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Que(e)ries: 10 Lowlights For LGBT People and the Movies in 2013

Que(e)ries: 10 Lowlights For LGBT People and the Movies in 2013

Two weeks ago, this column reflected on the many positive reasons that 2013 was a landmark year
for queer cinema and queers in cinema
. In the
spirit of community, we opened things up to a
half-dozen or so contributors, asking them for some of their own personal highlights in that regard. Well, as things go, for every step forward there’s usually a couple steps back. So once again we asked around — this time about some of the things folks weren’t so appreciative of when it came to queers and the movies this past year.

The results are listed below in alphabetical order, and keep in mind that everything is subjective. One particularly divisive film is on both this list and the positive-oriented one, while two others were widely acclaimed by queer and straight critics alike, so we fully expect and respect some disagreement. But with that in mind, here’s our list. Please feel to free to challenge them, or just add your own lowlights, in the comments section:

Angela Robinson and POWER UP break up
This is a lowlight for me for so many reasons. 13 years ago this month. The Professional Organization of Women in Entertainment Reaching Up (POWER UP) was founded. A non-profit, its aim was to improve the visibility of queer women in film both by funding their projects and by recruiting and mentoring young women across a variety of roles. These are laudable goals which remain ever-necessary and which produced the likes of Jamie Babbit’s “Itty Bitty Titty Committee” (2007). Despite this, POWER UP has been mired in controversy almost since its inception. The latest development is the rift between Angela Robinson (whose feature film “D.E.B.S.” started life as a POWER UP funded short) and Stacy Codikow, the organization’s founder. Robinson released a statement in October cutting all ties with POWER UP, and disassociating herself with the recently released “Girltrash: All Night Long.” Robinson wrote the film and was involved in every step of its production, but cited working with Codikow as “the worst experience” of her career and refused to condone the final cut. Whatever went on here, it’s sad to watch an institution with such great aims eat itself from the inside. It’s sad too because Robinson is a marvelous filmmaker. She is playful, self-aware and wonderfully funny. I want to see the film that she was happy to release, but it looks like interpersonal politics mean that might never happen. [Sophie Smith]

Stacie Passon’s “Concussion” was one of the films I couldn’t wait to see in 2013. This was not least because it was produced by Rose Troche, who has done so much for queer visibility in cinema. But its plot also promised much: affluent suburban housewife Abby is hit by her son’s baseball and in the fallout confronts her wife’s ebbing desire by taking up as a high-class call girl. The first 20 minutes or so lived up to expectations: a quick-witted script was complimented by slick cinematography and an immediately captivating performance from Robin Weigert. For me, however, this promise didn’t just stall, it took some deeply uncomfortable turns. Abby’s first encounter with sex work is as client, and it is ostensibly not “high-class.” The meeting is “dirty” – as Abby herself consistently reiterates when recounting it – the woman a druggie who – dear God! – offered Abby a hit herself. Perhaps this was meant as a satirical jab at the hypocrisy of middle-class morality when it comes to things like this, but if so, it was neither convincing nor sufficiently developed: instead it just seemed that Passon was reassuring her audience that hers was a story about safe, sexy sex-work, not the grotty kind poor people do. Not once did the film confront the particularities or peculiarities of its own conceit: Abby remains seemingly unchanged by selling her body multiple times, to women of various ages –in one instance young enough to be her daughter. She might as well have bought a Ferrari for all the film does to draw out the nuances of this as a mid-life crisis.  We got nothing, either, on the central relationship between the two women; Abby’s wife and their marriage were thinly drawn to the point of vacuous.  The whole thing made me wonder if “Concussion” was a slightly half-hearted exploration of Passon’s own privileged frustrations: a happy escape from quotidian nuisance, but not a story she was burning to tell. This thought seemed further buttressed when she revealed in the Q&A that no, she hadn’t researched sex-work, save to confirm that this sort of polished variety did exist. Curiously, both Passon and Weigert suggested an adequate explanation for this was that Abby herself was a novice in such affairs: this is fine, until Abby stops being a novice and starts being a jobbing call-girl, and yet her story continues to be told by people who have done no research into how those experiences might affect her, positively or otherwise. Critics have variously heralded “Concussion” as a brave new direction in lesbian filmmaking, a ‘merciless satire’ and a film to rival the output of Bergman: I have no doubt Passon is capable of these things, but for me this film belied a disappointing lack of development.  It didn’t challenge itself, and the audience was left unchallenged because of this. [Sophie Smith]

