What a year. LGBTQ characters were quite prevalent, everywhere you turned, in movies, as in life. Some of the portrayals were less than flattering, but I didn’t hear many protests, mainly because we’ve come so far and gotten so much representation that we can afford some diversity in the way we’re shown. I happened to catch wind of the following gems, which I’ll separate by theme. (Some spoilers below.)
Can You Ever Forgive Me? stars Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel, a real-life misanthrope who broke up with her girlfriend (Anna Deavere Smith) because the woman actually wanted some human interaction. Alone and broke, Israel turns to lying, forgery, and devoting herself to her cat and her drunken partner in crime, Richard E. Grant, who plays the rare gay man who’s never heard of Fanny Brice. The long-running Mahanttan bar Julius makes a couple of appearances. In fact, that’s where Lee’s busted by the FBI after a letter she invented from British wit Noel Coward is way too revealing about his sexuality; you couldn’t be that open back then. In the film, McCarthy and Grant both play gays at the end of their rope and the bottom of the barrel, but they manage to bring humanity to their roles.
Meanwhile, some light forgery is nothing compared to flat-out murder. Lizzie had Chloe Sevigny as controversial socialite Lizzie Borden engaged in a raging passion with her servant, played by famed lesbian Kristen Stewart. Daddy, the rapist, finds their alliance “an abomination,” and you know what happens next. A classic true life story has been turned into a blood-soaked cry for understanding same-sex love.
The Suspiria remake starts with a young dancer complaining about a woman who is trying to get inside her, and concludes that a force will hollow her out and “eat my cunt on a plate.” Bon appetit! The resulting film is an orgy of choreographed estrogen, and even one of the very few male characters is played by a woman (Tilda Swinton, who’s been down this road before).
For more sympathetic characters, there was Disobedience (lesbianism among Orthodox Jews); Wild Nights With Emily (Molly Shannon as poet Emily Dickinson, who turns out to be feistily funny and subversive); Support The Girls (with Lea DeLaria as a butch lesbian customer at a titty-laden sports bar); All About Nina (there’s a helpful lesbian mystic played by Kate del Castillo and her girlfriend is played by lesbian actor Clea DuVall); Rafiki (a controversial Kenyan lesbian film); Anna and the Apocalypse (a lesbian character played by openly queer actor Sarah Swire dresses butch and is called “Annie Lennox” by a fellow student); and Juliet, Naked (Rose Byrne’s museum curator character has a lesbian sister).
And the acclaimed A Bread Factory (Part One & Part Two) has Tyne Daly and Elisabeth Henry as a married couple fighting to keep their local arts center open.
In the real-life political dramedy Vice, Dick Cheney finds out that his daughter Mary is a lesbian, which prompts the future vice president (a loving father) to opt out of stumping against same-sex marriage, though he feels “Dubya” Bush needs to do so to win certain states. But later on, Mary’s sister Lynn wages an anti-gay campaign and wins a position in Wyoming, as Mary fumes that she’s been betrayed, partly blaming what she assumes is her parents’ influence.
Wait, there’s more! Lez Bomb was about a young woman who comes home with her girlfriend for Thanksgiving and faces some challenges in coming out. (Alas, I got out after 30 minutes; way too cutesy.) Meanwhile, many assumed that in Oceans Eight, Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett’s characters were lesbian partners, but they denied it. Maybe in Oceans Eight and a Half?
Also, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom would have had a lesbian character, but some telling lines of dialogue were sliced. Daniella Pineda, playing a dinosaur veterinarian named Zia Rodriguez, originally said to Chris Pratt’s character that she admired his various physical traits, adding, “I don’t date men, but if I did, it would be you. It would gross me out, but I would do it.” But that dialogue became as extinct as the dinosaurs, and you were left to only guess that Zia liked the ladies.
In the dark comedy Tully, Charlize Theron plays a married (to a man) gal who turns out to have been with a woman for years, which makes things way more interesting. Similarly, in The Kindergarten Teacher, Maggie Gyllenhaal—as the frustrated title character who becomes insanely obsessed with a child poet–is asked if she likes women. “Occasionally,” she responds.
And in Colette, things are more than occasional. Keira Knightley is the famed French author who’s married to a dude, but romps around with a female lover and ends up with a woman who dresses like a guy. But the year’s wildest, and best, costume drama was The Favourite, in which Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) has her pick of two faux admirers/lovers—longtime friend Lady Sara (Rachel Weisz) and scheming new scullery maid, Abigail (Emma Stone), both of whom will gladly go down on her in order to lift up their own social standing. The result is not exactly empowering, seeing as gal-on-gal sex is used as a power play, but it’s still witty, eye popping, and lots of fun.
Coming of Age
This was a popular topic, partly because the parent-child dynamic is always relatable, and it gives talented young actors a chance to shine. We saw The Miseducation of Cameron Post (a gay conversion horror story—told with some humor—set in the ‘90s. Chloe Grace Moretz plays the gal who gets busted for having sex with the prom queen and is sent away, only to bond with her fellow queers); Boy Erased (more gay conversion, this one quite harrowing. Lucas Hedges is a preacher’s son who’s carted away for conversion, which he realizes is a deeply corrupt process, ultimately finding himself, with mom’s help. Troye Sivan costars and co-wrote/sings the song “Revelation”); A Kid Like Jake (Directed by Silas Howard, a trans man, this family drama has Jim Parsons and Claire Danes trying to absorb their four-year-old’s refusal to fit into their ideas of gender conformity); Love, Simon (Nick Robinson is a teen who comes to terms with his sexuality in this hit comedy); and We The Animals, an artistically rendered coming of age story for three brothers, the youngest of whom ends up wanting to kiss boys.
