of “casual inclusion”. To avoid inadequate and stereotyped representation, film industries must create queer characters with real feelings and personalities based on real life. Think about heterosexual characters – films can create multiple stories about them that don’t emphasize their heteronormative traits and relationships. Queer characters are as complex and nuanced as their straight counterparts. Film industries should have more LGBT writers, directors and film producers creating queer stories to improve adequate representation. For example, the 2016 winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture “Moonlight” features a heartfelt portrait of gay black identity, whose writer and director possessed that experience. Film industries should also ditch the consumer-pleasing strategies to only garner attention and instead learn to open up to the LGBT community, noting that films like “Love, Simon” and “Blockers” tripled their budgets in earnings.

To track the progress of LGBT representation in film, the non-governmental media organization GLAAD invented the Russo test, inspired by the Bechdel test and named after the organization’s founder. This asserts that the film must contain a character that identifies as LGBT but is “not solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity.” The character must also be essential to the plot “in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect on the story”. 13 of 20 LGBT-inclusive films in 2019 passed the Vito Russo Test, including “Rocketman” and “Booksmart”. GLAAD also called on major studios to ensure 20% of its annual releases include LGBTQ characters by 2021, and by 50% in 2024. “I’d like to see the needle move faster than it is, but some years it’s been a bit more of a struggle to try and find anything upcoming that audiences should know about or look forward to, so there is hope to be had with all the studios,” stated Megan Townsend, GLAAD’s director of entertainment research.

The film industry has a long way to go with its LGBT representation. Through representation, films can convey stories that will resonate with a group of people. While there are a number of great films where a character’s LGBT identity is central in the plot, we need more characters who are portrayed as more than just their sexuality or gender identity. Being queer is more than a personality trait – it’s a part of an individual’s identity.