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Exploring the Phenomenon: The Rising Popularity of Queer Cinema

The rise of the New Queer Cinema in the early 1990s was born soon after the AIDS epidemic began. This marked the first time since the rise of openly gay and lesbian filmmakers in the 1970s that a distinct genre had surfaced. The movement flourished independently in North America and Europe, with France and Italy being the primary producers of European films within this movement. The term "New Queer Cinema" was created by professor B. Ruby Rich, who used it to define and describe a movement in independent queer filmmaking in the early 1990s.


In recent years, the world of cinema has witnessed a remarkable shift in the sphere of storytelling, with the emergence of Queer Cinema captivating the feelings and minds of audiences worldwide. This article delves into the rising popularity of Queer Cinema, examining the factors that drove its success and the impact it has had on both the film industry and society at large.


Generally, LGBTQ+ narratives were demoted to the margins of mainstream cinema, often subjected to harmful stereotypes or silenced altogether. However, with the rise of Queer Cinema, we are witnessing a paradigm shift. Nowadays, audiences are being exposed to a diverse range of stories that celebrate the authenticity of the LGBTQ+ community, and highlight the complexities of their lives and relationships. These films resonate with audiences worldwide, exceeding cultural and geographical boundaries. It has played a significant role in destroying long-established stereotypes by presenting and showing multi-dimensional characters and showcasing their struggles. These films explore stories of love, identity, family dynamics, discrimination, struggle, and self-acceptance, providing a new perspective on the lived experiences of queer people.


For example, there used to be numerous instances of individuals from these marginalized communities that were being portrayed on screen in stereotypical comedic roles or, more negatively, as villainous beings existing on the fringes of society. This perpetuation of harmful clichés and reinforcement of stereotypes about the LGBTQ+ community has included characters ranging from murderous transsexuals and gay best friends to sexual predators. Some of these movies that have contributed to the circulation of these damaging portrayals is the movie called Basic Instinct which is an erotic thriller that introduced America to Sharon Stone’s crotch and also relied on depicting bisexuals and lesbians as angry, violent sociopaths. Another example is the movie called Boat Trip which is a concept where a straight man pretends to be a gay guy in order to attract a woman. However, this cringe-inducing comedy goes far beyond that. It relies entirely on stereotypes and on the straight man's fear of homosexuality, making it one of the least offensive aspects of this embarrassing film.


Thankfully, nowadays, there are movies that celebrate queer stories, providing a platform for individuals within this community to express themselves and showcase the beauty of their relationships. These films give voice to their experiences, allowing audiences to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for their journey. Movies such as "Call Me by Your Name" and "Moonlight" are shining examples of this cinematic evolution. "Call Me by Your Name" delicately portrays a blossoming romance between two young men, capturing the complexities of desire and self-discovery with remarkable tenderness. Meanwhile, "Moonlight" portrays the poignant story of a young African-American man navigating his identity and sexuality, exploring themes of love, resilience, and acceptance. These movies and others like them play a vital role in fostering empathy, and promoting inclusivity in the realm of storytelling.


However, some may argue that the modern queer films are becoming more mainstream and less politically radical compared to the earlier era of the New Queer Cinema. Contemporary queer films nowadays have been depoliticised, with some films portraying characters who “just happen to be gay”. Rather, the older queer films were radically unapologetic in representing queer people as nuanced and complex beings, reveling in the queerness of their characters.


Although this does not mean that the quality and artistic values of Queer Cinema have gone unnoticed. Many queer-themed films have accumulated critical acclaim and have been recognized with prestigious awards, including Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and other film festivals around the world. Such recognition helps keep and elevate the visibility and credibility of Queer Cinema, attracting bigger audiences and encouraging more filmmakers to explore LGBTQ+ stories. The success of movies like "Moonlight," "Call Me by Your Name," "Brokeback Mountain," and "Carol" shows the powerful impact and appeal of these stories.


To measure the presence and quality of queer representation, a useful framework is the Vito Russo Test, which parallels the well-known "Bechdel Test'' that assesses the portrayal and placement of female characters within a story. The Russo Test is named after the renowned film historian and GLAAD co-founder Vito Russo, whose book "The Celluloid Closet" remains an influential analysis of LGBTQ+ portrayals in Hollywood cinema. The test provides criteria that guide filmmakers in creating more multidimensional characters. It sets a standard that GLAAD wishes to see mainstream Hollywood films strive to achieve. It also serves as a reminder of the importance of multifaceted queer representation and challenges filmmakers to move beyond mere tokenism and more towards authentic and inclusive storytelling.


According to the Vito Russo Test, a film passes if it includes a character who is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender, but their sexual orientation or gender identity does not solely or predominantly define them. Rather, they possess the same unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight characters from one another. Furthermore, the LGBTQ+ character must be integral to the plot, such that their removal would significantly impact the story. They should not be present merely for colorful commentary, urban authenticity, or as a setup for punchlines. In essence, the character should truly matter to the narrative.


It is enjoyable to see that Queer Cinema has provided a platform for emerging filmmakers, which allows them to explore and showcase their unique perspectives. As LGBTQ+ filmmakers continue to gain recognition, their voices are spreading diverse narratives, enriching the cinematic world with new and thought-provoking stories. This inclusivity encourages the development of new talented directors, writers, and actors, who are committed to sharing more stories of queer people with the world.


To conclude, the rise in popularity of Queer Cinema is a transformative movement that has challenged stereotypes, fostered empathy, and celebrated the authenticity of LGBTQ+ narratives. It opens our minds, providing families with a platform to initiate conversations, offering parents fresh perspectives and the opportunity to see the stories of LGBTQ+ people from a new standpoint. By embracing Queer Cinema, we embrace the power of storytelling to shape our hearts and minds, urging us to celebrate diversity, and challenge prejudices. Let’s create a world that uplifts all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.



A filming location in the movie "Call me by your name". The door is located in Piazza del Duomo in Crema. Photo taken by Ioanna Polydorou.


References:

Matt. (2023, April 12). What Is New Queer Cinema? The Definitive Guide • Filmmaking Lifestyle. Filmmaking Lifestyle. https://filmlifestyle.com/what-is-new-queer-cinema/#:~:text=The%20New%20Queer%20Cinema%20movement%20emerged%20in%20the%20early%201990s,a%20distinct%20genre%20had%20emerged.


Mikel, R. (2018, April 5). The Rise of Queer Cinema - Washington Square News. Washington Square News. https://nyunews.com/2018/04/03/04-05-theme-alex/


Coates, T. (2013). The 20 Worst Depictions of LGBT Characters on Film. Flavorwire. https://www.flavorwire.com/400566/the-20-worst-depictions-of-lgbt-characters-on-film


The Vito Russo Test. (2017, May 15). GLAAD. https://www.glaad.org/sri/2014/vitorusso


Beaumont-Thomas, B. (2018, February 22). Hollywood criticised for negative portrayal of LGBT characters. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/jul/23/hollywood-criticised-lgbt-gay-characters-glaad





Written by Ioanna Polydorou


 


Ioanna Polydorou is a second year Human Rights and Multilevel Governance Masters student at the University of Padova. Obtained an undergraduate degree in LLB Law from the University of Reading, UK. Her goal is to work in the human rights field supporting women’s rights. Follow Ioanna on LinkedIn: Ioanna Polydorou and Instagram @joahnpo


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