The horrifying early days of the epidemic were remembered in film, though the results usually seemed aimed at the squeamish. There was 1985 (a closeted gay man with AIDS returns home, though he’s in the early stages and his symptoms are barely noticeable); Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot (Jonah Hill plays a flamboyant AA sponsor who promotes faith and forgiveness while playfully calling his alcoholic subjects his “piggies.” He sadly comes down with AIDS, and his illness is dealt with in subtle strokes); and Bohemian Rhapsody (Rami Malek stars as the outrageous Queen singer Freddie Mercury—a semi-closeted type who’s clocked as gay, not bi, by the lady he’s initially involved with.)
In the film, Freddie develops AIDS and poignantly tries to wrap up the loose ends up his life. Chronologically skewed, the film shortchanges us on Freddie’s promiscuity and also is way too hinty about the ravages of the disease, but it has a lot going for it, including a terrific Malek, overbite and all. The result turned out to be the highest grossing queer film of all time. To complete the trend, a character in Can You Ever Forgive Me? (in the 1990s) also comes down with what you can call AIDS Lite. Can we ever forgive movieland?
They came in all shapes and sizes, from noble to lovable to weird. Joining the parade: Ideal Home (an uneasy gay couple raises a boy); I Feel Pretty (two “aging white men” rankle Amy Schumer); Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (There’s a very funny gay bit after the end credits—I won’t give it away); Crazy Rich Asians (Nico Santos is the flaming fashionista gay cousin–“the rainbow sheep of the family”—and it’s stereotypical, but at least out in the open); Instant Family (a gay couple appears in scenes involving the foster care process); and Sauvage (a French gay prostitute film that people walked out of at Cannes; there’s some rough sex in it.) As for real-life portraits, there was The Happy Prince (with Rupert Everett as legendary wit Oscar Wilde in his last, desperate days); Green Book (sexual oppression hits when two guys get busted in a southern YMCA in the 1960s); The Final Portrait (Armie Hammer plays the gay writer/aficionado friend of painter/sculptor Alberto Giacometti); the Argentinian film El Angel (about a real-life baby-faced serial killer, a film laced with homoeroticism and even gay sexual favors); and Mary Queen of Scots (Mary had a “Mary” of her own—a long-haired, gay BFF who she calls her “sister” and who sleeps with the guy who ends up being Mary’s husband. Complicated!)
There were documentaries about fabled designers (Alexander McQueen, McQueen) and sex procurers (Scotty Bowers, Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood). And in Will You Be My Neighbor?, the acclaimed doc about unorthodox childrens show host Mr. Rogers, we learn that Francois Clemmons, who played Officer Clemmons on the show, was once spotted at a gay bar and was told by Rogers not to go there again because the show would lose sponsorship and viewers. (This was in a very different time.) Still, Rogers was considered gay friendly, and at his funeral, marchers held signs that said lovely things like “God Hates Fags.”
“They were intolerant of his tolerance,” remarks a talking head in the film.
Speaking of that, in Welcome To Marwen, Steve Carell plays a womens-shoe fetishist who’s the victim of an anti-gay hate crime, though he’s actually straight (the story was inspired by a documentary about a real life cross dresser). In Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, an undercover cop pretends to hate “fags” to further infiltrate the gay-Jew-and-black-hating Klan. And in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the gays went totally undercover. Jude Law plays the gay Dumbledore, except he isn’t explicitly gay at all, to the disappointment of J.K. Rowling fans. Dummie’s former relationship with Grindelwald is hinted at a few times, but that’s it. Should this have been subtitled The Liar, The Witch, and The Closet? In response, Law said that people are ready for a gay Dumbledore, though he also feels that Rowling takes her time in uncovering characters. And let’s face it, there will be at least six of these Beasts.
In more immediate news, Jack Whitehall will play a gay character in Disney’s The Jungle Cruise. It gives “cruise” new meaning.
The wildly popular A Star Is Born remake has Lady Gaga singing at a drag bar where Shangela presides and performer Willam Belli gets Bradley Cooper to sign his fake boobs. Says Gaga’s character, Ally, “It’s an honor to be one of the gay girls!” I guess she really is an ally.
So is Dolly Parton; in Dumplin’, a plus-sized girl goes to a Dolly impersonator drag show, where the queens encourage her to enter a beauty pageant. Sissy that walk, dumplin’!
Girl, nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globes, is a Belgian movie about a young ballerina transitioning to female. The role is played by a boy. But Scarlett Johansson is not doing the opposite feat (playing a female to male transgender person). Scarlett got cast as a real-life trans man in the movie Rub & Tug, and in response to controversy about it, her rep said people should simply refer to comments made by the reps of other cis actors who’ve played trans parts like Jeffrey Tambor, Felicity Huffman, and Jared Leto. The Twitterverse was appalled by that deflection, so anger mounted and Scarlett ended up dropping out due to the controversy. Here’s hoping the project moves forward with a trans actor. No, I don’t feel that leading trans characters always have to be played by trans actors—but once in a while would be nice!