Homophobia is undermining queer representation on our screens

Content warning: homophobia

In recent years, with critically-acclaimed box-office successes such as Blue is the Warmest Colour and The Favourite receiving wide recognition, it is clear that household titles are beginning to move away from the straight male narratives that have dominated our screens for so long onto a pathway of progression towards the representation of everybody else in the narrative spectrum. 

Of course, these films are still few and far between, not to mention often categorised by their queerness or their ‘statement’ against the ‘norm’, as well as being predominantly white (the ‘norm’ being the straight cis white man). 

In the 2018 UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report, the statistics, although having improved in terms of diversity, remain shocking: in 2015-2016 minority actors accounted for 13.9 per cent of film leads, and 8.1 per cent of film writers; women, 31.2 per cent of film leads and 13.8 per cent of film writers; and the study does not even touch on non-straight or non-cis representation. 

Moonlight may have won the Oscar for best film in 2017, but it was only after an initial announcement for La La Land, and it was, not surprisingly, the first film with an all-black cast and an a focus on LGBT+ issues to win the award. 

The struggle for representation for so many has been incredibly strenuous for so long, and these statistics only show that it continues to be. Yet, as we all know, these figures aren’t just figures – they are an amalgamation of the racism, sexism and homophobia that riddle our lives, declaring itself in the way our society still raises white straight male narratives above all others. 

During a casual conversation about Call Me By Your Name, a straight white man said to me recently: “I don’t mind gay people, I just don’t really want to see them on the TV.” This isn’t the first time somebody has said this to me, and I’m sure we’ve all heard statements like these before; ‘casual’ homophobic comments that remind us that gay marriage was only legalised in this country in 2014, a comment like one that might follow: “I’m not homophobic, but…” It might even be passed off with a smile or as a joke – ‘dinner-table’ talk. 

Not only does this actually mean: “I don’t like to see gay people” and thus “there is something wrong with being gay,” but it is drawing on the privilege of the straight white male narrative to say this: “I don’t want to see the stories, or the narratives, of gay people, because I don’t like or respect them.” And from this place of hate, there comes the debasement of love – because when you deny the rights of gay people, of trans people, of nonbinary people, of non-white people, of women, to be on screen, you are limiting the experiences of all of these people in seeing themselves on screen – you are denying people the right to look at the television in the way that straight white men do and go: “Oh, look! That person’s like me, I can relate to that person.” 

When you deny people the right to see themselves in the narratives they are constantly being fed, you are telling them their own narratives don’t matter. And that is destructive. 

Even with the figures of diversity remaining staggeringly low in the UCLA report, the conclusion remains: evidence suggests that America’s increasingly diverse audience (as I am sure is similar to the UK, whose cinemas show predominantly American films) prefer diverse film and television content. 

The success of The Favourite, of Moonlight, isn’t an accident – we want to see people that aren’t just straight white men – everybody else – on screen – and we’re paying to do so. And the more we go to see these films, the more we turn on similar shows, the more they will be produced and directed – the boredom of the male, pale and stale narrative will shift, and we’ll be able to experience not just one part, but the entirety of the narrative spectrum.

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