Can you name gay protagonists? Specifically, of action, sci-fi, or fantasy tentpole movies?
Gay main characters in genre fare. Not that easy, huh? Because they don’t seem to exist. At least they’re a total rarity, and it’s wrong and absurd and needs to be changed.
WAIT A MINUTE – THERE ARE LOTS OF GAY CHARACTERS
Yeah, that’s true. There are lots of gay characters in movies and TV shows, and they’re often popular and critically acclaimed. Think of Brokeback Mountain, Milk, The Imitation Game, The L Word, The Wire, Philadelphia, Orange is the New Black. And if you take a look at European movies, or the US indie market, you’ll find tons more. But I really didn’t mean those. I mean summer movies. Spectacles. Family movies. At least mid level budget flicks. Anything from John Wick to GI Joe to Jurassic World. You know, stuff people actually watch.
Try finding a main role that is gay. That’s not hard. That is impossible. Imagine being gay and wanting to play a gay hero for once. It must be more depressing than being black and wanting to play Spider-Man. Even that seems slightly easier to attain.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO WAS KINDA GAY
And so were Interview with the Vampire‘s Lestat, Basic Instinct‘s Catherine Tramell and Nomi of Showgirls. But think about it: they’re not truly gay. They’re bisexual. They don’t count.
WHAT ABOUT HARRY POTTER’S PROFESSOR DUMBLEDORE? SEEMED GAY TO ME
He’s gay, yeah. However, Dumbledore is a not really a leading role. There are lots of gay characters in movies in general, but they’re always sidelined. The main cast is always straight, at least the leading man or leading woman.
OF COURSE! WHO WOULD CHOOSE THE EFFEMINATE GAY HAIRDRESSER OF ‘THE ROCK’ OVER MANLY MEN NIC CAGE AND SEAN CONNERY TO STOP GENERAL HUMMEL?
Gay isn’t really defined by the cartoony characteristics movies have taught us. Not every gay person is effeminate, weak, and whiny. Not every gay woman is into butch women, and not every gay man has to long for handlebar moustaches. Fact is, most of the time characters in movies are portrayed as gay, their gayness just serves a role in the script. Gay men are used as counterparts to strong straight men, mostly by annoying the leading man, they are used for comedy, or to serve as visibly different kinds of men consulting the leading woman. It’s an easy technique to create a character that stands out as different, but a lazy one. It can be used in great ways, see Bennett in Commando, but most of the time movies have gay characters, they’re defined as jokes.
Note how it’s never casually shown or mentioned that a character is gay. It’s always served as a shock, or to introduce upcoming stereotypical characteristics. A character can’t just be background gay, can’t just have a typical relationship the same way a straight supporting character has. It’s always a big deal. As soon as someone is gay, it has to be strange. Or funny. It can’t be shown with a shrug, can’t be shown as normal. There’s a whole lot of negativity associated with gay characters, and that’s one of the reasons charismatic main characters can’t seem to be gay.
YOU MEAN, THE GAYNESS DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT VISIBLE?
Exactly. Speaking of The Rock, Nicolas Cage’s character could easily be gay and have a male partner instead of a female one. Or Sean Connery’s daughter could be adopted. Anything else could be exactly like it is. Or what about Taken? Why can’t Liam Neeson find his adopted daughter, and have a complicated, passionate history with Xander Berkeley instead of having married Famke Janssen?
IF YOU HIDE THE GAYNESS, WHY BOTHER?
Because gay people exist. It’s something normal. Gay people might be a minority, and I’m not advocating that every second main role should become a gay one, but they’re a valid group. It’s just absolutely crazy that there aren’t more gay leading roles. From looking at all of the blockbuster protagonist roles of the last decade you would never guess that gay people do exist and actually are a normal part of our daily lives. But they should be, and the sexual orientation of protagonists shouldn’t be that important. Not if your movie is about shooting hordes of terrorists, alien robots, zombies, sharks, or monsters. Or alien zombie shark monster robot terrorists.
BUT MOST PEOPLE ARE STRAIGHT AND WANT TO SEE STRAIGHT CHARACTERS
Not a problem, just have some and let them be supporting characters for once.
BUT I LIKE WOMEN. I WANT GUYS LIKE BOND TO LIKE WOMEN
I know, so do I. But does it really matter whether Bond beds that attractive Bond girl himself? Can’t we as men fantasize about her by just looking at her? And if you really need a nudity shot, have her shower, or dress while he’s talking to her. Or let Felix get lucky.
BUT MOST PEOPLE CAN’T IDENTIFY WITH GAY PROTAGONISTS
And most people don’t have AIDS, or aren’t alien tree lifeforms, and most men aren’t teenage girls in dystopic future arenas either. People cared for and understood Godzilla‘s personality, and that’s a prehistoric, 350 ft. tall lizard. They can deal with the feels of two human adults.
Maybe you already identified with characters who were secretly gay? Maybe they were without knowing it themselves. Think of Maverick and Iceman, Dutch and Dillon, Matrix and Bennett. Who would really be surprised if all of those had had a secret history. Seriously, they would make cute, believable pairs. But more importantly: they would lose none of their macho power. They’d still be awesome jet pilots, soldiers, and mercenaries. They would lose none of their manliness, because true manliness obviously isn’t defined by sexual orientation. What if Avatar 2 reveals Stephen Lang’s character to be gay? What if Quint of Jaws was gay? It would really change nothing at all. They would still deserve as much respect as before. Maybe a little less due to having hid it like a shameful secret. Because only princesses are shy, right?
BUT I GET UNCOMFORTABLE. I DON’T WANT TO SEE TWO MEN –
Hey, wait, wait. I said blockbuster fare. I didn’t say Lars von Trier. And for the record, as a straight male I’m not the biggest fan of watching intimate relationships between men either, but there wasn’t full-on penetration in John Wick. No up-close cunnilingus in GI Joe 2. No blowjobs during Transformers 3 (as far as I know). You may usually get some kissing, a little fumbling, an ass shot. Maybe sideboob if you’re lucky, but for example there’s nothing in the Taken series which should be gross if it were made with gay characters. If you had a gay equivalent, you would and should be fine with it.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE KIDS? KIDS WATCH MOVIES LIKE TRANSFORMERS
Again, gay people are normal. Gay people were just allowed to marry. You can’t cover that up, and you really don’t have to. There’d be nothing wrong if Night at the Museum‘s Larry had a boyfriend for a change.
BUT WE GOTTA RESPECT INTERNATIONAL MARKETS. WHAT IF THEY DON’T TOLERATE GAYS?
Well, maybe we shouldn’t tolerate intolerance. Or just edit anything problematic out for a local release, if you really have to.
I’m not even advocating that a majority of heroes should be gay. Statistically, gays are and will always be a minority. Therefore it’s fine if gay leading roles stayed a minority as well. It’s just that gay leading roles should begin to exist in blockbuster movies – in general. Because at the moment, they simply don’t.
Even the Expendables have a gay couple in Jet Li & Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s time to drop the soap of unfair elitism.
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