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On Queer Representation: Contemporary Media & How Far We've Come


Written by Sara McKoy (she/her) | @saramckoy | Contributing Writer

Illustration by Scarlett (she/her) | @scarlett_k_illustrations | Contributing Illustrator

TW: Sex, Sexuality

The year is 2007; I’m sitting in front of my family’s boxy TV in the living room with my sister. We were watching the Bratz Fashion Pixiez film when I first laid my eyes on Lina, and my world was never the same. From Marceline in Adventure Time to Velma in Scooby Doo to Kristen Stewart in Zathura: A Space Adventure, my queerness has found solace in a myriad of characters throughout my life.

Nowadays, queer representation in film and television is more abundant and powerful than ever. The slow and non-linear progression of LGBTQ+ acceptance has manifested itself in not only more queer and ‘queer-coded’ characters in media but better, more monumental queer relationships, queer stories and queer pride.

To appreciate just how far we’ve come, I thought it pertinent to take a look at some contemporary representations of different identities, experiences and relationships. I’ve chosen this non-exhaustive list of recent films and television that I personally revere, which each take on queerness in unique and valuable ways.

Love Lies Bleeding (2024)

Dir. Rose Glass

I knew only two things about this film before seeing it. Queer thriller & Kristen Stewart. Love Lies Bleeding mashes a gritty sapphic romantic plot with an entanglement of eccentric and flawed characters. What unfolds is a dramatic and gruesome series of events with shocking twists and turns in every scene. Combining two of my favourite genres—queer romance and gory horror with a tacky 80’s aesthetic—Love Lies Bleeding was an unsurprisingly entertaining film.

The deftly compelling romance between the main love interests, Jackie (Katy O’Brien) and Lou (Kristen Stewart), trig-gered, at times, enthralling confrontations not only with other characters but with their own chasmic personal identities. The film’s ending was epically, magically bizarre and despite the criticism levied against it, the story was made all the more thrilling.

While the queer representation in this film is hardly exemplary of an objectively ‘healthy queer relationship’—the pair bond most often through frenzied sex or rageful violence—its depic-tion of lesbian romance is candid and intimate whilst simul-taneously exhilarating and passionate. Love Lies Bleeding is without a doubt worth the watch.

Joyland (2022)

Dir. Salm Sadiq

This Pakistani film is a captivating and raw story captured through the lives of a dynamic extended family in Lahore. Among these family members is Haider. In the film, he em-barks on an isolating and deeply personal journey of sexual exploration.

Joyland, the first major Pakistani motion picture to feature a trans actor in a lead role, was initially subjected to censor-ship due to certain “objectionable erotic” scenes. The main character Biba, a strong trans woman who faces relentless, ongoing abuse—as played by Alina Khan—is an important and powerful queer portrayal. Director Saim Sadiq authenti-cally depicts queerness and transness through Biba without fetishizing the experience.

Against a social context which drives all of the characters to set aside their individual desires in favour of religious duties and obligations, Haider and Biba’s stories are all the more tragic, isolating and courageous.

I appreciated this film for the earnest and sometimes em-barrassing private moments of discovering sexuality, which helped extend the sexual themes beyond just the taboo of queerness. Joyland is a must-see for anyone who ought to stomach the painful realities of suppressive social boundaries on individual desires.

Heartbreak High (2022 - Present )

Series Creator. Hannah Caroll Chapman

I hope I’m not alone in saying I binged season 2 within the span of 24 hours. I don’t regret it! Heartbreak High is one of my favourite shows due to its fantastically authentic depiction of the Aussie high school experience. I am a Kiwi but I did, in fact, complete my schooling across the ditch.

This show and its cast of unique, flawed and predominantly queer Gen Z characters could be the subject of a ten thou-sand-word dissertation, and much would still be left unsaid. Heartbreak High doesn’t shy away from the cringy and awkward high-school trials and tribulations undertaken by the vivacious characters.

Every subplot is packed with juicy drama and stirring romance, from Quinni and Sasha’s sweet albeit turbulent rela-tionship in Season 1, to threesomes and love triangles galore, to a wholesome portrayal of asexuality by the atypical eshay, Ca$h. Handling key themes of queerness, sexuality and con-sent, Season 2 gives way to the epic and mostly unproblem-atic sexual explorations of queer Indigenous main characters Missy and Malakai. The duo, who were given more screen time in the second season, represent a demographic rarely seen in mainstream media.

This show is a groundbreaking representation of queerness in Australia, and I would extend as well, Aotearoa. It deals with identities and intersections often invisible or previous-ly untouched. I personally adore the character of Ca$h, as portrayed by Will McDonald. His disposition — sensitive yet strong despite mounting peer pressures — aligns with asexu-ality in a real and important way. His personal journey, particu-larly in season 2, where he confronts the boundaries between romance and sex with his partner Darren, validates so many of the thoughts and experiences I myself have grappled with regarding asexuality.

By shedding light on the stories of underrepresented groups, Heartbreak High captures queerness in a compelling nar-rative which is sincere and emotional while simultaneously juvenile, dramatic and delightful to watch.

All of Us Strangers (2023)

Dir. Andrew Haigh

After hearing both Paul Mescal and Andrew Scott were the leads in this film, it was instantly catapulted to the top of my watch list. All of Us Are Strangers did not disappoint. The plot, albeit devoid of much exhilarating action, was filled with intense personal emotion paired with a queer relationship be-tween the main characters Adam and Harry. The film placed gay sex and sexuality at the centre of a delicate and dramatic story of personal grief. In key moments, Haigh forces the audience to embrace this tragic queer romance with heavy intimacy and seriousness.

Queerness was portrayed as endlessly complex and effort-lessly simple; as isolated and private. The film left me with a new understanding of what queer love looked like while also leaving me in ruins from the tragedy that had unfolded.

Whilst there is little confrontation in this film with the social or political realities that often accompany the queer experience, this film is an undoubtedly beautiful and important new film for contemporary, queer male representation.

Poor Things (2023)

Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

This film was a life-altering experience. There is nothing quite like Poor Things. It’s an insane and wild ride. While queerness is not the core focus of this film, sex – and more specifically the female sexual experience and sexual pleasure – take centre stage as key themes.

What makes Poor Things unique is the way in which it sets aside morality. The film confronts — through a subversion of old-fashioned and futuristic genres and settings— franken-stein-level ethics in the same swoop as sexual taboo. In this chaotic transcendence of what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, there are no boundaries which cannot be crossed or opinions adorned with heavier importance than others. Moreover, there is no critique about the film’s vulgarity, which can be taken serious-ly. Poor Things opens up the opportunity for the main charac-ter, Bella, played by Emma Stone, to confront and whimsically reject the gendered expectations thrust upon her.

While the storyline has been called perverted or merely an excuse for outrageous smut, Poor Things captures female sexual discovery in a way that is uniquely open, intentionally non-heteronormative and inspiringly unashamed. What the film achieves in this way is contradictory to most, if not all, pre-vious media I’ve seen. As a small criticism, the queerness in this film contributes merely a portion of sexual representation in Bella’s journey, which rather concerns itself with sex and sexual exploitation by men. It is nonetheless an indispensable piece of her story.

Queer representation in the media has evolved in some valuable ways to capture the diversity and complexity of rainbow communities, but there’s always further to go. While these are just some of my personal favourite examples, not all queer characters in contemporary film and television are positive or unproblematic. It’s important to be critically and actively engaged with queer media in order to uplift margin-alised voices and, where possible, to celebrate the artists making powerful contributions to queer cinema.


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