Friday, January 31, 2014

What makes a queer film queer?

Hey folks! My name is Maggie and I'm a queer feminist, sophomore Radio-Television-Film student here at the University of Texas at Austin. I've recently decided to pick up a minor in Women's and Gender Studies, and I want to eventually combine my love for film with social justice to create LGBTQ-centered media that anybody can enjoy (even from the small rural towns in the conservative areas of our country).

As an RTF major, I often think about how film effects the LGBTQ community, and at the same time, how the experiences and people from the LGBTQ community have effected the direction of film throughout history. At some point in my career, I'd like to create films that are educational, beautiful, and representative of communities within the queer community that aren't often represented in mainstream movie theaters.

Personally, as somebody who didn't find a queer community until I moved to Austin for college, I haven't seen a lot of queer films compared to most LGBTQ people in the film world. Before I moved to Austin, my only access to queer films were those featured on HBO (such as Lost & Delirious with the lovely Piper Perabo), and I didn't realize how much of an effect seeing two women in a relationship on my television had on my life. When it came to queer television, I was rewatching episodes of The L World by my senior year (grr, Jenny Schecter). My first year of college, after I felt more free to explore the LGBTQ community and the films that surrounded it, I was extremely excited to find that I Luv Video (a local Austin video store by UT's campus) had an entire section for Gay & Lesbian movies! By the summer after my freshman year of college (and severely late to the game) I had discovered the wonderful world of netflix and other film and television websites. I feel like I can safely say that I've dabbled a lot in the "queer film world", or New Queer Cinema (a term created by B Ruby Rich).

At this point, however, I've had a lot of conversations about what makes queer film "queer". For the longest time, I thought of queer film as any movie that had LGBT characters in it. That's easy to define -- any lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender characters in a movie makes it a gay and lesbian movie (no matter how good of a job they did [lookin' at you, Glee]), right? But if that were the case, younger me thought, then it couldn't possibly be realistic of the LGBT community, because we couldn't possibly fathom who is part of the LGBT community and who wasn't (as in, we can't assume everybody is anything but straight until they have a dramatic coming out scene). Maybe we should have a friendly notice before each movie or television show -- "Do not assume any characters in this film are straight or queer unless otherwise specified". However, a lot of people would disagree with this must-have-queer-character theory.

Maybe, in order to be considered a "queer film", the movie/show we're watching has to not only include LGBT characters, but it also must have a positive and accurate representation of identities, or a political standpoint, or must someway be displaying LGBTQ activism. In other words, it couldn't just be two women kissing. That kissing has to, as one of my professors stated earlier this semester, have the ability to [politically, for this argument's sakes] move mountains. The love between two men or woman must have a political intent. But in order to argue that, we'd have to define what activism is and for a lot of people, that activism for many people includes making movies with LGBTQ characters.

Yet despite the plausibility of the prior theories, I recently heard a very interesting argument about what makes queer cinema "queer". Some critics, particularly those who grew up in the time period of the late 1980's and 90's, when New Queer Cinema was at it's peak, argued the queer cinema did not necessarily have to have representation of LGBTQ folks, or even have LGBTQ conent, but it had to differ from mainstream film in terms of the style of how it was filmed (aesthetics, camera angles, effects, etc.).

When thinking about these arguments in terms of language (which is often what our movement gets caught up on, such as the different between the Austin Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and the more inclusive title, "Polari" [they're changing it back to AGLFF]), we always come back to the word "queer". I personally like this word as an identifier for myself because of the "wiggle room" it gives me on any given day in terms of having to explain my identity to somebody, or even what the label means to me. But it's no surprise that "queer" means so many different things to so many people. A lot of people in the queer community state that there's a big difference between those who are "queer" and those who are "gay and lesbian", because the mainstream LGbt movement are focusing on white, middle class, (mostly cisgender) gay and lesbian people. Some people still use "queer" as an adjective to describe something that's "abnormal" or "different", such as the aforementioned experimental filmmakers. Some people use it to further divide the community (which is certainly okay if that's what it means to them), as well as an umbrella terms that includes all of the LGBTQQAAPI+++ folks.

My question is -- I know there have been thousands of queer films from the past century that have been screened at queer film festivals, competed competitions, and made by graduate film students, etc., that are wonderful, beautiful, and that represent so many of the different identities in the LGBTQ community. Unfortunately, despite the number of queer films there have been, there's no perfect system that archives all of these queer films that makes it easily accessible to everybody in the movement. If we were to have a popularized and accessible queer film and television database that streams queer film and tv from the internet, how would the modern day LGBTQ movement be different in terms of acceptance and social justice? Would young queer kids like me have felt less alone? Would mainstream society be more accepting of our community and more informed on identities beyond "gay and lesbian"?

We've come a long way since Ellen Degeneres first came out in her sitcom "Ellen". I grew up seeing queer characters on Degrassi, Disney shows, Life Time movies, Modern Family, Parenthood, Grey's Anatomy, etc., and I'm lucky to have grown up in a time where there's more conversation surrounding our community sparked from television shows and movies. I'm excited to see how queer film changes  in my life time, and how I can help change it.

No comments:

Post a Comment