I have a new Frame by Frame video today on gay and lesbian identity in Hollywood cinema, past and present. You can access the video by clicking here, or on the image above; a transcript of my brief overview appears below.
“Hi. I’m Wheeler Winston Dixon, James Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and this is Frame By Frame. And today I want to talk about gay and lesbian identities in Hollywood cinema, from the beginning to the present. Hollywood has never been a leader in this area. Gays and lesbians have always been marginalized in the cinema. Early portrayals of gay characters or lesbian characters in films were always stereotypical, and often deeply insulting. They were relegated to “pansy” roles or stereotypical “limp-wristed” roles, and these early films are very difficult to look at because they completely marginalize gays and lesbians as characters.
Interestingly, there were many gay people working in Hollywood during this period. Dorothy Arzner, the director… and George Cukor, of course, who was gay, and directed most of Gone With the Wind, until Clark Gable’s homophobia forced him out of the production. But you had to wait a long time in Hollywood before gays and lesbians were sympathetically and realistically portrayed on the screen. Even in the 1960s, you had films like Midnight Cowboy, The Boys in the Band, The Killing of Sister George, and Cruising, one of the most infamous films of all time, directed by William Friedkin.
It’s not until relatively recently that you have films like Sunday Bloody Sunday, which is the first real gay onscreen kiss, and Cabaret, which was a more direct look at the gay and lesbian lifestyle. An Early Frost, Parting Glances, My Beautiful Laundrette — these are films which basically treated homosexuality and lesbianism as part of the human experience. Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss, Poison, Swoon, The Living End — these are all films that basically portray things in a more positive light. And, of course, the ascendency of pop artists like Andy Warhol, who brought gay concerns into the mainstream, is another factor in moving films forward in this area.
There’s still a long way to go. American cinema is absolutely heterotopic. Gay-bashing jokes, unfortunately, still occur in too many comedies as a staple.This is something where Hollywood has a lot of catching up to do. It’s just like the same thing that happens with racism. Homophobia and racism, unfortunately, are part of American cinema, and go hand in hand, and they have yet to be erased in terms of the way that Hollywood represents everyone equally on the screen.”