Rainbow Center lecture: The progression of homosexual hollywood acceptance
Published: Friday, September 13, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 13, 2013 00:09
Upon entering the lecture room at the Rainbow Center, visitors’ eyes were immediately drawn to the plethora of comfortable sofas neatly arranged in rows that had evidently taken the place of chairs. Fleurette King, the Executive Director, strolled around the sparsely populated room greeting incoming visitors. Not a lot of people were in attendance. The lecturer, Em Loisel, sat casually chatting with the audience sitting in the front row.
A member of the center read Em’s self-introduction, which described the presenter as a queer and trans graduate student at UConn in the HESA program. She got a laugh from the audience when the part about Em being “most likely covered in glitter, making bacon, and playing with cats” was read.
The lecture then began in earnest. With the help of Prezi, Em gave some background information on how popular cultural regarded queer identity before the AIDS epidemic. She began with some information on the very early treatment of homosexuality before the 1970s, which largely consisted of highly stereotypical feminine portrayals of men. The MPAA had not allowed any explicit mention or portrayal of queerness at the time, and female characters were often injected into movies only to prove the masculinity of the male characters.
The lecture then moved on to the 1970s, during which attitudes toward homosexuality underwent a shift. Movies began to portray gay characters sympathetically instead of as predatory victimizers, but as Em pointed out, there still existed a good deal of stereotyping. She used the trailer for the movie Boys in the Band to illustrate her point; though the main characters of the film were all portrayed with understanding, there was an underlying sense of self-deprecation. “It’s like a menagerie of stereotypes,” said Ethan Avery, a fifth semester history major who attended the lecture. Later movies made in the 1980s were less obviously stereotypical but still exploitative to some degree.
The AIDS epidemic, Em went on to state, unleashed a second wave of homophobia in both the real world and the world of cinema. A CBS news clip from the beginnings of the epidemic showed the mass confusion present during the time. “Looking back,” Em said, “I think it seems obvious how the disease was spreading. But hindsight is 20/20, and it definitely wasn’t obvious back then.” Opinions toward the queer community swung toward the sympathetic again when AIDS gained more visibility after the death of Rock Hudson, a family name, and with movies like Longtime Companion.
In her conclusion, Em warned against the complacency of modern day portrayals of the queer community. Visibility did not equal activism, Em said, and too many Hollywood movies, like the soon-to-be-released Dallas Buyers Club starring Matthew McConaughey, were interested in mere spectacle. “I think Philadelphia was fairly good,” Em suggested when asked for an example of a respectful portrayal of AIDS and the queer community, “but that was in the early 1990s.”