“Ender’s Game”
Every good queerdo should have a well thumbed stack of science fiction paperbacks on their bookshelves -lovingly tucked in between Sarah Waters and Jeannette Winterson. (That’s where mine are.) So I was cautiously optimistic when I heard news of an “Ender’s Game” feature film due in November of this year. Based on the novel by Orson Scott Card, this outsider hero narrative served as a gateway science fiction book for many young people, queer and … not queer. As publicity for the film began, I was shocked to learn that the author’s homophobic beliefs were as vitriolic as his characters’ hatred of the buggers (an intelligent alien species trying to destroy humanity.) How could the author of such a “Queer” story — that of a weakling child genius sent to a children’s military school complete with a naked shower fight scene — be giving his Hollywood money to Focus on the Family? News that Scott Card’s deal entitled him to none of the movie’s profits did not deter calls for boycotting. Fortunately, the boycotters didn’t miss much. The movie, like its author, was a total dud. [Judith Dry]

The GLAAD Awards Honor Brett Ratner
Bill Clinton, Steve Warren, Anderson Cooper, Adam Lambert and Brett Ratner were the five people that the GLAAD Awards decided to honor in what was clearly a benchmark year for LGBT representation in mainstream culture. Five filthy rich white dudes, two of whom are not only straight but don’t exactly have perfect track records when it comes it to LGBT issues (here’s hoping Frank Ocean simply declined the invitation, because I can’t think of a more obvious and worthy honoree with respect to last year).  Of the five, Ratner is clearly the most disturbing choice. An “ally award” a year or so after he infamously said that “rehearsal is for fags” during a Q&A for his film “Tower Heist,” a comment that in part led to his resignation as producer of the Academy Awards? Ratner explained during his speech that he has since learned a “valuable lesson”: “A word can matter. Whether its said with malice or as a joke. And being insulted for using the word cannot compare to the experience of any young gay man or woman who has been the target of offensive slurs of derogatory comments.” Well, I’m certainly glad Mr. Ratner figured that out. And though he seems to at least appear devoted actions to his words (he’s been working with GLAAD to produce and direct pro-marriage equality PSAs), to give him an award for that is ridiculous. Especially in this day and age of film careers crumbling because of these sorts of comments and “making good examples of yourself” often smelling like strategic damage control. [Peter Knegt]

“I’m So Excited”
Quo Vadis, Pedro? “I’m So Excited” is still one of those films were I secretly think and hope that someone else other than Pedro Almodóvar directed it. College humour meets gay stereotypes meets a story that left me the most unexcited I have ever been watching an Almodóvar film. Going from punk rebel and church critic to camp master to brilliant queer story teller, the director left the world bewildered with his latest work. For a moment, the alcohol and drug-addicted party flight attendants are bearable in the name of irony but as this bad joke enfolds, you can’t help but feel that this is the most homophobic and superfluous film you have seen in a long time. It also raises the question of who is supposed to laugh about that – queens with low self-esteem or homophobic art house lovers? I love you, Pedro, but you should keep your hands off comedy, unless you get your Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls Like Mom groove back. [Toby Ashraf]

