There’s actually probably at least 20 good reasons why 2014 was such an important year for LGBT folks in film and television, but I’m going to do some major condensing for y’all. These kind of year end lists have been coming at you non-stop for weeks now, but this is one is a little bit different. It’s about a good few dozen films, television series or people that used film and television in 2014 to make the world that much more of a better place for LGBT people in general, and they all warrant your consideration:
1. The New Queer Television Last year, B. Ruby Rich released New Queer Cinema: The Director’s Cut, a must-read reflection on the early 1990s genre of cinema she designated in a groundbreaking article in The Village Voice. “These videos and films, so fresh and powerful, decisively shifted modes of representation, exhibition, and reception in ways that continue to evolve today,” Rich wrote in the book’s introduction. Replace the words “videos and films” with “television and online series” and we could easily be reflecting about the past year some time in the near future. Because if there’s ever been a moment in LGBT media output that even comes close to eclipsing the magnitude of New Queer Cinema, it’s the remarkable collective likes of “Transparent,” “Looking,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Please Like Me,” “Broad City,” “Faking It,” even “The Comeback” and “American Horror Story” to some degree. While considerably more mainstream than the majority of New Queer Cinema (“Swoon” and “Poison” certainly were never darlings of the Golden Globes), so is the state of LGBT representation in general. A lot has changed since 1992, and never has that been more apparent has it been in 2014. And these series were the centerpiece of that suggestion, and notably all of them came from outside traditional network television. Something tells me many a media studies dissertation will be written about by in the next year or two.
2. Laverne Cox and the Mainstreaming of Trans Representation
To some degree a result of that flux of LGBT representation on television, Laverne Cox had an astounding 2014. Brought to the attention of the public in 2013 via her role as transwoman Sophia Burset on “Orange is the New Black,” Cox ultimately saw herself become the first transperson to grace the cover of Time magazine, as well as the first to be nominated for an Emmy for acting. What’s more important, however, is how Cox used that spotlight to become an incredibly well-spoken, articulate, visible, thoughtful (we could go on and on) advocate for the transgender community. Whether through countless media appearances where she gave beautiful speech after beautiful speech or through the MTV and Logo documentary “Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word,” Cox transformed the way a lot of folks think of transpeople and undoubtedly made the world a better place in 2014.
3. The Films of Sundance 2014.
With a few notable exceptions (“Something Must Break” and “Pride” being the biggest two in my eyes — see these movies!), the motherlode of 2014’s best LGBT cinema first came at us in Park City, Utah way back in January. Making a list of 10 truly great LGBT films even at LGBT-specific film festivals is sometimes trying, let alone at a generalized festival playing films of all sorts. And while the Sundance has always been a bit queerer than your average major festival, in my seven years of Sundancin’ I’ve never seen a slate so packed with high quality queer content (though granted I didn’t have the pleasure of attending the new queer cinema-heavy early to mid-1990s editions of the festival). From powerful documentaries to dark, funny narratives that offer diverse explorations of the human condition, Sundance have us the likes of “Love is Strange,” “The Case Against 8,” “Appropriate Behaviour,” “The Skeleton Twins,” “Lilting,” “Jamie Marks is Dead,” “The Overnighters,” “The Foxy Merkins,” “My Prairie Home” and “White Bird in a Blizzard.” Haven’t heard of some of them? Change that by reading about all of them here, and then finding a way to see them all.
4. The Studio Movies of Summer 2014.
While Sundance is an expected place to find LGBT-friendly fare, the studio releases of the summer season are not. But summer 2014 was a bizarrely gay affair. Think “Neighbors.” When Seth Rogen’s Mac sees Zac Efron’s Teddy in the film for the first time, he offers Rose Byrne’s Kelly one of the film’s best lines: “He looks like something a gay guy created in a lab.” It’s funny ’cause it’s true, and honestly sometimes feels like the same could be said for ‘Neighbors’ itself. From its homoerotic frat house moments to its fetishization of Efron (and co-star Dave Franco, for that matter) to uniquely subversive takes on the standard gay panic jokes found in the long lineage of homophobic films that ‘Neighbors’ was born out of, the film seems to be outright pandering to gay audiences. Or think “22 Jump Street.” Though it does not contain Zac Efron man-candy or Dave Franco’s bare ass, ’22 Jump Street’ may have just knocked ‘Neighbors’ off its shiny gay pedestal with the most unapologetic pair of bromances I’ve ever witnessed on screen. The film, self-aware to a fault, plays constantly on the idea that ‘22 Jump Street’ is a direct repeat of ‘21 Jump Street,’ only this time we follow Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) to college. It is a funny meta-premises for an even funnier sequel to the 2012 original, with a never-better turn from Ice Cube as Captain Dickson and some hilarious supporting turns, particularly fast-talking newcomer Jillian Bell. But, amid the drug ring mystery hijinks and spring break debauchery, only Jenko and Schmidt’s relationship rings true as a narrative thread worth keeping track of. Their’s is a bond of undercover partnership, friendship, and ultimately (and I don’t think I’m overstepping), love (read more about that here). Or what about “Maleficent”? Outgrossing both “22 Jump Street” and “Neighbors” (not to mention every other summer movie save “Guardians of the Galaxy”) comes a different kind of gay-pandering: the campiest that is Disney’s “Maleficient.” Though surely kids helped the film take in its $237 million, gays clearly did their part. Any screening we went to seemed like part of a night out for dozens of gay men. Why? Read this article.
5. Ellen Page Ms. Page co-starred in what was arguably another contributor to Hollywood’s big gay summer, “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” But it was her February speech at an LGBT conference in Las Vegas that puts her firmly on this list as the most powerful coming out of any film or television performer in 2014. “Maybe I can help others have an easier time,” she said. “I am tired of hiding, and I’m tired of lying by omission.” While Page certainly isn’t the first Hollywood star to come out, as a result she remains part of a considerable minority by being as loud and proud as she was right out of the gate. Compare her to Jodie Foster, for example, who a few weeks prior to Page’s speech subtly acknowledged her own sexuality at the Golden Globes in a manner that surely did very little to help others have an easier time. Watch her speech below, and have a happy new year: