Normalizing the broadness of the GSM (Gender and Sexual Minorities) community can’t happen until it’s normalized. That sounds dumb, I hear it when I read it out loud, but it’s the truth. Hollywood has a severe inclusion problem. Not just in representation alone, but where representation is displayed.
We’ve had some great movies championing, at least, the LGBTQ communities over the past decade. Films like Moonlight, Call Me By Your Name, A Fantastic Woman and Brokeback Mountain have amassed great critical acclaim. But those are movies largely for those audiences. Most, if not all, that purchase tickets already accept those communities. Hollywood needs to show everyone that it’s normal, not just the people that are already aware.
Stop Sweeping Them Under The Rug
Hollywood has trouble mixing. Like a 90’s LL Cool J in the “classic” TOYS, major studios “like (their) string beans quarantined…a little fortress around (their) mashed potatoes, so (the) meatloaf don’t invade (the) mashed potatoes and cause mixin’ in (their) plate.”
Blockbusters are the worst offenders for GSM representation, or at least the ones we hear about the most. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the latest missed opportunity. Although clunky in its execution, Dr. Zia Rodriguez was supposed to divulge her sexuality in conversation. No fanfare or crazy misunderstanding, just a conversation that also revealed her orientation. Perhaps it was cut for…runtime?
In fact, since 2017, there have been at least six characters who could have represented their communities. Admiral Holdo in The Last Jedi is either bi- or pansexual, but that only comes from the associated books and left off the big screen. While her sexuality that alone may not seem reason enough to include such a small detail, the kicker is that the book implies an attraction to Leia. Possibly a relationship between the two in the span of time between the books time and what we see in The Last Jedi. That information entirely changes their on-screen dynamic, and could account for certain character choices.
Even long-standing characters with source material detailing their sexuality aren’t safe from the cutting-room floor. Valkyrie (Thor: Ragnarok), Okoye (Black Panther) and Dumbledore (FBaWtFT: The Crimes of Grindelwald) all left their sexual identities behind when brought to theatres. The two Marvel movies had otherwise inconsequential moments that could have proudly displayed affirmations of their sexual identities. Without these moments, the two women play as binary, which is actually a slap in the face to those who know better.
Although none of the mentioned fictional characters’ orientation would affect the narrative, the exclusion is still an issue. By and large, if the story isn’t heteronormative, it’s a genre unto itself.
From the examples given, the scenes left out amounted to half-a-minute of dialogue. That is to say, excuses of “runtime” or “pacing” are not going to fly. It’s not all bad though. There have been some bright spots over the past few years.
2017’s Power Rangers portrayed Trini as either bisexual or a lesbian with a simple exchange with her teammates. It was simple and tasteful. There wasn’t any lingering, but it was impactful for the character and her history.
The recently released (and underperforming) Solo: A Star Wars Story features a Lando Calrissian played to perfection by Donald Glover. Bother he and the film’s co-writer Jonathan Kasdan believe Lando to be pansexual, and that’s exactly how they portrayed him. Both Kasdan and Glover feel it was always a part of the character. Nothing about a pansexual reveal changes the nature of Lando.
Deadpool 2 may be the best recent big-screen examples. Negasonic Teenage Warhead simply had a girlfriend named Yukio. No more explanation needed. It shocked Deadpool when he found out, but it didn’t go much further than that. From that point, the emphasis on the relationship had more to do with the apparent differences between the two.
Comedy Still Leads The Charge
While the problem persists for major tentpole movies, the same is less an issue in comedy. The genre has long been more accepting of various orientations and often doesn’t need the “difference” to be a plot point. Movies like I Love You, Man and Set It Up (Netflix) have side-characters who just happen to be gay. From a narrative standpoint, the people played by Andy Samberg and Pete Davidson, respectively, didn’t have to be gay. It didn’t directly influence the story being told. The thing is, there was no reason for them not to be gay either. The inclusion was only a good thing, a way to include the under-represented.
The gold star for 2018 so far must go to Blockers. Here’s a movie that presented itself as a broad coming-of-age tale, and ended up being much more nuanced. One overarching story, split into two perspectives, and each side having three mini-arcs. One of those six threads happened to be about a young girl coming out. It wasn’t the most important, it wasn’t drawn out, and it wasn’t a focal point of the advertising. It just was. That’s exactly how it should be.
A large portion of people who get this far won’t get this, but being represented openly on screen is always exciting. All it takes is for one person of colour to be in the background of an Ivy-League frat-party for a young ethnic person to think “I can do that.” It’s truly that simple. But that example only works for visible minorities. This group, those outside of the two-gender assumption, needs more than that. Portrayals like in the example above are a step in the right direction. It’s less about the need to be seen and centred-out, and more the desire to be normalized. There is no minority in this world that wouldn’t love to just be a part of a crowd, instead of standing out from it.
Still A Ways To Go
There’s plenty of work to be done for Hollywood to stop treating the gender variant as a genre. Inclusion doesn’t only mean that these movies play in the same theatres as heteronormative ones. This isn’t mid-70’s Alabama. Or now-Alabama for that matter. GSMs need to see themselves in everything from horror to sci-fi, not limited to the odd comedy of limited-release.
Although it sounds like it needs to be a deliberate choice for the main cast to be inclusive, the point is that it really isn’t. If two hetero characters can converse about their relationships without any further explanation needed, then so can anyone else. If a man and woman intimately embrace on-screen they don’t explain it, and that should be the case for everyone else. It’s such a small thing for the structure of the movie, but a massive gesture to a growing demographic of our society. As long as “outing” characters are relegated to story beats, it will seem like a hurdle to get over. The longer that hurdle remains, the worse off we will all be.
Movies should reflect the society we live in. Take a look outside and you’ll notice it’s one hell of a colourful world. The sooner we all accept that, the happier we can all be.