Written by: Kallie Friede
1. Movies are part of our privilege
As a straight, white, cis person, the vast majority of movies are made for us. This was something I'd thought about previously, but it really hit me when I was in San Francisco. Even when there's "queer" representation, someone being LGBTQ automatically becomes the focus of their entire character. Take for example the infamous Mean Girls (add Director name?, year released). The first description ever given of Damien was that he's "too gay to function." For straight audiences, that's laughable. Damien's character reinforced all the stereotypes that we've created for white, gay men—sassy, a huge gossip, obsessed with clothes, and only ever having female friends.
But let’s be clear, there is nothing inherent about being gay and fitting into any of those stereotypes. Imagine what it must have been like as a young, gay kid in the movie theater in 2004 seeing that representation of yourself on the screen! For a straight audience, if we don't see ourselves reflected in one character, there's thousands of others with which we might resonate. LGBTQ people in Hollywood cinema do not share that luxury. That's why Queer film festivals are so important. Not only do they bring to film queer topics, but they also give queer people a broader representation of themselves on screen. Until I watched LGBTQ film for 10 days, I didn't realize how integral that can be to someone's identity development.
2. The person who makes the film matters
If a straight, cis, white, man is making a film, the content looks very different than if it were to be a bisexual, cis, Latina woman. Each time an identity of a film director, producer, or editor varies, the content of the film also shifts. While white, gay, cis men face oppressions because they are gay, they still have white privilege, male privilege, and cis privilege.
While watching films in San Francisco, I learned how important paying attention to the director is. It's not that there isn't trans women of color making films, it's likely that we aren't giving them the same air time as a film with a more privileged director. In Hollywood, almost all the film directors and producers are white, cis, straight men. While queer cinema gives a voice to gay and some lesbian and trans directors, we still need to consider which voices queer films need to do a better job of illuminating.
3. Queer cinema doesn't mean documenting a coming out story
As a straight person, it is easy to assume that queer cinema means either making a documentary about someone coming out, or a feature film about the story of someone coming out. However, although those stories are important, I quickly learned in San Francisco that those stories aren't new queer cinema. Queer lives aren't contingent upon one act of "coming out." Coming out remains a radical act. However, there is more to queer stories than that plot-line. Queer cinema not only has the power to tell coming out stories, but to create films with LGBTQ leads who happen to be queer. Most of the powerful films I had the opportunity to see in San Francisco weren't about coming out at all. The fact that someone was LGBTQ was a minor aspect of the story that the film was trying to tell.
We need to challenge the trope that queer cinema means the coming out stories. When we do that, we provide room for queer film makers to tell multiple stories with LGBTQ and straight characters. By doing so the audience sees experiences and narratives of queer acceptance, allowing the film to delve into other areas of their complex lives.
4. If you don't get some of it, that's okay
There were times when I was sitting in the theater watching a movie, and everyone was laughing at a line that had gone completely over my head. I missed nuances about queer relationships that the film directors were able to capture on screen. And that is totally okay!
Queer cinema is created with a queer audience in mind. That doesn't mean that as a straight, cis person we should discount queer films altogether, or deem them unimportant for us to watch. Queer documentaries bring to light the current and past oppression of LGBTQ people. They document histories that are left out of mainstream education, and tell stories of people that would be otherwise erased because of their identities. Queer feature films solidify that queer relationships can be just that—a relationship. They don't have to be an anomaly.
However, when we're watching these films, we also have to recognize that there may be nuances and emotions that are more familiar to queer audiences. In those moments, sit back and take in the cinematic atmosphere around you. Queer audiences are often left out of the straight nuances we see from Hollywood. When allies are left out of the nuances of queer cinema, that is absolutely okay.
5. Queer cinema should be critiqued
Queer films are by no means perfect. For example, when we were watching the movie Women Who Kill (Add director, year) at Frameline40, there was a moment in the film where one of the characters said that she was bisexual "but I don't say it out loud." As an audience member, it felt biphobic to me and to the people I was sitting near. When I asked the director about this line (another great benefit of attending a film festival is the opportunity to interact with director at the Q&A), she said that it was a joke between her and some of her friends at home. Her intent wasn't to be biphobic, though the question was one that had to be asked of her.
Queer cinema does not mean that it's perfect queer cinema. There's no film in the world that's a perfect film. However, when we critique these films, we have to make sure we do not do it in a way that is homophobic or transphobic. In the midst of watching a film, if a scene doesn't sit right with us, think about why. Is the discomfort happening because what we know to be true is being challenged? Is this discomfort going to give us an opportunity to learn and expand what we know? Or is this a feeling of something being problematic? Before we outwardly critique film, we need to be sure to assess our own privilege to be sure that our critique is a valid one.