The Celluloid Closet is about the influence Hollywood has had on our views about homosexuality.
It was fascinating!
According to the film, there is no greater sin than being a woman. Throughout time immemorial (well – at least the past 90 years or so), a woman has been allowed to dress like a man and that’s been seen as OK. But if a man dresses like a woman, that’s a different baby altogether. So it’s no surprise that as women gain “equality”, homosexuality in men is becoming less and less of a big deal. It’s never been that big of a deal in women.
In the 1920s, homosexuality was displayed frequently in films – but gay men always provided the comic element. Homosexuality wasn’t taken seriously at all. By the 1930s, the government had cracked down on what films could and could not do and enforced some very strict censorship – a long list of things that could not be in films which included “sexual perversion”. So if you were a screenwriter and wanted to display any sort of homosexuality, you had to do so discretely and between the lines so that it would get through the censors. In order to do this, homosexuals were almost always displayed as cold-hearted villains.
Interesting side note – the censorship rules during this time period prohibited the display of white slavery although black slavery was allowed.
By the 1950s, homosexuality was allowed to be displayed in films, but lesbians were always behind bars, and homosexual men in movies were instructed on how not to be homosexual. They were reformed and taught how to walk like a man, talk like a man, and (presumably) have sex like a man.
In the 1960s, British films were openly portraying gays in a straightforward way and often as victims of society. This empowered American film makers to begin busting through taboos created by American censorship. Homosexuality was displayed much more openly. However, it was typically displayed as something people did not want to be a part of because it would inevitably end in disaster – very often suicide. So resist at all costs lest you want to die.
In the 1970s, gay men were finally displayed as being able to be gay without something horrible happening to them in the end. However, they were typically displayed as miserable and bitchy which was likely born out of the low self-esteem most homosexuals felt in the 1970s since homosexuality was still classified as a form of mental illness and basic homosexual acts were still considered illegal.
Another interesting side note – it was thought to be more acceptable to cast black men in gay roles than white men.
The 1980s brought an ugly retaliation. The homosexual went from victim to victimizer. With the homosexual as villain, everybody could cheer both the death of the villain and the homosexual. A lot of the films during this time period inspired some pretty ugly gay-bashing.
Another little interesting side-note – “faggot” in films started getting used in the same way “nigger” did in earlier films.
The 1990s was much more open – depicting homosexuality for the first time ever in a non-apologetic way. And that’s where the film ends – about 1995.
Have we moved forward or backward since then?