LGBT's Hollywood

The month of June is set aside to celebrate LGBT Pride, and the LGBT community has a lot to be proud of. They’ve made many strides forward over recent years, such as the legalization of same-sex marriage, but there are still many hurdles to cross, like the recent discriminatory laws preventing transgender people from using public bathrooms. As the fight for rights and acceptance continues, the one place that has completely embraced the LGBT movement has been Hollywood.

The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl

Within the last year alone, we have had several high profiled, award nominated movies focusing on LGBT characters and issues. Movies like Carol, which centers around the taboo love between two women in the 1950s, and The Danish Girl, about the transgender icon Lili Elbe. Also we have seen the first openly transgender woman, May Taylor, get nominated and actually win several awards including a Best Supporting Actress Award at the prestigious Independent Spirit Awards. Hollywood and filmmakers have done a great job representing the LGBT community, but Tinseltown hasn’t always been this supportive.

At the dawn of cinema in the late 1890s, censorship was at an all time high. The earliest filmmakers made short films known as actualities, brief depictions of daily life. Actualities such as The Kiss, where a man and a woman kiss for 10 seconds, or The Dickson Experimental Sound film, where two men are seen slow dancing with each other, were deemed indecent by most people in society. But at that point in history, films were considered a novelty, so the level of indecency they could get away with was fairly great.

The silent era saw an influx in gay stock characters, commonly refereed to as ‘pansies’. They were minor characters, stereotypes of what society deemed as being a homosexual. These ‘pansies’ were highly effeminate in appearance and mannerisms, and they were played mostly for cheap laughs, usually a foil to the protagonist.. Sadly these types of characters still do exist in some form or fashion, especially in bad comedies. One example that comes to mind is Bronson Pinchot’s art dealer character in Beverly Hills Cop. The couple of scenes he is in makes light of how the character flails his arms in a limp-wristed manner, and how he talks with a speech impediment, almost lisping every word that comes out of his mouth. It’s portrayals like this that are objectionable and offensive.

Michael

Michael

As cinema moved into the 1920s, filmmakers were looking for new ways to entice audiences. To increase ticket sales, they tried to find controversy, so sex and violence started to seep onto the screen. And there were a handful of films that focused a bit more broadly on homosexual relationships, like the 1924 German classic Michael, directed by the legendary Carl Theodor Dreyer. The plot revolves around a painter who falls in love with Michael, one of his male models. Their relationship is quickly obstructed by a young woman. The film was disliked by most German critics at the time, but today is considered a classic and a landmark film in gay cinema.

In the 30s, censorship reared its head once again, this time in the form of the Hays Code. They tried to bring morality and decency back to the sliver screen and engrain Hollywood with values and standards that lined up with the Church. Characters that showed traits of ‘sexual perversions’ were allowed, but only if the characters were shown in a negative light. Movies like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope and Richard Fleischer’s Compulsion, portrayed their characters as sociopathic murders. In other films, themes of homosexuality had to be played down, such as in the cinematic adaptations of Tennessee Williams’ plays, which often dealt with characters struggling with their sexual identity.

Films were whitewashed in favor of decency, and that whitewashing extended into the lives of the filmmakers and the actors. People who worked in Hollywood at the time felt the need to stay closeted in fear of losing their jobs. It was during this same time period where McCarthism was running rampant, filmmakers were being blacklisted for their political beliefs. There were many actor’s who had to live their lives in private, some even tried to keep up appearances as being straight. One of the most notable examples of this is with Rock Hudson, who was one of the biggest sex symbols at the time. He entered into a false marriage to save his career. He was basically forced to live his life in the closet until the day he died.

Rocky Horror

Rocky Horror

As the American political and social landscape was evolving in the 1970s, Hollywood started making more films to reflect the chaining culture. Homosexuality and other LGBT issues were being explored in greater depth. Midnight Cowboy became the first X-rated film to win an Academy Award. Dog Day Afternoon saw Al Pacino rob a bank to pay for his transgendered lover’s sex change operation. Films like Rocky Horror Picture Show and the movies of John Waters were bringing the LGBT lifestyle to the theaters, and audiences were seeking these movies out.

