“He doesn’t act gay enough”- The portrayal of LGBT characters in films.

28 Sep

In the 21st century, it’s pretty much a given that stereotypes are an issue that every culture faces. When it comes to films, the LGBT stereotypes are almost always utilized. The movies that are meant to spread awareness and acceptance by focusing on LGBT characters often end up perpetuating negative stereotypes about gay culture that are more detrimental than anything. Among these stereotypes are the ‘tragically gay’, the ‘fierce, fashionable, and flamboyant’, the ‘religiousness corrupt’, and the ‘promiscuous and proud’ gay character.

Case in point,

Brokeback Mountain


What is often considered one of the most ‘groundbreaking’ and ‘moving’ LGBT films of all times – and is certainly the most decorated with it’s 97 awards – is one big ‘ol stereotype.

If you somehow missed all of 2005 and don’t know what Brokeback Mountain is, it’s the story of two cowboys who fall in love one summer while out herding sheep just the two of them up on a mountain. It follows them throughout their lives as they go get married, have lives and families, and secretly meet up to get it on occasionally.

My personal opinion aside, (Oh God it’s the most boring movie I’ve ever seen and I refuse to believe it is only 134 minutes, it feels like about 4 hours) this movie is literally just one big cautionary tale about what happened to gay men in that part of history. Yes, it has great acting and wonderful cinematography, but it is basically 2 hours of ‘life sucks when you’re gay’. This is a very common stereotype in LGBT films all the way from Victim in the 60s, to Clapham Junction in 2007, and sadly I don’t see it going out of style anytime soon.

A good counter-film to this would be Maurice, based on the book by E.M. Forster, in which the story takes place in the early 1900s, has a bit of the ‘cautionary’ element, but then goes on to defy the presumed tragic ending.

Speaking of presumed tragic ending…  the next favorite tragic stereotype is almost ALWAYS the corrupted religious boy. The idea goes either ‘Gay boy is beaten and abused by insanely religious family’ or ‘Religiously oppressed individual comes to terms with their sexuality in defiance of their religion’. Almost all of these movies ends either in murder, suicide, or attempted suicide.

A good example of this is, Latter DaysImage

Admittedly, I have a guilty pleasure relationship with this movie, but nonetheless, it embodies two of our main stereotypes. The ‘breaking religion’ and the ‘promiscuous and proud’ stereotype. (That isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with liking sex and having however much you want, it’s just that gay stereotypes have this ‘one partner is a straight person thing’ idea going on in films). In this movie, a Mormon on his mission meets a party-loving young man whose only goal in life, it seems, is to party and get laid all the time. Long story short- they develop ‘feelings’, Mormon boy gets caught kissing another guy, gets sent home (but not before one night together) and is then excommunicated. And obviously, he tries kill himself. Because that’s how this stereotype works.Sure, this movie has the tragic heartbreak of party dude thinking Mormon boy killed himself and being heartbroken and then Mormon boy comes back and it’s all happy, but the stereotype is still there laid out step by step.

‘Token Gay’…

Also laid out step by step, is the ‘fierce, fashionable, and flamboyant’ stereotype. There isn’t even one movie to pick to exemplify this one so you can probably just check out every singletoken gay characterin any movie/TV show in the last 20 years. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of these movies, it’s just that it has to be pointed out they’re full of the ‘token gay guy’.

However, if you want a movie that throws out almost all of the stereotypes, ShelterImage

Shelter is without a doubt THE best gay film ever. (And don’t just take my word for it, check out This Viewer Poll).

While it could be argued that ‘normalizing’ gay relationships in film and TV isn’t a good thing either, this film does just that but in a new way. Instead of the ‘normalized’ version of ‘masculine breadwinner and feminine homemaker’ that basically just injects gay into stereotypical gender rolls, Shelter takes a story that is NOT based purely on the fact that the two characters falling in love are of the same gender. Shelter is a story about a young artist who gave up his dreams of art school to take care of his family. He finds solace from his life of working multiple jobs and caring for his nephew when his sister puts her life above her son’s care by surfing with his best friend’s brother, who has moved back from LA for the summer. As you would expect, Zach and Shaun fall in love, but here is what sets this movie apart: The main plot and points of contention in this film have little to do with Zach and Shaun being two men, but rather Shaun pushing Zach to go for his dreams when Zach is too stuck in wanting to provide for his family.

This movie is a beautiful film that shows the difficulties in understanding poverty from an outsider’s perspective, the struggles of balancing family and your dreams, and the difficulties of trying to rise above a bad set of circumstances to find happiness.While it is a love story, Shelter would work just as well if either Zach or Shaun were a woman and, ultimately, this film is about family and achieving one’s dreams. There are no ‘token gay guys’, no ‘breaking religion’ themes, no ‘promiscuous and proud’ issues, and absolutely no suggestions of the ‘tragic gay’ character. It’s simply a great film that happens to involve two men as the protagonist.



Posted by on September 28, 2013 in Uncategorized


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2 responses to ““He doesn’t act gay enough”- The portrayal of LGBT characters in films.

  1. Jessica Stone

    September 29, 2013 at 12:17 am

    Interesting post, it is irritating that so many LGBT characters end up being just stereotypes or token gay characters. Your title reminds me of a post I saw of someone complaining about how Dumbledore wasn’t “gay enough” and how JK Rowling had not taken any risks with his character, and someone replied that just because he wasn’t their stereotype of a gay person, it didn’t make him any lesser of a character, which I definitely agreed with.

    Some other great movies that deal with some LGBT issues I’ve seen and would recommend are Boys Don’t Cry, Imagine Me & You, and Chasing Amy. Orange is the New Black is also supposed to be amazing and I believe deals with some LGBT stuff if you’re interested, I haven’t gotten around to watching it yet. Can’t think of any others at the moment.

    • J. Chelsea Williford

      September 29, 2013 at 12:38 am

      Fun fact. “He doesn’t act gay enough” is actually a little nod to the fact that John Barrowman was originally considered to be in Will and Grace, but when they did a screen test, they decided he was ‘too straight’ for the role. Which is kinda weird to me because – yeah, he looks and dresses ‘butch’ – but he’s a campy guy. Sure, that was in the nineties, but it goes to show how stereotypes go into the industry even outside of characters.


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