Screen Queen Nicky Price takes a look at the good and the bad of LGBTQ+ portrayals on screen.
While the inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters on screen is becoming more common, many portrayal attempts still fall short. Inclusions are often heavily censored, downplayed, or cater to hurtful stereotypes – and that’s if they’re addressed at all.
Queer characters are often portrayed by actors who have no personal connection to what it means to be on the LGBTQ+ spectrum: Transgender characters are played by cisgendered actors, gay or lesbian characters are played by heterosexual actors, and lesser discussed identities such as non-binary, pansexual and asexual are almost completely overlooked.
So, in the name of progress, I decided to sit down and write a short list of films and television series that have portrayed LGBTQ+ characters, and how well they have done.*
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR
The online hype over this film, particularly within the rainbow community, made me really excited to finally sit down and watch it last month. However, I was severely disappointed. Blue is the Warmest Color is a three-hour film that starts off strong with the depiction of a young girl coming to terms with her sexuality, but quickly devolves into nothing short of a lesbian porno (Léa Seydoux, who played the titular Blue, openly spoke about how the filming made her “feel like a prostitute"). After the first hour, the plot completely unravels, and while it was nice to see the depiction of a young lesbian couple building a life together, the bland characters, derailed plotlines and over-the-top sex scenes left me with an impression of a film made for an audience too embarrassed to browse for a decent
+ domestic life
+ exploring coming to terms with identity
- plot (what plot?)
- character design
- unnecessarily long and voyeuristic sex scenes
PRETTY LITTLE LIARS (Spoiler warning)
For over five years, the liars have been struggling to uncover the identity of 'A', the villain of the show. In season six, A's identity was finally revealed to be Cece (Charlotte) Drake, born Charles DiLaurentis. To put it plainly, the series' main villain was revealed to be transgender. To promote the following season, the show’s official Twitter account tweeted, "He. She. It. Charlotte." The tweet was deleted soon after, but left a lot of LGBTQ+ fans angry about the way the show had dealt with the unveiling of Cece, especially considering PLL's history of championing diversity.
+ canon gay character
+ previous depiction of queer relationships
- portraying a trans villain stereotype
- that godawful tweet
- queer relationships downplayed in comparison to straight relationships
I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY
While this film doesn’t technically portray gay characters, I have chosen to include it in my list due to its horrendous depiction of gay stereotypes and the blatant use of the LGBTQ+ community for comedy. Chuck and Larry, played by Kevin James and Adam Sandler, play two straight pretending to be gay. Almost every review of the film I found online wholeheartedly agrees that it’s a complete mess. I'm going to quote Empire here: "One of [the film’s] comedic centrepieces is a soap-in-the-shower scene; to call such writing lazy is an insult to slovenliness. With ribald and stale jokes at odds with the slender social message, this wedding piece crashes and burns amid its own hypocrisy."
+ I suppose it could have been even worse
- gay stereotypes
- jokes about gay sex
- Rob Schneider
- Adam Sandler
The Birdcage is the parallel opposite of the the above film. It's plot revolves around the main character's attempts to hide his relationship with his life partner and pretend to be straight, in order to impress his son's future in-laws. Inevitably, the truth comes out, and while I wish there had been a better conclusion (including an apology from the son), I can't help but love the film regardless. I think it can be best summed up with the quote, "Yes, I wear foundation. Yes, I live with a man. Yes, I'm a middle-aged fag. But I know who I am, Val. It took me twenty years to get here, and I'm not gonna let some idiot senator destroy that."
+ literally all the drag club scenes
+ senator being forced to wear drag
+ Robin Williams
+ everyone taking swigs of the cooking alcohol when things start going downhill
- nobody ever seems to address the 'I'm ashamed of my gay parents' subplot
- more Albert appreciation needed
Tracer, aka Lena Oxton, was plastered on the side of buses, buildings and website columns for months before the game's release. When Blizzard then released an in-universe comic depicting Tracer in a relationship with a woman, news websites lost their minds for the better part of a month. Under different circumstances, I might not have been as impressed (considering this revelation was not in-game), but considering Overwatch's nature as a first-person shooter, there isn't a great deal of space left for plot and character backgrounds.
+ casual information drop
+ more LGBTQ+ characters to be confirmed
+ literal flagship character
+ creator Jeff Kaplan could not give less of a f**k about complaints
- need more in-game acknowledgment of identities
- SAILOR MOON
In the original anime, Sailor Neptune and Uranus were recognised as a lesbian couple, but in the English dub released to Western countries like New Zealand, the relationship was censored, and portrayed the pair as cousins.
- ADVENTURE TIME
Olivia Olson, the voice actress for Marceline, confirmed in an interview that Marceline and Princess Bubblegum were previously in a romantic relationship. There are hints at this throughout the show, but apparently it cannot be confirmed on-screen because Adventure Time airs in some countries in which homosexuality is illegal. Which is bulls**t, but whatever.
Some honourable mentions that didn’t quite make the list include Transparent, Orange is the New Black, Brooklyn Nine Nine, But I’m A Cheerleader and the game Gone Home.
*I’d like to add that finding examples of lesbian characters was by far the easiest, whereas portrayals of gay men were more often mediocre and overlooked.