By the 90s, LGBT characters were able to shed off some of the ‘pansy’ stereotyping that the cinema had cultivated. Big name directors and actors were tackling LGBT issues. The 1993 movie Philadelphia starred Tom Hanks, as he tried to deal with both discrimination and AIDS. Robin Williams and Nathan Lane portrayed a gay couple trying to help their straight son win over his fiancée’s conservative parents in The Birdcage. And when 2005’s Brokeback Mountain came out, it showed that Hollywood had become completely accepting of the LGBT community, by showcasing the romantic relationship between two men. The film was a hit with critics, and audiences of all sexual persuasions.

The LGBT community has come a long way in cinema’s 100 year history. It’s been an uphill fight, but it’s been well worth it. That being said, there are still so many LGBT stories that haven’t been told yet. And I’m sure, with each new generation of filmmakers, we’ll get more and more interesting characters and personal stories that will encompass everyone, gay, straight, and transgendered.

For further research, here’s a list of 105 culturally significant LGBT films:

Alfred Hitchcock's Rope

Alfred Hitchcock's Rope

I Don't Want to Be a Man (1918)
Michael (1924)
Maedchen In Uniform (1931)
Fireworks (1947)
Rope (1948)

Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

A Song of Love (1950)
Calamity Jane (1953)
Johnny Guitar (1954)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Victim (1961)
Blow Job (1963)
Flaming Creatures (1963)
The Servant (1963)
Scorpio Rising (1964)
Portrait of Jason (1967)

Liza Minnelli showing off in Cabaret

Liza Minnelli showing off in Cabaret

The Killing of Sister George (1968)
Teorema (1968)
Funeral Procession of Roses (1969)
Daughters of Darkness (1971)
Death in Venice (1971)
Pink Narcissus (1971)
Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971)
Cabaret (1972)
The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972)
Pink Flamingos (1972)

Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon

Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon

Dyketactics (1974)
Female Trouble (1974)
Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Fox and His Friends (1975)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
I, You, He, She (1976)
Sebastiane (1976)
In a Year with 13 Moons (1978)
Nighthawks (1978)
Taxi zum Klo (1980)

Gus Van Sant's Mala Noche

Gus Van Sant's Mala Noche

Querelle (1982)
Born in Flames (1983)
The Terence Davies Trilogy (1983)
The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
Desert Hearts (1985)
My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
Mala Noche (1986)
Law of Desire (1987)
Prick Up Your Ears (1987)
She Must Be Seeing Things (1987)

Farewell My Concubine

Farewell My Concubine

Looking for Langston (1989)
Tongues Untied (1989)
Paris Is Burning (1990)
Edward II (1991)
My Own Private Idaho (1991)
Poison (1991)
Young Soul Rebels (1991)
The Crying Game (1992)
Orlando (1992)
Farewell My Concubine (1993)

Blue

Blue

Blue (1993)
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
Go Fish (1994)
Heavenly Creatures (1994)
The Celluloid Closet (1995)
Beautiful Thing (1996)
Bound (1996)
The Watermelon Woman (1996)
All Over Me (1997)
Happy Together (1997)

Matt Damon and Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley

Matt Damon and Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley

Show Me Love (1998)
Gods and Monsters (1998)
High Art (1998)
Velvet Goldmine (1998)
Beau travail (1999)
Boys Don't Cry (1999)
But I'm a Cheerleader (1999)
The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
All About My Mother (1999)
Before Night Falls (2000)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Mysterious Skin

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Mysterious Skin

By Hook or by Crook (2001)
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)
Fish and Elephant (2001)
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Y tu mamá también (2001)
Far from Heaven (2002)
Bad Education (2004)
My Summer of Love (2004)
Mysterious Skin (2004)
The Holy Girl (2004)

Sean Penn's Academy Award winning performance in Milk

Sean Penn's Academy Award winning performance in Milk

Tropical Malady (2004)
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
I Don't Want to Sleep Alone (2006)
XXY (2007)
Milk (2008)
A Single Man (2009)
The Kids Are All Right (2010)
Pariah (2011)
Tomboy (2011)
Weekend (2011)

Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez working the streets in Tangerine

Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez working the streets in Tangerine

My Brother the Devil (2012)
Stud Life (2012)
L’inconnu du lac (2013)
Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
Appropriate Behavior (2014)
The Duke of Burgundy (2014)
Lilting (2014)
Pride (2014)
Carol (2015)
Tangerine (2015)