By: Diana Richtman
The film and TV industry is great at putting out hits that focus on characters who are white, male and straight such as “Fifty Shades of Grey” or “Phantom Thread.” These are two drastically different movies, and yet they still have those three core principles. In recent years, there has been a push to create more films and TV shows with LGBTQ+ characters. It is an exciting time for the LGBTQ+ community with films like “Moonlight,” “Call Me By Your Name” and “Love, Simon” finding major success in theaters and among critics. These movies are phenomenal while also doing the important work of representing the LGBTQ+ community. However, I can’t help but feel the movie industry is forgetting a major demographic. Queer women. “Moonlight,” “Call Me By Your Name” and “Love, Simon” all explore men’s sexuality, and they are not the only ones in recent years to do so. Where are the major films that take on these same themes of sexuality for women? Queer women’s stories are just as riveting and yet remain underdeveloped in major motion pictures.
“Love, Simon” is about a teenage boy named Simon who is navigating love and his sexuality for the first time while in high school. It is based off the young adult novel “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli and has the same producers as “The Fault in Our Stars.” It is advertised most clearly as a feel good, teenage rom-com. It is charming and real and, quite frankly, capable of changing how young men think of themselves and their sexuality. While this film is sure to have some kind of impact on queer teenage girls too, it is not as powerful as seeing two girls fall in love on screen. While the movie industry should continue to tell stories about young gay men like Simon, it also needs to start telling stories about young queer women. Just as Simon says he deserves a great love story, so do queer women.
Queer women want positive and nuanced stories about female sexuality, but it is important to consider what exactly that means. Often when lesbian and bisexual women are given screen time, those stories end tragically. It’s such a popular occurrence, for queer people of all genders, that the trope has been named “bury your gays.” In this narrative, gay women’s stories end most often with death.
One example of this is in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” when Willow’s girlfriend, Tara, ends up dying. A more recent example is in “The 100” when Clarke and Lexa finally get together only for Lexa to die within that same episode. Does this mean that every story featuring queer women needs to have only happy endings? Of course not. Stories are built around conflict, but there is a difference between unnecessary violence and death happening as a direct result of a character’s queerness and exploring the struggles and experiences of queer women. Going forward, those who take on the responsibility of telling these women’s stories need to be conscious of how they tell them.
This is not a particularly new desire for queer women. In fact, the desire to be portrayed realistically on screen has always been there. Now, it seems the question is will anyone rise to the occasion? In some cases, the answer is yes. Take, for example, the “Thanksgiving” episode of “Master of None,” which follows Lena Waithe’s character, Denise, throughout several Thanksgivings in her life as she attempts to come out to her mother. This episode won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. The episode was written by Waithe and is based on her own coming out experiences. This is just one example that shows that the demand for media content exploring female sexuality is there, and it also shows that those stories don’t have to be centered around white protagonists either.
The movie and TV industry has a long way to go before it can fully claim it tells stories as diverse as its audiences. In the push to tell more stories about LGBTQ+ characters, the movie industry needs to remember not every story has to be about men.