Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Hollywood’s anti-gay agenda

By Brandon Sides

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In “The Detective,” the protagonist befriends a gay bachelor and then beats him to death. In another flick, a woman chants, “Kill her! Kill her! Kill her!” as a lesbian tyrant is stabbed to death. “Rebel Without a Cause” concludes after a police squad shoots Plato, the homosexual murderer.

These deaths are not unusual. In fact, Hollywood has been villainizing and killing its queer characters since the era of silent film. For nearly 40 years, its infamous censorship Code banned, among other things, LGBT characters in the movies. Despite the Code’s end in 1968, and despite better queer representation in today’s films, Hollywood’s anti-gay agenda continues to this day.

In the early 20th century, powerful figures recognized film’s influence on public morality. A group of clergymen, for example, convinced the mayor of New York to close the city’s nickelodeons in 1908. Faced with decreasing profits, the major studios began censoring film content to secure continued business. The 1930 Hollywood Production Code formalized these efforts and dramatically altered the face of American film.

Among forbidden content, such as nudity and taking the Lord’s name in vain, was sex perversion. The censorship boards would modify scripts at will, and for 40 years, daring queer filmmakers could only rely on double entendres and visual subtexts to convey the message. The Code would last until 1968, but its reign effectively erased the on-screen existence of the LGBT community.

Hollywood’s queer censorship went unnoticed by the public until a young film enthusiast named Vito Russo connected the dots. Russo labored in film archives for a decade to stitch together his magnum opus, “The Celluloid Closet.” The work includes more than 300 films from before, during, and after the Code, each of which include a queer character or a reference to the LGBT community. His research reveals that these 300-odd films, which span throughout Hollywood’s history, do not favor the queers.

More than 30 feature a queer character’s murder or suicide. Most others portray them as thieves, murderers, rapists or as mentally insane. Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope,” for example, features two gays in suits who just can’t stop themselves from strangling people. Even when queers do appear after the Code, they’re still often enemies whose death the audience cheers for. The cross-dressing murderer in 1973’s “Freebie in the Bean” is given several minutes of punches, kicks, and rounds of bullets before the character drops dead. One filmgoer recalled the audience applauding at that moment.

Of these films, only a select few portray the queer community in a positive light, let alone a neutral one. In “Love and Death,” for example, Woody Allen jokes, “I wonder if Socrates and Plato took a house on Crete during the summer.” Such a harmless joke is rare. The rest short change the LGBT community.

Even after Stonewall and the Gay Liberation Front, when Hollywood films began to represent the queer community, the representation of same-sex relationships was still on unequal footing with its straight counterpart. In the documentary version of “The Celluloid Closet,” Tom Hanks notes “Philadelphia” features almost no intimacy between his character and his character’s partner. Instead, says Hanks, the film portrays their relationship as more of a bromance than a true romance. Hank’s interview and an article from the “Advocate” reveal that the studios cut the original displays of affection between the two gay characters. After all, TriStar Pictures had to market the film to a straight audience.

Even though Hollywood has toned down its villainizing of queer characters, it still loves to kill them. “The Guardian” has given its take on the matter: “Since Philadelphia there have been … 257 Academy Award-nominated portrayals of heterosexual characters, and 23 of gay, bisexual or [trans] characters. Of the heterosexual characters, 16.5% (59) die. Of the LGBT characters, 56.5% (13) die. Of the 10 LGBT characters who live, only four get happy endings.”

There is better representation in today’s films, but the kill-the-queer trope, common before 1968, still occurs today. Hank’s “Philadelphia” character dies from AIDS, one of the Brokeback boys is murdered, Hilary Swank kicks the bucket in “Boys Don’t Cry” and Sean Penn is, of course, shot to death in “Milk.” The business took until the 70s to include the queers as well-adjusted, non-violent, and sane – common portrayals before the Code was dropped. Well-adjusted, non-violent, and sane or not, they’re still dying before the audience leaves.

1985 introduced the Bechdel Test, which reveals Hollywood films’ latent sexism American audiences have grown up with. The queers have followed suit. GLAAD has created the Vito Russo Test in honor of the man’s groundbreaking research. The test requires a film to include an openly LGBT character who is included for more than their sexuality and who is not killed by the time the credits roll. Just six of 101 major Hollywood productions passed the test in the 2012 calendar year.

The original Code may be dead, but its effects still resonate in today’s world of film. Hollywood just can’t stop killing its queers even in a relatively tolerant era of “Modern Family” and “Brokeback Mountain.” Bromance is not true love; compulsive murdering is not accurate portrayal; and today’s continued misrepresentation of the queer community is by no means a fair one.

Brandon Sides is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected] 

1 Comment

One Response to “Hollywood’s anti-gay agenda”

  1. Mark M. L. on April 7th, 2014 12:30 am

    Nonsense. What the movies mentioned do is precisely to follow strictly the gay agenda outlined by Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen in the book After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90’s. Philadelphia, which is the first major production with a gay character after the book is following it so blatantly that’s painful to watch. The fact that gay characters often die shows more the intention to depict them as victims than any anti-gay agenda.

    Philadelphia tries to present the gay character in the least offensive fashion, it doesn’t shock the viewer by presenting homosexual behavior itself, it presents the whole issue as an abstract social question, it portrays gays as victims of prejudice, not as challengers of the establishment, it makes gays look good by presenting the main character as a successful professional and make his critics look bad by presenting them as ruthless, among many other tactics. The family 100% supportive of his lifestyle is so artificial that’s almost comical.

    Boys Don’t Cry also has many of the same elements, but the really interesting detail is that in real life, Lana Tisdel, the girlfriend of the main character, sued the producers for her depiction, including, among other things, the fact that the film falsely portrayed that she continued the relationship with Teena Brandon after discovering she was a woman. Obviously, the intention of this depiction was to fuel desensitization, telling the public that If the girlfriend herself was indifferent to the fact that her loved one was of the same sex, this shouldn’t be an issue for anyone. Had her depiction been faithful to the real life, she would be considered an homophobic… ops… a bigot.

    Brokeback Mountain follows the agenda outlined by Kirk/Madsen so explicitly, portraying gays as victims of society, not as challengers, that it’s better to quote the book: The purpose of victim imagery is to make straights feel very uncomfortable; that is, to jam with shame the self-righteous pride that would ordinarily accompany and reward their antigay belligerence, and to lay groundwork for the process of conversion by helping straights identify with gays and sympathize with their underdog status.

    Let’s go fishing!

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




Navigate Left
  • Hollywood’s anti-gay agenda

    Archives

    Course registration is unnecessarily difficult

  • Hollywood’s anti-gay agenda

    Archives

    White nationalists on the UMass campus

  • Hollywood’s anti-gay agenda

    Archives

    Americans deserve equal access to voting

  • Hollywood’s anti-gay agenda

    Archives

    Celebrate Election Day to make voting cool again

  • Hollywood’s anti-gay agenda

    Archives

    The intersectionality of voting

  • Hollywood’s anti-gay agenda

    Archives

    PowerPoint is a crutch that shows a failure to teach public speaking

  • Hollywood’s anti-gay agenda

    Archives

    The election may be over, but your work isn’t

  • Hollywood’s anti-gay agenda

    Archives

    UMass students should learn by doing

  • Hollywood’s anti-gay agenda

    Archives

    The divide: How politics is driving us apart

  • Hollywood’s anti-gay agenda

    Archives

    What happened to ‘the Zoo?’

Navigate Right