moonlight_2016_film

Queer Classics: “Moonlight” (2016)

After waiting impatiently for several weeks for Moonlight to make its way to Syracuse, it finally arrived, and I have to say:  this is one hell of a film. Though it was not what I expected, that does not mean that I didn’t enjoy it. Indeed, it’s probably the best film that I’ve seen this year (as cliché as that sounds).

A meditative and aesthetically sophisticated film such as this one is notoriously difficult to summarize in terms of plot, but in broad strokes it is a coming-of-age story told in three parts. Each segment of the film opens with a simple word:  Little, Chiron, Black, each representing a stage in the main character’s evolution. Throughout, he has to contend with the broken relationships that characterize his life, from his drug-addled mother Paula to his love interest and childhood companion Kevin. Throughout, he seems to struggle with a profound sense of alienation and isolation from the world around him, though he does experience brief moments of genuine human warmth, particularly when he meets Teresa and Juan (Janelle Monáe and the inimitable Mahershala Ali, respectively), who provide him some measure of stability and genuine human caring.

This is a profoundly intimate film, both in terms of its narrative–which remains wedded to Chiron’s perspective throughout–but also in terms of its cinematography. The camera remains sometimes perilously close to its principals, wedding us to their perspective in a sometimes physically unsettling intimacy. It’s not so much that the spectator necessarily feels that they are necessarily there; instead, it’s a feeling of being physically connected to the characters.

Thus, it is precisely this visceral closeness that allows us as viewers to get a sense of how important touch is to Chiron’s sense of himself. It is through his body that Chiron manages to escape his profound sense of loneliness and alienation. The film also pays particular attention to fluid, and there are two scenes in which semen plays a prominent role, and each time the camera pays attention to the contact between the body and the fluid, a surprisingly sensuous (and not prurient) attention to the powerfully erotic pleasures of the flesh.

It is through his body that Chiron–chronically silent and taciturn–manages to express himself. Indeed, it is precisely touch that gives him his one truly meaningful and intense connection with another person, when he and Kevin share an erotic experience on the beach. Unfortunately, the flip side of that dynamic is that Kevin is later manipulated by schoolyard bullies into beating up his erstwhile friend, a bitter experience that deeply scars both young men. However, there is no question that it is Chiron who bears the deepest psychological wounds, scarred both by his friend’s betrayal and by his mother’s obvious homophobia.

As Black, he appears muscle-bound and gruff, and the film makes it clear that this emphasis on increasing his bodily mass and strength are his responses to his troubling youth and to the impotence he felt throughout those formative years. Tormented by those around him for his perceived queerness, he has turned to using his body as a shield against a world that seems determined to crush and beat the “softness” out of him. The camera lingers on his musculature and on his mannerisms, demonstrating again and again that the formerly shy and meek youth who finally broke when betrayed by his friend has transformed into a hardscrabble drug dealer on the streets of Atlanta. Beneath that, though, one can still see glimmers of Little and of Chiron, a yearning for the intimate human connection that he has all-too-infrequently found in his life.

Though the film is, for the most part, deliberately paced, it is punctuated by moments of emotional release and satisfaction, as when Chiron takes a chair and brutally attacks the bully who incited Kevin’s act of violence. It is an intensely satisfying moment (as evidenced by the woman beside me in the theater, who cheered quite loudly at that particular moment). These moments, like their more tender counterparts, enable a feeling of bodily empathy with Chiron, allowing us to experience a similar moment of embodied empowerment, a reclamation of agency that has been consistently denied him.

The performances, of course, are the emotional heart of the film. As any good student of film knows, casting can either make or break even the most well-written of films, and in this case the actors are uniformly excellent. Though it is easy to despise Chiron’s mother Paula for her by turns brutal and manipulative treatment of her only child, Naomie Harris brings a certain tragic pathos to the role, imbuing the character with alternately frantic energy and depthless despair. While she is not the main focus of the narrative, she does nevertheless show her own development as a character, moving from an absent-minded if loving mother to a gradually more abusive and manipulative drug addict. However, even she is not beyond redemption, and the scene in which Black finally has the chance to offer his mother forgiveness is one of the most wrenching in the film.

