LGBT Cinema: Through the Years

Growing up is never an easy thing to go through. Growing up feeling alone, not feeling understood and almost alienated is something nobody should experience. Said alienation comes largely from the media, the images forced daily through the wide variety of format. Growing up lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is an even harder feat without feeling like the weight of everybody’s opinions are pinning you down, and this largely happens worldwide. Film and TV for many holds firm as a type of escapism; venturing to a world where things feel almost bearable and enjoying characters that, if done correctly, you’re able to find some resemblance in them as you do yourself.

LGBT cinema has come a long way, but with such a wide spectrum of film on offer how do we weed out the good from the bad, and what traits do these good ones have? There’s undoubtedly a handful of telling traits that repeat themselves throughout but when the outcome leaves you feeling normal enough to live the lives of those before you on screen, they’ve done their jobs correctly.

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Whether it’s a biopic, a memoir, a documentary or merely a fictional account, there’s something within these stories that hold firm as a journey or a life worth understanding and visiting. Sure, LGBT cinema consists, or it did, largely of American Pie ensembles that treated being LGBT as a sex-driven romp throughout teenage adolescence and the act of finding your bits and bobs throughout excessively crude gross-out gags, but now the tides seem to have turned and the time of LGBT cinema has come.

That’s not to say it hasn’t been here for a while already. Mainly those that received particular acclaim and have stood the test of LGBT filmic time are those that have gone down the routes of representing the HIV/Aids epidemic in cinematic form, encased in love affairs, poignant friendships and riveting court cases battling the abysmal treatment of those diagnosed with the disease. 1986’s Parting Glances and 1990’s Longtime Companion are two incredibly important pieces that broke the norm of cinema and featured heavily an Aids-related topic. Both films broke the scene and created an alarming reality check for a lot of cinemagoers, dealing with life-altering circumstances and glorified on the screen in its heart wrenching realness. It truly wasn’t until 1993, however, when the subject was wholly glorified for a widespread audience. When Tom Hanks tackles the role of an Aids-diagnosed patient named Andrew Beckett, he battles disease, the public and the homophobic treatment of his lawyer Denzel Washington, playing Joe Miller, whose attempt at fighting for Beckett’s dignity turned eyes. Not any more so, though, than audiences themselves. People were shocked, people were paranoid — welcome to reality, folks. Other films such as RENT, most recently Holding the Man also featured Aids-related heartbreak, again forcing how serious and how domineering this disease was twenty-something years back when ideals were so narrow that nobody truly understood how to react. In part, film has aided the aftermath of the diagnosis: how to deal, how to cope.

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Breaking the LGBT regulatory Aids drama came in the form of Lee Daniels’ award-winning Precious, followed later by Dallas Buyers Club, another true story helmed by an Oscar winning lead performance by Matthew McConaughey. McConaughey plays homophobic, alcohol and drug abusing cowboy whose addictions lead him to a diagnosis of Aids. An unlikely pairing between him and a transgender woman (played impeccably by Jared Leto) force them to navigate the world of gay and transgender people in an attempt to distribute medication imported from Mexico that he thinks will alter the lives of those diagnosed rather than the AZT drug the government pushed that ended up with more fatalities than anything. This altered the idea that only those featured in the LGBT community could contract the disease and again, history is made. This is important cinema. We need these stories to permeate the barriers of understanding, by doing that it acts as an informational pamphlet, just with characters we can hopelessly invest in.

It’s not all tears and death, though. LGBT cinema is also known for its romance and, in decent proportions, frivolity and laughter. Most notably Priscilla: Queen of the Dessert, draped in sequins and outfits tapered for a camp Queen, this highly affable film turned two drag queens and a transgender woman into household names, even more so when blasted onto stage during its equally-as-popular musicals. Beautiful Thing, also transformed into stage, is a British classic within LGBT cinema, forming a gay relationship that found its way into the hearts of millions. The Rocky Horror Picture Show proves most popular, however, when this sexual exploration of camp, obscure absurdity brought us to transvestite Dr Frank-N-Furter, played by a deliriously fun Tim Curry. Fishnets, heels and golden hot pants were never more popular than when this absurdly whacky musical made us do the Time Warp. Weekend, a new-found British classic brings boy together with boy over one weekend together. A hopelessly endearing, grounded and incredibly genuine romance directed and written by Andrew Haigh, a new name in LGBT television and cinema. His eye is on point, and his stories are needed. Freeheld, another true story starring Julianne Moore and Ellen Page, tackles the issue of benefits of one woman being transferred to her domestic partner after being diagnosed with cancer, Eddie Redmayne stars as one of the first recorded gender-reassignment patients in The Danish Girl, and finally Cate Blanchett’s poised and intoxicating Carol falling for a younger woman, Rooney Mara. Both defeating the odds to be with one another, this is a film of expert intelligence and filmed with such an alarming superiority that it transcends to something so beautifully crafted that it dominates anything released this year.

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The gamut of LGBT cinema comes in wide proportions. The widespread emotion evoked by these films is necessary and important. Brimming with characters portrayed with a dutiful responsibility they are brought to life and ignite a spark that fills LGBT audiences with the acknowledgment and normality that we should feel, often inspiring audiences to branch out and discover themselves. I’ll always recall film as being as important as to state that it does indeed issue the need for personal discovery, and when a film fanatic that is homosexually-inclined, it’s a breath of fresh air that these films exist and they continue on existing.

Holding the Man is released in UK cinemas on the 3rd of June, 2016.