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.
6. Basic Instinct , 1992; Dir. Paul Verhoeven
Women who have sex with women must be up to something evil, at least that’s the message embedded in Basic Instinct. In this film, four seductive and sexually deviant women smoke cigarettes, drive fast cars, and don’t need men. Ah! What could be worse! Well, Sharon Stone's killer role bares all in a scene that was forever frozen in men's (and women's) memories. Gay rights and media watch groups like Queer Nation and Out In Film were upset by the use of negative lesbian/bisexual stereotypes—both that bisexual women are just using lesbian sex as a fun activity when men aren’t around and the idea that all lesbians dream of viciously murdering men.
7. Pulp Fiction , 1994, Dir. Quentin Tarantino
Tarantino's oeurvre has recurring themes of homoeroticism and male sexual tension, but his most disturbing to date may come from the film that skyrocketed him to fame, Pulp Fiction. In the scene that finds Butch (Bruce Willis) with Marsellus (Ving Rhames) bound by redneck pawn shop owners and waiting to be sodomized, a silent masked figure known only as "the gimp" is being used (and abused) by the men as a sex object. Centered around male-on-male rape fears and fantasies, it propagates ideas of gay sex shame and perversions that only escalate in Tarantino's much-ballyhooed Django Unchained.
8. I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, 2007; Dir. Dennis Dugan
Two straight men pose as a couple, ala Jack Tripper, of Threes Company, with a boyfriend. When GLAAD pre-screened this movie before its release, a representative told Entertainment Weekly, “The movie has some of the expected stereotypes, but in its own disarming way, it’s a call for equality and respect.” OK, not the worst refutation! But most found the Chuck-and-Larry screen time in poor taste, and the film received a Razzie for “Worst Screen Couple” for Adam Sandler—with either Kevin James or Jessica Biel as the other half.
9. Brüno, 2009 ; Dir. Larry Charles
In 2009, Sacha Baron Cohen created a feature film for his character Brüno, a gay Austrian fashion journalist. The film contained some overly graphic “gay” sex scenes and was founded on stereotypes that pandered to the lowest homophobic denominator. In the New York Times, A. O. Scott said the film was evidence "that lampooning homophobia has become an acceptable, almost unavoidable form of homophobic humor."
10. The Dilemma , 2011; Dir. Ron Howard
When the trailer for The Dilemma was released, Anderson Cooper was shocked by Vince Vaughn’s exclamation, “Electric cars are gay.” No one expected homophobic jokes to come from director Ron Howard, but Little Opie did end up stirring a controversy that GLAAD president Jarrett Barios said would “help schools, media, and parents understand the impact of the word ‘gay’ being used as a pejorative.”