10 Straight-Directed Films that Got Us Wrong
By Chloe Fitzpatrick
Pictured: 'Blue Is The Warmest Color'
When Blue Is The Warmest Color, a French film directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, made its debut at Cannes last month, ultimately winning the top prize, viewers and critics were all a flutter over the long, graphic sex scenes between two young women. At the festival, it was celebrated for its daring portrayal of lesbian love, receiving multiple awards and praise. But for a film with such potential, many have since expressed reservations, feeling the heterosexual male director fell short of providing the audience with realistic depictions of lesbian sex.
Julie Maroh, the creator of the graphic novel Blue Angel, on which the film was based, was disappointed in the uninformed and pornographic elements of the sex scenes. On her blog, she wrote (in French): “This is what was missing on the set: lesbians.” Some directors have taken the measure of hiring experts as Maroh suggests. On the set of Bound, for example, The Wachowskis hired sex educator Susie Bright to choreograph the lesbian sex scenes. They were praised for relying on realism instead of the male gaze in their portrayal of queer copulation. Blue wasn’t the first time a straight director has let down the LGBTQ public and received a backlash of criticism. Here, we take a look back at some overzealous straight dude directors who pissed off moviegoers.
1. Dressed to Kill, 1980; Dir. Brian De Palma
When a culture has interest in reserving rights to the dominant group, a common tactic is depicting the “other” as mentally unstable, morally wrong, or dangerous. One manifestation of this is the cinemic trope of The Gay Villain—or even more specifically, The Creepy Cross-dresser. Exhibit A: Bobbi in Brian De Palma’s Hitchcock homage, Dressed To Kill. Just after a patient of his is murdered, therapist Robert Elliot (Michael Caine) receives angry messages from another patient, named Bobbi, a transgender woman with an unstable mind and a bad temper (who is played by Caine in drag).
2. Cruising , 1980; Dir. William Friedkin
When Al Pacino goes undercover to find a murderer who has been targeting gay men around New York’s S&M scene, he becomes deeply involved with its cast of characters. Director William Friedkin was criticized for creating an uninformed, Hollywood-version of gay life. At the time, gay rights groups protested the movie, fearful that it would spread homophobia and even create a rise in hate crimes (gay=killer, would translate into anti-gay violence). As activist and author Vito Russo explained, "Gays who protested the making of the film maintained that it would show that when Pacino recognized his attraction to the homosexual world, he would become psychotic and begin to kill." When the film was re-released in 2007, it was greeted as a fascinating time capsule (it was released a year before the first AIDS cases were diagnosed) and recently queer filmmaker Travis Mathews collaborated with James Franco on a film, titled Interior. Leather Bar., that pays homage to the now-classic.
3. Silence of the Lambs, 1991 ; Dir. Jonathan Demme
The Creepy Cross-Dresser trope rears its head again in the world’s creepiest representation of gender dysphoria, Buffalo Bill. A kidnapper and serial killer who deals with his discomfort with his own male body by removing the skin from female victims to then tailor their flesh into a costume, Buffalo Bill’s violence is explained by his affinity for women’s clothing, make-up, and playing with gender while dancing in front of the mirror.
4. J.F.K. , 1991; Dir. Oliver Stone
At the 1992 Academy Awards, picketers protested outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in hopes to get some attention around the homophobic stereotypes present in the Oscar-nominated conspiracy film, J.F.K. Activists were upset, in particular, by Tommy Lee Jones’s portrayal of Clay Shaw.
5. The Crying Game , 1992; Dir. Neil Jordan
Once again, moviegoers were disappointed by the representation of transfolk in The Crying Game. The film, which is set during the Irish Troubles, focuses on protagonist Fergus (a member of the IRA) who falls for Dil (who is exotic, beautiful, and desperate for a man’s affection). When Dil reveals her naked body (and transgender secret) to Fergus, he runs to the bathroom to vomit, accidentally hitting her in the face on the way. The audience is asked to forgive and forget immediately—and even see him as heroic for getting over it, as if a trans body is something that needs to be gotten over, excused or looked passed in the face of love.