May 14, 2011

Queer Issue: X-Men - First Class and the Unfortunate Straightening Out of Hollywood.

I probably spend more time watching movie trailers than I should. In fact I tend to be a little bit obsessive about it and I would argue that there is nothing wrong with this when so many movie trailers for redundant action movies and lame comedies are more thrilling and funny than the product they are selling.

This has nothing to do with what I actually want to talk about, other than it was while watching the trailer for X-Men - First Class that I noticed something that caught me attention. I have written before about the queer subtexts in the first and second X-Men movies. Therefore, I was a bit shocked when I noticed Mystique making out with a guy. After all, was not Mystique originally supposed to be a lesbian in the comic books? Although thanks to the Comics Code Authority, readers never actually saw her become the lover of the character Destiny (Irene Adler).

In any event, even though I have not seen X-Men - First Class, I must admit to being annoyed that one of the queer characters appears to have been straightened out. Unfortunately, this is a typical Hollywood practice that dates back to the days of the Hays Code, when depictions of queer characters was outright forbidden. This practice of course is that of taking previous material that contains queer characters or stories of real life queer individuals, and washing any queerness out.

Back during the days of the Hays Code, a movie such asThe Lost Weekend (1946) would have had to take any queer characters and straighten them out. Otherwise, the film could not be made as the Hays Code forbid depictions of "sexual perverts". While rather reprehensible, this practice might be understandable at a time when the rules were completely intractable. However, it did not end when the Hays Code was eventually replaced with the MPAA. To me, this is where things get really annoying.

It is bad enough that there are already too few depictions of LGBTQIA characters on film, but when filmmakers take a property or the story of a real person and massage it so that the queerness becomes invisible, the insult stings that much worse.

There have been many books that have been "straigtened out" in the years following the collapse of the Hays Code. Fried Green Tomatoes was made in 1991 and the two main characters are never once shown to be the lesbian lovers they were in the book. A more recent example would be Let Me In (2010) which not only increased the romantic factor between the leads but eliminated the queerness from the main relationship altogether.

Again, I think this practice is bad enough when it comes to fictional characters, but I would argue that the re-writing of history is even worse. When the world is portrayed as having been shaped by only straight individuals, and the accomplishments of queers are ignored, it is nothing less then an insult to our community. Take for instance, Enigma (2001) which was clearly based on the work of Alan Turing but has the character pursuing a romantic relationship with a woman or A Beautiful Mind (2001) which never mentions that John Nash "had recurring liaisons with other men".

It feels to me as if though Hollywood Producers are saying the same thing to the queer community that the evil Xerxes threatened to do to King Leonidas in 300:
There will be no glory in your sacrifice. I will erase even the memory of Sparta from the histories! Every piece of Greek parchment shall be burned. Every Greek historian, and every scribe shall have their eyes pulled out, and their tongues cut from their mouths. Why, uttering the very name of Sparta, or Leonidas, will be punishable by death! The world will never know you existed at all!

300 is of course a good movie to bring up here as a complete list of it's historical inaccuracies would be pretty long. For starters, Xerxes was not that evil baddie that he was portrayed as. Also, the ├╝ber macho Spartans portrayed in 300 were also known to practice pederasty. Pederasty, for those who do not know, is the practice of older men having sex with young boys.

To me, this might not be an issue if there were more examples of characters who were queered up. However, the the only example that I know of is V for Vendetta (2006)

Invisibility is not a the only problem facing the queer community, although it can be argued that every other issue (homophobic and transphobic motivated violence, job and housing discrimination, etc) is made that much more serious when people are left unaware to even the existence of LGBTQIA individuals. There are also plenty of sources to blame besides Hollywood for the erasing of Queers from history. Take for instance the "Don't Say Gay Bill" that would forbid discussions of "homosexuality" in Tennessee schools.

However, Hollywood exacerbates an already serious problem whenever queer characters and individuals are made to appear straight. History and fictional stories are not things that should be rewritten merely to serve the whims of those who find depictions of queer characters objectionable. Censorship is the objectionable practice here and the truth is what should be told.

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