The Importance of Normalizing Homosexuality in Movies
It was a Friday night sometime in early or mid-November with a mildly-cold temperature. I decided to spend my night going to Criterion Cinemas in New Haven to see the arthouse coming-of-age flick Moonlight, released to theaters not too long ago. By then, I’d heard about the movie for quite some time, being attracted to the aesthetic and color-popping posters and advertisement, but more importantly the talk about it being a black gay film.
The movie narrates three sections of its protagonist, Chiron Harris, (played by three different actors). First was his young childhood, second came his teenage years and the third and final was Chiron as a young adult—all set in the city of Miami. Socio-economics, depression, oppression, violence, bigotry, discrimination and broken-homes all play a role in Chiron’s downfall as an adolescent. With every moment, the film went on with these things happening; I can remember breaking down in tears. Moonlight was the first film where I cried—not because of sympathy for Chiron, but because I felt so much empathy. Out of all the movies and television shows I have watched growing up until now, this was the first time that I saw myself on the big screen in someone who had the same intersectional identity as me in such a mainstream way. Even if you take gayness out of the factor, it’s frustrating that black men are still perpetuating stereotypes on television: from Omari Hardwick’s Ghost character in Power to the rappers who appear on the VH1 reality show, Love & hip-hop.
While many people are pushing for more LGBTQ-led films in Hollywood, I’m skeptical. There has been gay representation in pop culture pieces for the past few years—Boys Don’t Cry, Brokeback Mountain, Call Me By Your Name and the recent flick Love, Simon. However, it’s draining as they are all centered around white men (or white women) and virtually ignore the reality that there are gay black and Latino men who also have stories that need to be told. Before Moonlight, very few black queer characters had been represented in Hollywood, more so in television and much less in movies. We are typically in the limited speaking role and placed as a sidekick.
Paris Is Burning (1990), Get on the Bus (1995), Set It Off (1996), Holiday Heart (2000), Dear White People (2014) & Bessie (2015) have been the most notable films that have come close to the praise that audience and critics have given to Moonlight, despite that some of the movies aren’t inherently LGBTQ+, they have notable or main characters who are queer. As if it isn’t already hard enough for black producers to get funding and support from major film companies for black-themed films and black actors to land roles the few major black films made each year (or in non-black parts), it’s even more difficult for black queers to gain visibility. Blackbird director, Patrik-Ian-Polk, talked about young black actors in Hollywood and their apprehensiveness to play a gay character. When we do see black queer characters and films in TV or theaters, there comes the brigade of ignorant black people believing there’s a “gay agenda” being pushed.
We’re not going to see a change in perception of marginalized groups unless we take the first leap and be comfortable with making people uncomfortable. And having these pop culture pieces, in many ways, can be the catalyst for conversations. Films like Pariah and Moonlight are groundbreaking, but there still needs to be a diverse set of roles and movies for black queer folks that will help normalize gayness in films so not only is everyone is represented, they can also become staples in black and white communities, like we see with films like Girls Trip & Black Panther.
As a member of the black gay community, where are our romantic-comedies? Our versions of teen films like the ones from the ‘90s I grew up on starring the likes of Drew Barrymore or Freddie Prinze Jr.? Can we have a film revolving around a black Caribbean character and the challenges they face as a queer person whether it’s from their family or their home country? Perhaps, can we come to a point in movies where the characters’ gayness isn’t always emphasized? Growing up, I didn’t see pop culture figures who were QPOC in the traditional media, but online media gave the underrepresented a platform. It was in my later years of high school that I heard about YouTube vloggers Lohanthony and Kingsley. When I saw them, I was immediately hooked to both their channels and them as people; as a loner who felt like there was no one like me, they were the high school best friends I desperately needed. Their presence and popularity with my generation inspired me to pursue a career in broadcast media without compromising who I am.
Love, Simon may have made history as the first gay teen romance film a significant studio has made, but it’s not groundbreaking for people like me whose black experience is mutually tied to our gayness. LGBTQ+ representation can go a long way and make a difference in our society while being a box office success for filmmakers, but we need not to let whiteness be the default.