Thelma and Louise follows two women as they travel the country, evading the police who are chasing them for a murder that Louise committed. Starting off the weekend intending on going on a fun girls trip, the weekend turns sour when Louise catches a man attempting to rape Thelma. She punishes him by shooting him twice in the gut. As both women become more accustomed to the criminal lifestyle, they become more comfortable in their own skin. Their edges become harder, and they begin to come into who they truly are. As they ride through the rocks of New Mexico, their bond solidifies. They share something between them two alone, and they don't have any desire to return to their lives in Arkansas. The movie ends with a police chase, and with the women deciding they would rather die together than be caught by the police. They kiss, hold hands, and drive off of a cliff in Arizona.
The queer subtext in Thelma and Louise can be seen as an crucial reading of the film. While many choose to read their relationship purely platonically, understanding their relationship as queer love adds an important dimension to the film. Kohnen writes that "the insistence that seeing queerly is limited to queer spectators implies that a 'straight' view is the default view". After watching the film for the first time, I felt that the queer subtext was there but that I had to be misreading the film. I convinced myself that the film wouldn't have the popularity that it does if the characters were gay because the preferred reading of popular films is a straight one. On an online forum, a poster wrote that understanding the film as a lesbian movie means you are "missing the point of the movie". Someone else responded and argued that no, actually, the subtext and the preferred reading coexist. Although they never explicitly profess their gay love to one another, their journey can be seen as a realization and manifestation of their love. They both begin the movie as different people; Thelma the shy housewife eager to find fun on their trip, and Louise the rowdy yet rational woman who's dark past troubles her present. The murder that Louise commits and Thelma witnesses can be seen as a metaphor for their queer bond. It's necessary for their wellbeing that they keep the murder to themselves; just as it may have been crucial that their love stay between the two of them. No one but the two of them truly understand one another. This is exemplified in the scene that takes place after Louise talks to the cops for the second time. Thelma asks if Louise is gonna give up on her, and describes how something inside of her has changed. How she can't go back to her old life, and Louise understands and agrees. Both women share something so unique and personal that no one could possibly understand. Whereas the women had "settled" in their lives before the trip, going West meant their queer relationship evolved.
A case study on the movie Broke Back Mountain and how it has affected queer visibility.
Edited and created by Matty Hodgkins
Ang Lee’s 2005 cinematic hit, Brokeback Mountain, is regarded as one of the most successful mainstream queer movies every released. Winning three Academy Awards, including the most prestigious award of MTV’s best kiss 2006, to say that Brokeback Mountain made a huge splash is an understatement. The movie was released during a time in queer history where mainstream visibility was more seen on television rather than the big screen. There were other famously successful mainstream queer films like Philadelphia, but was one of the few films in the past decade that told the story of a queer character. To be straight and star in a movie like Brokeback Mountain might not seem like a big deal by today’s standards, but back in 2005, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal were definitely taking a huge career risk. The film stars the two as Ennis and Jack, two ranch hands that spend a summer at Brokeback mountain herding sheep and making love. The two characters form a romance during their time together, which spans on for decades after. However, their love is kept secret and only ever expressed when they sneak away back to the mountain.
This movie was very crucial for queer visibility at the time, but there are aspects about the story that complicate its public perception. The film is often just regarded as the gay cowboy movie, however, the main characters are never confirmed to be homosexual or any sexual orientation for that matter and they’re not even cowboys. There is some dialogue early in the film where Ennis tells Jack it was just a one time thing and that he’s not queer, which Jack agrees with. Both characters also marry women and start families. There are some strong indicators that Jack is in fact a homosexual, but Ennis would never allow himself to commit to that orientation. Aside from the fact that homosexuality being a taboo is narrative plot device for the story, I believe that cultural context also played a role in the decision to not give the character’s a concrete sexuality. There had not been very many mainstream queer films and although the film definitely had the star power, it still had to appeal to the widest audience. So, instead of Brokeback Mountain being a gay love story, the narrative suggests that it is more of a “universal” love story. Hilton-Marrow discusses the importance of visibility and points out that most people’s first and primary exposure to queerness is from the media. Since queer visibility was still in its infancy in the mainstream cinematic world, a strategy to create a universal love story will definitely help create a normative viewpoint. Visibility is also affected by stereotypes and other bias, so to make sure the audiences had less of a stereotyped perception before seeing the film, there was an effort to make sure the film was as sympathetic as possible. The harm here is that the moment of triumph the film has is lessened because it does not clearly identify itself. The film did pave the way for queerness in the mainstream and is continued to be viewed as a positive step in cinema history.
Disney films have had a history with subliminal content. I used to be so thrilled and astounded by the seemingly subtle messages implanted into the children’s films I grew up watching, upon discovering some of the double meanings within them. Now, I find it empowering to be able to take second, and third, looks at seemingly normative films that I grew up with and finding queer portraits painted in them over and over again. In this video essay, I investigate the queer landscape painted in the 1967 Disney film ‘The Jungle Book’, specifically looking at the queer and gay male tropes present in the film and the overall queer landscape allowed by the placement of the story within a foreign jungle setting.
The first paragraph of my accompanying written essay:
On principle, progressive 21st century viewers would likely object to a film like Some Like It Hot. The notion of a comedy that relies on the simple concept of men in drag for most of its humor is rather troubling, the implication of course being that the mere act of placing a dress on a man is innately funny enough to fuel an entire film. Perhaps even more troubling is the fact that the success of Some Like It Hot can be linked to the long line of films that rely on this same concept, from Tootsie in 1982 to White Chicks in 2004. In other words, the damage that such a backward-thinking premise would cause is not limited to the time of the film, 1959, but rather it pervades media practices even into the 21st century. This would seem a fundamental and unforgivable problem, and yet, even today, Some Like It Hot is considered by many to be one of the greatest comedies of all time. Is this simply because audiences and critics are willing to forgive political incorrectness in a movie if it comes from a time when its problems would have been better received? To an extent, yes, but I would posit that much of what makes Some Like It Hot successful goes even beyond its formal prowess. In spite of what appears to be, on the surface, a regressive view of gender and sexuality, Some Like It Hot actually presents just the opposite, and the fact that it came out almost sixty years ago makes its achievements all the more remarkable.