By Megan Evans
Queer cinema has evolved significantly over the past 50 years, as an attempt to cultivate the mainstream cinema and to raise awareness of the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community. As the movement has made sharing explicitly queer engagements much more acceptable, performances across major films highlight the breakthrough of ‘gay cinema’, with the term coined by B. Ruby Rich in Sight & Sound magazine, not only through white communities, but also of colour. The term was established as an inclusive way of describing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender identities and defining sexuality that is fluid and subversive of traditional understanding and norms.
Most of these films share themes that involve the rejection of heteronormativity and being out cast from society and normalising this new empowered time. Work such as Leontine Sagan’s Madchen in Uniform, a 1931 German film portrayed an early representation of lesbian cinema which was banned when the Nazis came into power due to the unrequited nature of homo-eroticism. The film revolves around the passionate love of a young school girl for her teacher, and continued to be heavily censored post war. This was a standing point for film to portray not only the hardship of the struggle for acceptance in a judgemental and brutal world, but to also romanticise and show this passion in a light that is equal to heteronormative relationships.
Attempts were made for queer films to become more dominant in the film industry, with films portraying the experiences of people of colour becoming significantly prevalent towards the end of the twentieth century. A major example being Paris is Burning from 1990 as the ultimate breakthrough for the black, gay, and transgender community as it is considered an invaluable documentary for the exploration of sexuality, race and gender in America, which sparked major controversy. The film alters between interviews and vibrant dance sequences, exposing the complex issues and drawing together the community, celebrating this through legendary voguers, drag queens and trans-women. Another example is Moonlight (2016), a tender yet heart-wrenching tale of a young African American man’s struggle of grasping his sexuality through the pain and beauty of falling in love through the different chapters of his life. Not only does it show the absence of a father figure, it highlights various different perspectives of masculinity. It shows us a representation of a young man of colour and the layers of evolutionary development from bullying to a new found sense of self-acceptance and self-worth.
Another film which presents the struggles of the gay culture is Brokeback Mountain (2006). It tells the story of two lonely men who develop a romantic relationship, facing many complications when they both marry their respective girlfriends in a time encompassing heavy repression. The movie won 3 Academy Awards and was regarded as a stepping stone for the advancement of queer cinema to mainstream attention. It engages with the audience in an empathetic way to transform the stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes about homosexuality, a place where internalised homophobia killed the soul of a lover, and externalised ended the other. The film relies on metaphors to convey the experience through visuals and creates an artistry of inarticulateness. As time progressed, gay cinema became more normalised as it was given a platform to highlight all the empowering and tender experiences of queer identities, as seen in Call Me By Your Name (2017), a delicate and transformative love story between an American-Italian Jewish boy and American Jewish student, set in Italy 1983. It filled the purpose of a transmission of knowledge for different generations to consider, an unbiased, uncynical and heartbreaking beauty of first love. It was positioned at the edges of the mainstream, and doesn’t hold as much authentic representation due to the casting of straight actors in the roles of queer men, and the absence of explicit male nudity. Despite gaining a respectable position in the cinematic industry, the history of moral censorship and queer cinema doesn’t reject the formal conceits associated with heterosexual romance, and enforces lustful vibrancy through the works of Andy Warhol and Jean Genet.
All of the films in the queer field are welcomed with critical acclaim and appreciated by audiences that have watched a number of these films and informed by the legacy of New Queer Cinema from the 80’s and onwards. Comparing the queer identities across them is hugely unrequited due to the shifting of norms and integration of privileged identities into mainstream society, and creates a generation of new ideas within the queer community and the stark differences between treatments of white identities and people of colour.