Jared Leto’s Character In “Dallas Buyers Club
Back in September, I devoted an edition of this column to a rather aggressive trashing of “Dallas Buyers Club” after
seeing it at its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. And I’ll
admit I was a caught a little offguard by how few people seemed the
agree with me once reactions started coming in. “Dallas” ended up with
pretty glowing reviews, and is now on track for Oscar nominations for
stars Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto (with the latter probably even
winning). My mind a bit boggled, I went and saw the film again,
wondering if I’d simply gone into it with a preordained opinion. But I
honestly felt the same way the second time around. I could go on and on,
but I already did.
The one thing I would like to reiterate, though (and spoiler alert ahead — though its hardly a surprise in the film), is the
portrayal of its only LGBT character, Leto’s Rayon (who unlike McConaughey’s Ron
Woodroof, is completely fictional — so there’s no excuses of “well, she was a real person”). Largely an issue of the film’s
simplistic screenplay (which really seems to be written by people that
have very little perspective on the history of AIDS), Rayon rarely
extends beyond caricature. We never find out much about her beyond her
relationship to Woodroof, and though she has a boyfriend that is present
in many of the film’s scenes, we never even find out his name. And
while the film consistently lionizes Woodroof without really giving us a
reason to feel like he deserves it, Rayon is continuously victimized (a
Hollywood tradition for queer characters), largely through her
inability to overcome a drug addiction that eventually leads to her
death (the screenplay even gives Leto the line “I don’t want to die!” to
hysterically mumble in its final scenes — which god help us will probably be the scene the Oscars play before Leto wins one). Woodroof is clearly a drug
addict too (not to mention an alcoholic and a sex addict), and also
struggles with overcoming it. But “Dallas Buyers” portrays his struggle
with much less judgement than Rayon’s, and ultimately blames her death
on her drug addiction.  This isn’t really Leto’s fault, but for him to win an Oscar for it just encourages this kind of representation to continue (which it probably will either way). [Peter Knegt]

Jodie Foster’s “coming out speech”
Note the scare quotes. The Golden Globes took a turn for the unexpected when Jodie Foster decided to use her acceptance of the Cecil B. DeMille award to allude to her sexuality for the first time in public. I am not here to criticize the content of her speech, nor her decision to make it. I am glad for anyone whom it inspired or enlightened. And yet, in every word and gesture, Foster made it clear that this was not an “announcement” she ever wanted to make. “I already did my coming out about 1,000 years ago” she explained, “gradually and proudly to everyone [I] actually met”. At best a reconciliation, at worst an admission of defeat, it came after decades of the actress contending with a media that required her to define her sexuality in a way that did not suit or appeal to her. This is not about feeling sorry for Jodie Foster, the Oscar-winning multi-millionaire. But if this is how our culture captures and displays its “positive gay role models”, I think I’m good with Alexander the Great. [Matthew Hammett Knott]

The Lesbian Whitewashing of “Saving Mr Banks”
I can’t be the only person who would have happily replaced one of those interminable flashback scenes of drunk n’ crazy Colin Farrell with a moody sequence concerning, say, P. L. Travers’ torrid affair with the American Jessie Orage. There are those who would say the fact that the Mary Poppins author had significant relationships with women throughout her life is entirely irrelevant to the story of Disney’s fraught adaptation of her most famous novel. And yet the entire narrative of “Saving Mr Banks” was supposedly concerned with “Disneyfication” – that is, the bland homogenization of a spiky personal narrative to prepare it for commercial consumption. There are numerous compelling ways that Travers’ unorthodox sexuality could have been used to illustrate just what made her so uncomfortable with handing over her personal history to this hideously heteronormative storytelling machine. But I’m not sure what I expected from the studio whose idea of overtly gay characters are Timon and Pumba. [Matthew Hammett Knott]

Just when you thought Vito Russo’s “Celluloid
Closet” might be nothing but a historical document, here comes Brian de
Palma’s train wreck of a film called “Passion,” which yet again features
a powerful seducer whose sexuality is linked to her inevitable
punishment. Apart from the usual sexism (women fight each other over men
and power), de Palma pulls another ugly rabbit out his cliché hat,
namely the lesbian side kick Dani, played by German actress Karoline
Herfurth. Her open lesbian identity can be used to blackmail her (sexual
assault), laugh at her (she is in love with her boss and makes a pass)
and must be punished eventually. Her motivation – jealousy, unrequited
love and revenge logically lead to her death. The only upside of this:
hardly anyone has seen the film… [Toby Ashraf]

The Sex Scenes in “Blue Is the Warmest Color
Watching Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Léa Seydoux) voraciously lust after one another in “Blue Is The Warmest Color,” I felt more of a voyeur than an empathizer — I didn’t see myself, or any sense of a woman, in them. They didn’t look at each other during sex, they didn’t talk or whisper or giggle (it was Adèle’s first time, why wasn’t she nervous?). Most importantly, they hardly even kissed during the first nearly-15-minute sex scene, and if you’re as passionate and lustful as those two you’d definitely be kissing. None of their sex scenes (except maybe the last when they finally interact as a couple) felt like two women making love, but more so like two heterosexual women acting out a male’s aestheticized lesbian fantasy. Their sex, which should more accurately be called endless-ass-slapping-sessions, doesn’t play as something performed for a queer audience, by a queer audience, or to depict queer people. Just as Joachim, the gallery owner in the film, says that men’s ecstasy is shown via women in art, the sex scenes in “Blue” are merely Abdellatif Kechiche’s ecstasy shown through his actresses. “Men try desperately to depict it,” Joachim says of mystery of the female orgasm. Sorry Kechiche, but even after nearly 20 minutes of sex scenes, you didn’t quite hit the mark. [Erin Whitney, who had nice things to say about the film too]

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I thought they were both (leto and mm) just over the top with everything, which was probably the flaw of direction more than anything else. On the other movies, I didn't have a problem with the sex scenes in Blue at all, except for when Adele started staring back at Lea while she was on her hands and knees and the reverse cowboy scissor stuff which felt porny. It was Adele's performance which felt overwrought to me. It never let up and after a while I was like "stop crying." And the Angela Robinson thing is barely news, but great for you to bring up. Almodovar and Concussion have a B+ on indiewire, so I can't believe these are "low lights" (these lists have to go – they are so self hating – I mean there are only like a few dozen gay films anyway.) And then the only other one I saw was Saving Mr. Banks, and I don't know where they would have even talked about her sexuality. The film was clearly about a traumatic event in her life when she was little and how it effected her writing. And how hard it is to let go of that vision. I thought it was so poignant, and not a biopic so much as a kind of a film about intellectual property and making personal work and what happens when that work is on being combed through and how personally exposing it is. To point out that she was gay would have been sort of tokeny and incidental, so I could go either way on that, but hardly a LOW POINT.


Disagree! Gay people are as flawed as straight! Jared Leto played a terribly flawed character brilliantly!


@Toby Ashraf- the point is that you can't talk about Rayon without taking into account Jared's performance. You can't ignore this nuanced and respectuful portrayal that elevates the character beyond caricature and limit your view on *what could have been* if a lesser actor took the part and didn't manage to work around the sometime faulty script and labeled it as a lowlight of the queer representation.

She's just a secondary character? Yeah, and I don't see it as a problem since this is Ron's story (like it or not). Her arc is clichey, yeah ..maybe… but so it's fundamentally Ron's. Is it necessarly a bad thing? I don't think so. Not when it still somehow realistic and works so well it left people speechless and in tears and successfully communicate its message. Rayon success with the large majority of the audience isn't a reaction to a straight male playing beautifully a trans or straight people taking pity on the poor victimized queer character – but a reaction to a powerful story and a wonderful portrayal of universal human emotions. Seeing Rayon's flaws just as the umpteenth attempt to portray a lgbt character as weak it's a limited, superficial and cynical view.

Peter Knegt completely missed the opportunity to regard what is one step forward in Hollywood representation of this kind of characters and use it for the cause.


An absolutely atrocious article! These 'lowlights' are far-fetched and mostly have nothing in common with mentioned movies/events/personalities. The worst of them all is the part about Saving Mr. Banks. Without any exaggerations, it's probably the most insane s**t I've read this month (pardon my French). The author of this passage didn't understand that this movie about making the Mary Poppins film and it's not a Travers biopic. Her bisexuality doesn't fit into the plot at all. Then, he put homogenization, heteronormativity and his personal (cooked-up) issues with Disney which are completely not connected with the movie itself. P.S. Somebody needs to explain him that Disney company is not obligated to include LGBT characters in their films.


Erin's comments lack in much validity when it comes to Blue is the Warmest Color. First she wildly exaggerates the length of the 1st sex scene (outside Adele's dream). She states it is 15 minutes. It is around 7 minutes. Second she says they don't kiss. Actually they repeatedly kiss during those 7 minutes. Not just on the lips, which occurs several times, but on the body. This may also be shocking to Erin but not all lesbians (or all women for that matter) feel the need to talk or giggle or whisper. The first time for many women having sex is about desire being played out. Of course the first sex scene between the two women plays out differently than the last. The first is about physical desire being fulfilled and the last one is about two people who have ended up falling in love expressing they are in love with each other. Simply put, they are similar to most couples who have wild, animalistic sex the first time.

