July 19, 2014

Queer Issue: The Unfortunate Straightening Out of Hollywood Redux

It is easy to get caught up in analysis of LGBTQ related films that focus on movies in isolation without consideration of larger patterns. But those larger patterns can be more revealing than any in depth analysis of a single film can accomplish. When it comes to the presentation of characters based on LGBTQ historical figures, there are plenty of examples of films that have had no problems presenting their characters sexual orientation and gender identities with a reasonable degree of accuracy. There are also plenty of films that have even exaggerated the queerness of their characters, while on the opposite end of this issue are those that have downplayed or straightened out the sexualities and gender identities of LGBTQ historical figures.

The question then becomes, in what situations are LGBTQ historical figures most likely to retain their sexualities and gender identities or have them exaggerated and when are they going to be straightened out?

To analyze this issue, I divided up films based on LGBTQ historical figures into the following categories: Killers, Criminals and Other Villains, Neutral, LGBTQ Activists and Pioneers, Artists, and Generally Heroic. I also included films that presented certain historical figures as queer, even if the gender identity or sexuality of the historical figure has not been well established or is otherwise known. In order to include as wide a range of films as possible in this analysis, I have included films that are heavily fictionalized or merely used certain historical figures for inspiration. Films in this category are marked with a ✦. Films made during the Hays Code, which banned depictions of same sex sexuality, are marked with an asterisk.

Here are how the results broke down:

Accurate or Exaggerated:
Kill Your Darlings
I Shot Andy Warhol
Heavenly Creatures
The Krays
Bloody Mama
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Silence of the Lambs✦
Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde✦
The Damned✦
Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS✦
Texas Chainsaw Massacre✦

Straightened Out:
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith✦

Criminals and Other Villains
Accurate or Exaggerated:
I Love You Phillip Morris
Dog Day Afternoon
Boys Don’t Cry

South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut✦
Angels in America✦

Straightened Out
Mommie Dearest

Accurate or Exaggerated:
Queen Christina

Straightened Out

LGBTQ Activists and Pioneers
Accurate or Exaggerated:
The Christine Jorgensen Story

Straightened Out:

Accurate or Exaggerated:
Gods and Monsters
Ed Wood
Love is the Devil
Next Stop, Greenwich Village
The Hours

Straightened Out
The Libertine
Saving Mr. Banks

Shadow of the Vampire✦
Night and Day*
The Agony and the Ecstasy*

Generally Heroic
Accurate or Exaggerated:
J. Edgar

Straightened Out:
Dallas Buyers Club
A Beautiful Mind

Lawrence of Arabia*

Percentages (Excluding fictionalized cases and films made during the Hays Code):

Killers: 100% Accurate
Criminals and Other Villains: 75% Accurate
Neutral: 100% Accurate
LGBTQ Activists and Pioneers: 100% Accurate
Artists: 60% Accurate
Generally Heroic: 33% Accurate

If a queer individual wants their sexuality or gender identity to be presented accurately by Hollywood, kill someone, become an LGBTQ activist or do nothing noteworthy. You also stand a pretty good chance of your sexuality and gender identity being presented accurately if you choose a non-homicidal life of crime. However, if you want to become an artist or do something influential outside the LGBTQ community, you better be prepared to play Hollywoods' heterosexualization lottery.


  1. Who's been "straightened out" in Star Wars? I'm not aware of that even being vaguely based on any historical figures...

  2. Given that the rise of the Empire is loosely based on the rise of the Nazis, the murder of the Jedi therefore becomes reminiscent of the night of long knives, and the "death" of Anakin at that point therefore makes his character arc loosely parallel to Ernst Rohm. Hence the reason it's marked as heavily fictionalized. I wrote more about it in my review here: http://queeringthecloset.blogspot.com/2013/11/queer-review-star-wars-episode-iii.html

  3. Really do not understand this. Are you saying Dallas Buyers Club was a accurate historicaly or represented transgender people fairly? Also noticed the a lack of other transgender films. Not knocking your effort just making a comment about it. Most every transgender person has been played by a cisgender actor. That needs to change.

    1. Dallas Buyers Club is on the straightened out list because Ron Woodroof was bisexual and presented as straight in the film. Rayon wasn't part of the analysis as she was a fictional invention of the filmmakers.

      I included all films based on transgender and intersex historical figures that I am aware of: Queen Christina and The Christina Jorgensen Story. If looking at non-fictionalized accounts, J Edgar might also count as the film does present him as cross dressing in a scene where he puts on his mothers clothes. But yeah, it does seem that filmmakers are particularly reluctant to present transgender historical figures on screen. I also agree that transgender and transsexual characters should generally be played by transgender and transsexual actors (unless we manage to achieve some sort of situation where trans* actors can play cis characters just as often as cis actors play trans* characters but that doesn't appear likely in the immediate future).


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