Editor's note: this post contains major spoilers for the season two finale of HBO's The White Lotus.
"These gays, they're trying to murder me."
For many decades in Hollywood, characters were queer-coded as a tool to highlight that they were evil, dangerous, mean, and/or villainous. Given that LGBTQ+ representation was virtually non-existent throughout that long period of time, it was incredibly dangerous for the only queer characters in film and on television to be villains. From Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon to Brian de Palma in Dressed to Kill to even Disney villains like Ursula in The Little Mermaid, audience members were trained to associate queerness with evil-doing.
Mainstream studios and storytellers thankfully caught wind of this dangerous trend and increased the inclusion of good, nice, and well-behaved LGBTQ+ people in the media. But that expansion of queer representation came with an incredibly heavy-handed course correction as to how these characters were portrayed in movies and TV shows. As we slowly get the LGBTQ+ superheroes, protagonists, and romantic interests we all asked for, we've suddenly got lost in a sea of queer characters that rarely feel relatable or realistic.
In the last 15 years, it's started to feel like most LGBTQ+ characters in mainstream projects are only there as victims (of suffering and/or death), as sassy/wise sidekicks (for comic relief and/or "spilling the tea"), or as stand-ins who seem devoid of personality, goals, and even a sex life. Though we can acknowledge - and appreciate - the course correction of not always featuring queer characters who will only lie, cheat, murder, and steal, it is equally jarring to watch so many movies and TV shows now being inclusive of queer people who are only portrayed as perfect little angels, heart-wrenching tragic figures, or Mary Sue archetypes.
In comes The White Lotus season two's Quentin (Tom Hollander) and his gaggle of rich, older European gays. At first glance, this is a group of wealthy, fun-loving tourists who befriend Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) and take her on all sorts of adventures. They present as the stereotypical gay best friends (GBFs) to Tanya that are there to save her vacation, spill some hot tea, and help her turn the beat around. And look - Quentin even brought his "nephew" on the trip, Jack (Leo Woodall), who's a perfect match for Tanya's young assistant, Portia (Haley Lu Richardson).
The White Lotus is all about subverting first impressions and assumptions/expectations of who people are and turn out to be, and that's exactly what happened with Quentin & co. in season two. Through the artifice of being Tanya's GBFs, they lied to her, made fun of her, sequestered her, and nearly killed her themselves. Quentin's "nephew" Jack turned out to be his hired escort. The gays weren't rich either - they had nothing but an old and decaying villa to use as a facade for wealth.
No, The White Lotus isn't the only mainstream TV show with villainous gays, but it does feel like the series made it a point to highlight what audiences have come to expect from these characters only to then reveal much darker sides to them over the course of the season. Along with Tanya, many viewers convinced themselves that this was a Queer Eye-esque group of fabulous men who were about to give Tanya the makeover of her life... not realizing that these gays were first-class scammers with plans of their own, not just sidekicks.
We do need Fire Island, Bros, Heartstopper, and LGBTQ-led holiday movies from Hallmark as representation. But along with them, we as a community also want to be excited, fascinated, and thrilled by LGBTQ+ characters who aren't included in a story just to suffer, be sassy, or serve other characters in the plot. The endgame of The White Lotus is a perfect example of how characters can be villainous and gay - not villains because they're gay, but villains who also happen to be gay.
When Tanya asked, "Do you know these gays?" to the non-English-speaking yacht captain, there was some poetry there. She didn't know those gays, after all, and neither did the audience. We hope more movies and TV shows give us that full breadth of gay representation, from the best people in the world to some of the absolute worst -- just like our straight counterparts.
All episodes of The White Lotus season two are now available on HBO and HBO Max.
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