The three actors who portray Chiron each deserve accolades, for each brings something distinct to the table, allowing us to see the shifts in his perspective as he grows up. Alex Hibbert, who plays Little, is that oh-so-rare gem, a child actor who has genuine depth and complexity. For his part, Ashton Sanders (who plays Chiron’s teenaged self) brings a certain tortured reserve to a youth plagued by his own personal demons, his fledgling desires, and the aimlessly malevolent taunts of many of his classmates.

It is Trevante Rhodes, however, who really steals the show as Black, Chiron’s final iteration. This is, in many ways, the most inscrutable and mysterious of the character’s iterations and for that reason it is the most compelling. All of Chiron’s past traumas seem to roil beneath the surface of clenched exterior. As we learn during his reunion and rapprochement with Kevin (played as an adult by André Holland, who brings a certain frantic, almost desperate, energy to the character), no man (nor anyone else) has touched him since their erotic encounter on the beach. Black is a man who has struggled, and never quite succeeded, in finding a place in an unfeeling world. His eventual physical reunion with Kevin, in which he at last finds physical connection, is a powerful affirmation of his journey to fulfillment.

Moonlight remains a haunting film precisely because it is so piercing in its glimpse into Chiron’s psyche. Growing up a queer of color in America remains a struggle for many, and it is especially acute for men, for whom the burdens of traditional masculinity are sometimes almost too much to bear. Indeed, the screenwriter, Tarell Alvin McCraney has spoken eloquently on those burdens, and his acute sensibilities for the particular struggles faced by black men have found their way into the script and the characters that inhabit this world.

What strikes me the most about the queerness of this film, however, is how unspoken it remains. It writhes beneath the surface of the narrative, a key component of Chiron’s identity, yet one which he rarely explicitly expresses. It emerges in some of the most unlikely moments, as when he has his erotic encounter with Kevin, and when he later dreams about him before their fateful reunion that concludes the film. It is a poignant reminder of how queerness–tender, beautiful, sensuous–can provide meaningful connection and intimacy in even the bleakest and most unfriendly of worlds.

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Queer Classics: “Carol” (2015)

Warning:  Spoilers for the film follow.

Some might consider it a bit premature to declare Todd Haynes’ film Carol a queer classic, but if the reviews are anything to go by, this new film will surely earn a place alongside the director’s finest work as part of the New Queer Cinema of the 1990s.  And as I can personally attest, it fully deserves the lavish praise it has so far received.

Based on acclaimed novelist Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 novel The Price of Salt, the film tells the haunting and evocative story of the unexpected but passionate romance that develops between quiet store clerk Therese (Rooney Mara) and wealthy soon-to-be-divorcee Carol (Cate Blanchett).  While Therese struggles with her newly-awakened feelings of same-sex desire, Carol desperately attempts to maintain custody of her daughter Rindy during her bitter divorce from Harge (Kyle Chandler).  After Carol and Therese escape for a passionate weekend in Chicago, they must both decide whether their romance has the makings of something richer, deeper, and much more perilous.

As a number of other reviewers have noted, Haynes has a well-earned reputation for well-crafted films that tend to keep viewers at an intellectual distance.  Far From Heaven, for example, is an absolutely exquisite film, but its pastiche, like that of the 1950s Sirk melodramas upon which it is based, keeps us at arm’s length.  We are constantly invited to recall the repressive atmosphere of the 1950s, to contrast (and compare) that time to our own.

This film is also concerned with the repressive nature of 1950s American culture, as Carol’s liaisons with women endanger her custody of her daughter.  It is precisely because Carol has so much affective richness and resonance that it connects at a much deeper emotional level than the similarly themed Far From Heaven.  We understand that this is a world where the desire between women is strongly forbidden, and so there is always a faint feeling of anxiety underlying the romance.  This, in turns, makes the romance all the sweeter and more poignant, for we come to see the love as always existing in a state of precariousness, always subject to the possibility of discovery.

I have always been one of Cate Blanchett’s most ardent admirers, and this film has solidified my love.  Like the greatest actresses of classic Hollywood, Blanchett has the extraordinary ability to convey both strength and vulnerability, and these traits come to the fore as she portrays Carol.  Through Blanchett, Carol becomes both the object and the subject of desire, striving against the repressiveness of the society in which she lives to attain fulfillment in her life (the allusion to psychotherapy, while brief, is immensely troubling).  And Rooney Mara is simply delightful as the slightly elfin Therese, a young woman who chafes at the restrictions imposed upon her by both her gender and her class.

While Sarah Paulson for the most part hovers at the edges of the narrative as Carol’s best friend and former lover Abby, she turns in a wonderful performance as a woman who clearly loves Carol deeply.  The scene in which she confronts an angry Harge and denounces him for his failures as a husband is rousing, and her tenderness toward the bewildered Therese in the wake of Carol’s abrupt return to New York is touching.  Paulson, like her fellow actresses in this film, manages to imbue her character with charm, strength, and vulnerability.

At the formal level, the film showcases Haynes at the height of his powers, with a remarkable attention to lush and exquisite detail.  However, in this film the appearance is always at the service of the film’s emotional core, rather than the other way around.  The attention to detail, both in terms of the mise-en-scene and the cinematography, always acts as a slightly mannered surface to the fervent passions that always exist beneath the surface.  And the sex scene, which could have been salacious or trashy, is instead the culmination of the desire that has so long simmered beneath the surface, repressed by both the culture and the film itself.  It is truly one of the finest, and most erotic, depictions of same-sex desire I have seen in a film.

It’s been a long time since I have been touched so deeply by a queer film.  Actually, I would say that Brokeback Mountain was the last such film to do so (which says a great deal about the perils and unfulfilled promise of mainstream acceptance).  Now, I am glad to say that, 10 years later, I can now add another film to that list.  There is so much else I could say about this film, but I won’t spoil the ending for you, but if you don’t emerge with tears in your eyes (or just downright bawling) at the end of this film, then you should begin to doubt your humanity.

Score:  10/10

Mourning, Melancholy, and “Paris is Burning”

I recently taught Jennie Livingston’s famous documentary Paris is Burning to a group of undergraduates.  As I was watching the film, a number of realizations struck me at once:  most of my students were not born when the film was released, let alone shot (1990 and the 1980s, respectively); the particular iteration of the subculture brought to life in the documentary has faded into history; many of the participants are also no longer with us.  These realizations, commonsensical as they may seem, struck me with a particularly intense force, evoking a profound sense of melancholy that has haunted me frequently of late as I have begun to think about the ways in which contemporary gay politics, and gay culture more generally, seems determined to forget the eras that preceded the present.

In some ways, such deliberate amnesia is completely understandable.  It’s no secret that the 20th Century was, in many ways, incredibly homophobic, and LGBT people lived precarious lives, with the threat of death and violence never far away.  Indeed, part of what makes Paris is Burning such a powerful and evocative film is that it manages to capture that, showing us a world in which parody and irony are a means of coping with a world that cares little for the lives of the poor, people of colour, or LGBT folks (or, gasp, someone who occupies all three positions simultaneously).  The death of Venus Xtravaganza, briefly yet viscerally alluded to in the film, serves as a potent reminder of just how fragile queer life was (and remains).  The film continually asks:  how do you cope with life, knowing that it can be snuffed out at any moment?  That question is just as pertinent, and just as difficult to answer, now as it was then.

Though I am, by most standards, a fairly young ga-y man, I’ve always felt a peculiar affinity to the generations that preceded me.  Unlike so many young LGBT people, I do not see my elders as hold-overs from the bad old days before we had gay marriage and gay people all over television, from the relatively asexual Cam and Mitch of Modern Family to the hyper-sexual Connor of How to Get Away with Murder (which, I’m sad to say, is the implicit if not always stated position adopted by all too many in the younger generation).  Perhaps this is a result of my own social position as a queer person originally from Appalachia, which has lagged behind the coasts in terms of queer acceptance.  Perhaps it also has to do with the fact that my undergraduate queer experience was shaped by several older homos who still had a foot in that older world.

It also has to do, however, with my own sort of melancholic temperament, which helps explain why films such as Paris is Burning and even a more recent film such as The Normal Heart strike such a chord with me.  There is something profoundly affective about these types of films, that provide us a glimpse into a world forever gone, yet which they allow us to touch, even if just for a brief time.  Films set or filmed in the 1980s in particular always carry this sense of mourning and melancholy for me; I can’t help but remember the generation that came of age during the height of the AIDS pandemic, when I was just a child and had no true consciousness of the scale of the conflict.  Films like Paris is Burning allow me, as a younger gay man, to gain at least a temporary access to the world that preceded mine, even as it reminds me that that world has forever vanished.

Watching this film, I am powerfully reminded of the dangers of forgetfulness that perpetually haunt us.  When I hear comments like those recently made by Russell Tovey about his gratitude about not being effeminate, I can’t help but think that part of what makes his comments possible is a terrible bout of amnesia that keeps him, and others like him, from remembering the key roles played (and still played) by “effeminate” gay men.  Let’s not forget that the riots at Stonewall were started by drag queens who had had enough of the bullshit, and that it has long been the more “effeminate” gay mean leading the charge in terms of challenging patriarchy and homophobia (which almost always work in tandem).  Watching Paris is Burning is, for me at least (and I hope for others), a way of both remembering and mourning the queer past.  Rather than strenuously disavowing the melancholia that such mourning inevitably brings with it, I think that perhaps it would do us all a collective good to embrace this side of ourselves, to experience the uncomfortable, and sometimes painful, aspects of our past so that we can truly grasp the nature of our present, and the possibilities of our future.

Review: “The Way He Looks”

Warning:  Spoilers follow.

The other night, I had the distinct pleasure of watching Daniel Ribeiro’s touching film The Way He Looks (original title Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho), a Brazilian film about a young blind man who finds himself falling in love with his best friend.  Based on Ribeiro’s short film entitled Eu Não Quero Voltar Sozinho, the film is Brazil’s official entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.  Who would have thought we would see this day?  We can but hope that it will win the statuette.

The film explores the experiences of young Leonardo as he attempts to forge an independent life for himself away from his overprotective parents while also contending with the jealousy of his best friend Giovana as he grows ever closer to newcomer Gabriel.  Gradually, as he grows closer to Gabriel, they must both contend with the deepening of their feelings for one another, until at last they admit to their feelings for one another and the film ends with them defying the school bullies by holding hands as they walk home.

Through both its cinematography and its score, The Way He Looks evokes all of the angst and anxiety that young love, especially young queer love, evokes in those who experience it.  However, it does so in a way that never comes across as trite or overdone.  Much like Weekend, another film that relied on solid storytelling and subtle aesthetics to explore the intricacies of gay love, The Way He Looks takes its time with its story, fully fleshing out its characters and their motivations, and it’s clear the the director and writers actually like these characters and want us to as well.  This is not to suggest that they are perfect–even the hero, Leonardo, comes across as somewhat ungrateful to his parents and their obvious concern for him–but they are characters with whom we can not only identify, but whom we can actually recognize as humans.  If (and this is a contentious question) we as LGBTQI consumers of media want well-rounded characters to represent us to the populace at large, then I think this is just the film for that purpose.

Aside from its generous and gentle politics, however, the film also contains a great deal of aesthetic sophistication that grants it multiple layers of pleasure for the savvy queer filmgoer.  Two scenes in particular struck me as poetic in their construction.  In one, Leo pleasures himself while embracing the hooded sweatshirt Gabriel has left behind, and in the other Gabriel stares at Leo’s nude back as he showers even as we, the spectators, are invited to identify with his gaze and with the burgeoning desire that he cannot deny and cannot yet accept .  The composition of the former shot looks as if it could have been lifted straight out of a painting, while also suggesting that desire does not always work on the level of sight, thus allowing the latter scene to explore desire at the visual level.  The visual sophistication of these scenes, and the underlying nuance of the film’s portrayal of visual impairment, allows it to move out of the realm of the purely romantic into the realm of the sublime.

What emerges from this portrayal, I would suggest, is a vision of what the representation of queer love might come to look like now that the acceptance of LGBTQI people has reached a significant high point in many places (remember that Brazil has legalized gay marriage).  It is refreshing to see a high-profile film that does not rely on the queer tragedy trope that haunted representations of us for so long.  Though I love Brokeback Mountain, it too relied on a tragic narrative that highlighted the violence and death that have for so long clung to representations of same-sex love.  This is not to suggest that these representations don’t have a place–we should always remember our history–but instead to argue that we need to diversify what we want to see in terms of representation.

Above all, however, The Way He Looks is a poignant and beautiful testament to the power of young queer love.  As I sat there in the audience with my boyfriend and well over a hundred other queer spectators, I felt my heart swell with joy at the feeling of community and camaraderie that permeated the gathering.  Even now that it’s 2014 and we as a community have won many hard-won battles, I still feel a little tremble of fulfillment when I see gay love depicted on screen and know that there are others in the audience with whom I can share that experience.

Reiew: “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and Radical Queerness

It probably comes as no surprise that the new film X-Men:  Days of Future Past is positively bubbling over with queer subtexts.  Directed by noted gay auteur Brian Singer,the film follows the X-Men (especially Wolverine, Professor X, and Magneto), as they struggle to change the past in order to prevent a future in which powerful robots called Sentinels annihilate mutants and any non-mutants who might carry the gene.  While Magneto and (for a time) Mystique believe in killing the inventor (played by the inimitable Peter Dinklage), Xavier and a time-traveling Wolverine believe in co-existence and cooperation, rather than killing.

In many ways, this film replays and amplifies the tension that has existed in all the films in the franchise:  between peaceful rapprochement with humanity and extreme separatism (represented by Xavier and Magneto, respectively).  Given the pretty blatant queer overtones that also exist in the films–the process of coming out, the shunning of mutants in wider society, the attempt to relegate them to the status of second-class citizens–the film also seems to take the position that assimilation of mutants within the larger society, as well as, by extension, LGBT people, is the only way to attain peace and understanding between the two groups.

At the same time, however, the film also seems to undercut this message by continuing to offer us the charismatic Magneto as a potential point of identification.  Certainly, Days of Future Past, like most of the entries before, seems to come down pretty solidly and unequivocally on Xavier’s side (in this case, by ensuring that Mystique finally breaks Magneto’s hold over her and opts for peace instead of war with humanity).  However, one can’t deny that Magneto (especially as portrayed by Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender), is almost more compelling the the heroes whose viewpoints he adamantly opposes.  It seems as if X-Men may not be as assimilationist, after all.

X-Men:  Days of Future Past continues to engage with the ways in which we conceptualize the role of queerness in 21st Century American culture.  The debate about whether it is more politically efficacious to join with and accept the modes of behavior (monogamy, home ownership, reproduction) that characterize heteronormative America or to instead resist through “aberrant” sexual practices (barebacking, promiscuity, etc.), still simmers beneath the surface of contemporary LGBT and queer activism.  Nor, I should add, is it anywhere close to a resolution.