As for nerves, Adele had slept with someone before. It may have been a man but not every lesbian or bisexual woman has some nervous streak. This notion that she is supposed to feel nervous about her first time with a woman is ridiculous. That is the problem with much of the criticism of the sex scenes. It is people complaining that the sex was not like their sex while discounting the many people who go it reminded me of my sex life. It is people exaggerating the length of scenes. It is people making up nonsense such as Kechiche films it differently which does not hold up under scrutiny. Note to Erin – everyone is different especially when it comes to sex. And for God's sakes, spare the male fantasy crap. It marginalizes and it is a cheap attempt to get validation by calling out the director for their gender.


The thing about the sex scenes in BitWC to me was how they were lit: overly. They looked like they were shot in a studio, not in a bedroom. The light was bright, even. No shadows, no nuance. Almost clinically. It was as if it was an examination, by the filmmaker, of how lesbians make love, at least in his head. And there were the wide shots of the actresses going at it that felt to me like the director was saying, 'See! The actresses were really naked and really going at it! Not just a close up here on a hand, there on a mouth, this is full-fledged sex, right?' And I kept thinking about how the actresses felt, if there was a crew on the set, how many lights they used to get it so evenly lit . . . And I kept thinking I wanted to talk to my lesbian friends to see how they felt about these scenes. And I wanted to talk to them partially because the sex scenes seemed so mechanical (and as overwrought as they were over lit), that I needed to know that this wasn't how they made love.

My distance in the sex scenes was felt with the whole film. The relentless closeups became distancing; we're so close to the characters physically that we can't get close to them emotionally. I was watching and thinking about the actresses and what they were thinking, what they were doing, what the director had asked them to do, rather than identifying with the main character (and I could identify intellectually, having held on to a love-that-couldn't-be even longer than she had . . . ) and empathizing with her.

And on Rayon in DBC, I felt the same way about the director's attitude to that character as the director toward the women in BitWC. A straight man's idea of what a gay man is, what a transvestite is. See the tragic, fragile little bird, flitting about, well-coiffed and made up always . . . I had heard so much about this performance that I wanted to see the film just because of it. And I guess expected a lot more than I got. Sure, it's a good performance, but are we really to get so excited when a straight man puts on some makeup and a lisp and plays a tragic semi-heroine? Apparently. Because it's happened before, in Kiss of the Spider Woman. Big, manly William Hurt slathers on pancake and mascara, throws on a filmy kimono, and gets a limp wrist and the Oscar is thrown at him months before the awards. But in that film, Raul Julia's character has the arc, the emotional journey, and the more interesting (and nuanced, and difficult) performance. In Philadelphia, Tom Hanks goes gay and gets sick and does opera and not kissing of his love, and the Oscar is his, all his! But Denzel Washington's character has the arc, the emotional (and intellectual) journey, and the more interesting (and nuanced, and difficult) performance. (The same is true in Rain Man, where the impaired guy's role gets all the glory because it's flashy, and (dare I say it?) Tom Cruise has a much better, more nuanced performance because, yep, his character has the dramatic arc, the emotional journey . . . but I digress . . . ).


I would add Taran Killam's creepy turn as an effeminate kidnapper in 12 Years A Slave. While not specifically gay, per se, the implications were there. Glad to see the Cunnilingus Opus included,though. As a queer, I don't find straight culture's curiosity about gay sex acts to be a compliment. Especially when it's performed through fake rubber vaginas.


ender's game is a queer story… I guess they were right when they said every reader will take away what they want


Honestly, I don't understand what's so bad in the representation of Dani in Passion. Yes, she's a bad person in the movie and blackmail Rapace's character into becoming her mistress. And WHERE IS THE PROBLEM? So, filmmakers don't have a right to portray LGBT people as villains, don't they? Is the only way homosexuals should be portrayed in movies is as saint, flawless creatures who have nothing in common with an average human being?

