Misrepresentation of LGBTQ+ culture in film and music industries
Written by Mihika Kanani and Neelanjana Bose
It's no surprise that the moment you feel that you like things that are not common or not many people like it, you are termed different, and you feel like you have to hide because of the degrading so-called social norms/judgment. Sexuality and love have been portrayed artistically since time immemorial, and the art of filmmaking and music are known to be the most expressive kind. The power of depicting emotions, making us laugh and feel better and explaining social issues through acting and the sweet influence of melodies is undeniable. That being said, the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community into mainstream culture has been a long journey that has seen iconic moments of equality and acceptance. Some of it has witnessed rather disappointing and inappropriate ill-representation.
In music, mainstream LBTQ+ representation has always been two-sided. On the one hand, music has given empowering messages of freedom and equality. Many celebrities coming out in the open like Lil Nas X, Miley Cyrus, Freddie Mercury, Halsey, Rina Sawayama have been described to have given hope and comfort to many closeted individuals across the world. However, at the same time, there is definitely scope for improvement in the same. Once they come out and talk about their sexualities, they are dragged into the celebrity culture of scandals and then they are undervalued for their work.
In order to understand why current media representation needs drastic change, let’s take a look at an example of the song “Girls'' by Rita Ora, Charli XCX, Bebe Rexha and Cardi B:
The song contains lyrics that describe wanting to kiss girls while drunk and under the influence.
It pushes the narrative that bisexuality is often just “a phase” that is arbitrary and inconsistent, leading to backlash from the LGBTQ+ community.
This is not an isolated example.
Taking a look at the Bollywood industry, most LGBTQ+ characters are viewed as punch bags and jokes, which we see in movies such as Sadak, Kal Ho Na Ho, Dostana, etc.
It is a common phenomenon in music and film to depict same-sex couples in a form similar to how the male gaze, i.e., “the act of depicting women and the world, from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that presents and represents women as objects for the pleasure of the heterosexual male viewer”, views women, especially when the homosexuality is purely performative.
This is because, generally, women are given more freedom to explore their identity and revert back to heterosexuality, whereas men are vilified for doing this.
In addition to members of the LGBTQ+ community in real life, society doesn't spare fictitious characters either! Whether it’s through hinting towards queer relationships only to make them heterosexual again to representing queer characters in a hostile and stereotypical light, these characters really do deserve a lot better than being the negative repercussions of queer baiting!
Let's have a look at some of them:
We all love her and wish for a friend like her. But when it comes to her sexuality, it's really not fair that the creators didn't let us know that we would have loved her regardless!
Some of the most bisexual moments of her were
when she was lusting really hard on Cassie Geller (Ross and Monica’s cousin)
when she kissed Rachel to see 'what all the fuss is about.'
Phoebe also wears a yin-yang necklace which was broadcasted in 1994.
Just a year prior to this, the Australian Bisexual Movement adopted this symbol as their logo. The symbol itself promotes different sexualities; there's a bit of female in the male and a bit of male in the female- this refers to hermaphroditism which historically was another word for bisexual.
Season 3 Episode 14 was called 'Phoebe's ex-partner' in which Leslie was her 'friend' who left her five years ago to join the jingle business and abandoned their singing group. From a cinematic way, Phoebe's lines and acting felt like she was dealing with someone she had a past intimate relationship with. Even Monica and Joey were advising and consoling her from a relationship perspective.
They can give us all the hints in the world but won't add a simple line of Phoebe saying she’s bisexual. If they would have done so, it might give confidence to audiences who are struggling with their sexual identity. What's worse is that all of this was credited to her eccentric behaviour, which contributed to such similar stereotypes.
Anybody who is a fan of Harry Potter knows that Dumbledore was gay and was intensely in love with Gellert Grindelwald.
J.K. Rowling has addressed it too, later revealing that Dumbledore and Grindelwald didn't work out, and it scarred Dumbledore for life that he turned into a celibate.
However, this wasn’t portrayed in any of the movies.. It’s brutal for the people from the LGBTQ+ community, even the fictional ones.
In the novel series gossip girl, it is clearly stated that Chuck is bisexual and has had relationships with both guys and girls.
But they fail to depict this in the series, and I don't know why, maybe because Blair and Chuck have such good chemistry (nothing against Chair, though)..
On a side note, if the show would have depicted Chuck in a relationship with Blair, it wouldn’t have meant that Chuck wasn’t bisexual, and it would have helped with the stigma around bisexual people being the ‘confused ones’.
So, why exactly is this sort of representation harmful? Let’s take a look:
While sexual freedom and erotic exploration of one’s identity is not wrong in itself, mainstream media reinforces this aspect of homosexuality only, something which is not observed in its portrayal of heterosexuality.
This leads to internalised homophobia, which leads to people developing subconscious biases about gender identity and queerness, which can prove to become quite harmful.
These biases can even lead to internalised shame, which may lead to the hampering of finding one's identity and leads to queer erasure, i.e., “a cultural tendency to remove queer groups intentionally or unintentionally from the record, or to dismiss or downplay them".
It leads to possibly LGBTQ+ people feeling pressured to put a label on their sexuality and view it as a one-dimensional entity, something that straight people are usually not subjected to, as people are generally assumed to be heterosexual unless they say something to the contrary, even after which they are subjected to immense scepticism and doubt about the same!
So, what do we do to make our society and media more acceptable and aware of the gross misrepresentation of the LGBTQ+ community?
Our media needs to normalise queerness and portray LGBTQ+ people, not as jokers, clowns, oddities, salacious beings but as ordinary people who are equally deserving of respect as cis-gendered, straight people. Writers and directors must do adequate research when portraying LGBTQ+ characters so as to have an authentic representation of them in a way that is not harmful to others!
A great too many films and television shows often portray coming out as something which usually comes at the expense of others and shows that without coming out, you are not a genuine person in regards to your sexuality. This is a harmful and often unrealistic stereotype that can be solved by, once again, adequate research and care.
The media must also showcase other sections of the spectrum that is sexuality, such as polysexuality, asexuality, and more.
We as people must also read, become part of conservations, listen and understand, and spread awareness.
It is essential to understand that being cis-gendered and heterosexual has become a privilege. Change will be brought about only when we resolve our ignorance and subconscious biases and use our privilege for the better!