What this film does, however, is offer two points of view that ultimately have a great deal of credibility, even as they remain opposed to one another.  At least, I’m hoping that I wasn’t the only one who held out a little bit of hope that Magneto would be successful in his attempt to defeat his human enemies.  There is something perennially frustrating about both mainstreaming as a political process and mainstream society’s reluctance to bring LGBTQI people into the fold (or, for that matter, to even consider the possibility of a queer society).  X-Men’s compelling villain hero serves as a valuable reminder of the promise, and also the inevitable limitations, of a radical queer politics.

“The Normal Heart”: A Memorial and a Manifesto

If you haven’t yet seen HBO’s The Normal Heart, you should.  Immediately.

I say this for two reasons.  One, the film serves an essential function as a memorial for all of the many gay men who died in the early days of the AIDS pandemic, as well as the gay women who came to their aid when no one else would.  In an era in which many young gay people have forgotten about what happened in those bygone days (if indeed they ever knew) and in which condom use and other safe sex practices seem to be on the decline, it is increasingly important, indeed, necessary, to remember our queer past.

The Normal Heart fulfills exactly this function, drawing this generation’s attention to the struggles that gay men faced in that period, both from the institutions that persistently ignored them as well as with each other, as they struggled to conceive of what would be the most effective way to battle this health crisis.  Again, it is increasingly easy to forget these early struggles in the face of the increasing acceptance of LGBT people within the greater culture of the United States, but there was a time, and not that long ago, where we were literally treated as second-class citizens.

The powerful performances delivered by the film’s phenomenal cast imbues this memory with an intense affect that will (or should) leave few unmoved.  Whereas a film like The Dallas Buyer’s Club served to partially evacuate the queer presence from the early days of AIDS, The Normal Heart keeps that presence front and center.  Just as importantly, it serves as a rightfully scathing indictment of the unwillingness of government officials at all levels to do anything meaningful to investigate the virus or help those who became infected in those early days.

Furthermore, the film highlights the ways in which AIDS highlighted both the benefits and the limitations of gay liberation in terms of the form it took during the 1970s (namely promiscuity).  It is important to remember that gay promiscuity was (and to some extent still is) a political statement as much as it is a lifestyle.  The Normal Heart forces us to continue thinking about the role that sex can or should play in a potential gay politics, something that has been largely sidelined in an era of gay marriage, assimilation, and a new form of heteronormativity.

However, The Normal Heart also serves another important function for contemporary queer viewers, as a manifesto and a reminder of the importance of standing up and rebelling against oppression.  There is a danger in assuming that just because we have made many gains in terms of gay marriage and other rights that the battle is over.  In fact the opposite is true.  As Ned adamantly states throughout the film, assimilation and working within and with the institutions of oppression carry with them a great danger.  Ending oppression in all of its forms requires constant vigilance and resistance.  It is not easy to adopt this stance, as the film abundantly shows, but so long as we live in a world where gender and sexual oppression continue to exert a material and very real force on the lives of individuals, such a position is necessary.

Once again, as they have done time and again, HBO has shown the immense hold that the AIDS crisis continues to exert on the contemporary culture and society.  The Normal Heart also shows us the power that it held for the formation of a new kind of queer politics, one that can still have a great deal of relevance for queer activists today.  We just have to let it.

Why Straight Audiences Don’t “Get” Gay Films

While I was visiting my parents recently, I had the distinct pleasure of watching the classic film The Uninvited, a ghost film that tells the story of a brother and sister who move into a haunted house and find themselves in the middle of a domestic melodrama involving adultery, ghostly apparitions, and the unnamed (and unnamable) specter of lesbian desire.  One character in particular, Miss Holloway, exhibits the typical qualities of classic Hollywood cinema lesbianism, including an overwhelming and excessive desire for a dead woman (as occurs in the film Rebecca), as well as a certain predatory attitude toward a younger woman (alleged to be the daughter of Miss Holloway’s dead friend but in reality the product of adultery).

When I mentioned to my mother (with whom I was watching the film), that the character was clearly a lesbian—assuming that she would be able to read the codes of Hollywood as easily as I could—she responded with a fierce denial.  The character was not a lesbian asserted, and I hardly dared to point out that Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca was one as well, since it was fairly obvious by then that she would also disagree with that assertion.  This exchange led me to reflect upon the ways in which historic audiences respond to particular films in particular ways, picking up on the codes of viewership that Hollywood utilizes to express desire.  When that desire happens to be homosexual, and if the film happens to be made during the period of classical Hollywood, the viewing strategies historic audiences utilize can be quite different.

Patricia White makes this point explicit in her excellent study Uninvited:  Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability, in which she argues that lesbian desire and lesbian characters often haunt the edges of cinema, simultaneously constructing and inviting lesbian encoding while also disavowing such viewing strategies.  As a feminist and may male viewer several generations removed from the film The Uninvited, I come to experience of watching it equipped with certain viewing strategies, some more subversive than others, that my very straight-identified mother and, by extension, other mainstream heterosexual viewers, do not.  Trained to know that gay people are seldom named as such in classic Hollywood films, I must look for them at the margins where, as White puts it, they continue to haunt the text of the very films that seek to strenuously to either marginalize or destroy them (again, the case of Mrs. Danvers comes to mind.  At the end of Rebecca she is consumed by the fire that she has set).  Thus, although Miss Holloway can be read by “straight” audiences as just a friend who is devoted to the memory of her beloved companion, I know that the film is really doing something else here, that there is something more than just friendship going on here.  Whether the film entirely intends me to or not, I find myself drawn to the lesbian character and reading her as such, investing her with those very qualities that make her appealing as a representative of same sex desire on screen, even if the film wants me to read that desire as inherently pathological and destructive.

What is really striking, however, is the resistance that my mother exhibited to this particular reading strategy.  Nor is she the only one who has had such a response to queer readings of allegedly straight films.  This was brought home to me in a very powerful way when one of my students responded negatively to my assertion that Scar, the villain of The Lion King, is queerly coded and may offer gay viewers a non-normative node of pleasure in an otherwise very hetero-oriented film.  There is a strong ambivalence and often downright resistance of straight culture to appropriations of its icons for gay purposes and this is especially true when one considers the accusations and rumors of the homosexuality of various actors.  There are still those, for example, who take great umbrage at those who assert that Cary Grant, that paragon of romantic masculine heterosexuality, may have actually been a little less heterosexual than is commonly assumed.  Even those who are “okay” with homosexuality still feel threatened by the possibility that their beloved icons, whether they be favorite childhood characters or favored Hollywood stars, may be tainted with the stain of the love that dare not speak its name.

Naturally, all of this has begun to change with the advent of more “well-rounded” or “developed” roles for gay characters, though we still remain conspicuously absent, or at least downplayed, within much Hollywood cinema.  There is still a sense of in which we are, as Patricia White puts it, the uninvited, excluded from the dreams that the cinema produces for the heterosexual mainstream consume base.  While there may be more of us on screen, we still are the “other,” the irregularity against which the “normal” heterosexual viewer measures itself.  All of this is not to suggest that there are absolutely no straight viewers who can pick up gay or lesbian subtexts in films, whether of classical Hollywood or later minting.  The strategies of queer reading can be learned and practiced by those whose lived experience is not necessarily structured along homosexual lines (indeed, some of the best queer readers I know are straight).  However, I would argue that the stakes for those viewers are less intense and weighted than they are for gay audiences, who still have to struggle and really work to find their own desires and screen likes represented in mainstream film.  We have over a century of neglect and repression within cinematic representation to deal with and overcome, and that is a very long process indeed.  Unlike some, however, I do see hope on the horizon in terms of the ways in which LGBT people are represented in film.  At this point, however, I think it is still far too early to tell what the future will hold nor, significantly, do I think that those of us in the LGBT community are yet entirely sure what it is that we want to see in our screen representation.  But that’s a post for another day.