Gerard Kennelly

i love Noomi Rapace
and i hate the way hollywood has wasted her
SHERLOCK HOLMES 2 guy ritchie
PROMETHEUS ridley scott
PASSION brian depalma

Toby Ashraf

Less to defend a friend and more to get this discussion to the crucial points it was based on; This is NOT a discussion about the quality of acting, Peter's various points (and this column is clearly queer-labelled) is that a) we have a transgender character that is left to various costume changes (true – representation), some sassy one-liners (true – dialogue) and a secondary function as far as the entire story is concerned (all Peter's points here are very true and lead to a very biased identification with a allegedly straight "hero" whose anal sex with a man is nothing but a cheap flashback à la Brokeback Mountain). Now, given that these actors are in these roles, I have to comment that both MacConaughey and Leto actually give stunning performances which is a point one should have acknowledged more. I found it amazing how AIDS, the problem with its medication and its nasty deaths (in the beginning) are portrayed here and find the film and its overall endeavour quite challenging and brave for a film that doesn't only aim at a few. Cinematography and editing are brilliant and the entire film uses a documentary style for a portrayal of a very specific situation that made it into an independent film that (we all know that) was certainly hard to finance. My respect and my admiration goes out to the people who fought for it and maybe it wasn't exactly the perfect example for a thorough critique of queer representation. AND YET, this blog is concerned with independent films (and should be more) and this section is concerned with queer representation in film and elsewhere. It is an important point to make (and many juries have been out so far) that the uncritical assessment of roles that are highly "unnormal" to a maintream audience are further "othered" by giving them prices for the quality of the performance. The bottom line here is clearly a heteronormative view on film production and acting. Was there EVER a gay actor who was so convincing playing straight that he was showered with prices? Is it ever interesting to a studio to have a transgender actor/actress portray a transgender character? The answer is NO. The normal, the status quo is still white and straight and everything apart from that is priceworthy and THAT's the homophobia Peter is trying to tackle and that's something we should discuss more instead of how great or bad Jared Leto was in that film.

Joe Mahma

"Rayon rarely extends beyond caricature."

Meh. I'm not an expert in queen behavior but I'm 51 and both myself and the 29 year old female I saw this movie and had no such issues with Leto's portrayal. And I'd have to agree with Todd Ford's assertion here 100%: "Rayon is Woodroof's ultimate challenge."

It's a movie, not a book.

Beth Hanna

Completely agree with your assessment of "Dallas Buyers Club" and the character of Rayon, Peter. Well put.

David Glassman

I am utterly disappointed by every disparaging article IW writes about Leto in DBC. I hope to not see another one any time soon. Would be great if instead of looking at this as a "glass-half-empty" sitch we could see it in a more optimistic way. Another cisgender writer trying to decide on behalf of the trans community what is a positive trans representation on screen and what is not.


you can watch DBC 10 times but if you keep looking at it superficially you will end up missing the point and therefore missing the chance to enjoy an amazing character/performance.

Todd Ford

I think you missed the point of Leto's character Rayon in DBC as well, but I'll try to articulate my reasoning. It is Woodroof's story. His character change needs to be to shed some of his homophobia and accept someone he hates. Rayon is, in a sense, a stereotype of everything he fears in the LGBT world. Rayon is Woodroof's ultimate challenge. I think the character shows great specificity and becomes a distinct human being rather than a stereotypical flaming fairy due to both the writing and Leto. I thought the character of Rayon's lover was also very specific even though we learn little about him–and keeping his character mysterious is actually appropriate given, once again, that this is Woodroof's story and coming to terms with Rayon is already as much as he can handle.


Hah – Almodovar, one of Queer Cinema's greatest icons, made a homophobic movie according to someone who missed the ENTIRE point of 'I'm So Excited'.

I miss journalism.


Oh my god the sex scenes in Blue again? 15 minutes? It's six, and the second one's maybe two and the first one with the dude is one and a half? Another person who couldn't see themselves in it. Well, that's a shame. Sorry you couldn't see yourself due to the fact that you think Kechiche embodies all men's lust for two women banging. What a bunch of same song groupthink shit. Read B. Ruby Rich.


thanks for the DBC spoiler.

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