It’s Pride Week, and the LGBTQ community has a lot to be proud of. In just the past year, the number of states allowing same-sex marriage has doubled, gay youth have been accepted into the Boy Scouts, and it looks like the Supreme Court will strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. One area where there’s still a lot of room for change, however, is at the movies. While television has a wider selection of openly gay characters, Hollywood’s behind the curve when it comes to representation. The following exceptions highlight the lack of LGBTQ characters at the multiplex.
Note: I’m sticking to fictional characters as opposed to historical figures presented in film, though certainly there’s been many powerful historical films like Milk, Philadelphia, Heavenly Creatures, hell, depending on your read of history you could count Lincoln!
10-8. Dumbledore, Jack Sparrow, and Sherlock Holmes
In a better world, these would be the top three on the list. They’re great, iconic, heroic, badass, beloved characters, and they all happen to be queer. J.K. Rowling famously outed Dumbledore, Robert Downey Jr. has stated in interviews that his take on Holmes is a gay one, and Johnny Depp’s confirmed that Captain Jack swings both ways. The one issue: none of these characters’ identities are acknowledged in their respective movie series. The Harry Potter movies were especially disappointing for entirely cutting out the books’ biggest hint on the matter, Dumbledore’s one-sided teenage affection for the dark wizard Grindelwald. Ah well. There’s always fan-fiction, and if they’re gonna keep pumping out Pirates of the Caribbean and Sherlock Holmes movies, maybe someday…
7. Wallace Wells (from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World)
Gay characters are often relegated to the “best friend” role, but as far as gay best friends go, you can’t do better than Wallace Wells. Where the “gay best friend” stereotype is often desexualized, and gay male sexuality often used for the sake of “gay panic” humor, Wallace is very openly sexual without causing any panic for his straight roommate Scott. He’s simply the smart-ass voice of sense in this under-appreciated comic adaptation.
6. Valerie (from V For Vendetta)
Stephen Fry’s closeted comedian Dietrich is also entertaining, but it’s the imprisoned lesbian actress Valerie whose story is at the heart and soul of V For Vendetta. Many straight dramas (pun unintended) have dealt with the effects of homophobia, but how many sci-fi action movies have? The Wachowskis’ adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel may have caught flack for certain changes to the plot, but Valerie’s story is still heart-wrenching, and sticking to it within the context of a Hollywood blockbuster shows conviction (see also: the Wachowskis’ lesbian neo-noir Bound and the gay love story in their multi-genre epic Cloud Atlas).
5. Nic and Jules (from The Kids Are All Right)
Cheating to include a couple, I know. Still, how would you pick just one? Annette Benning’s humor and cynicism as Nic or Juliane Moore’s energy and frustration as Jules? The two characters make a great couple despite the problems in their marriage, in a movie that’s probably the most refreshingly happy gay film break out as a hit.
4. Hana (from Tokyo Godfathers)
Here in America, there’s almost no LGBTQ representation in animated films, though the gay football player in Paranorman was welcome progress. In anime, there’s more representation, though much of it problematically fetishized or jokey. But every now and then you get a character like Hana, the deeply religious, occasionally volatile transgender poet who’s the moral center of her nontraditional homeless family. In an environment where transgender issues are much less understood than gay issues, it’s great to have such a lovable complex gender-variant heroine in a movie like this.
3. Jack and Ennis (from Brokeback Mountain)
More cheating, but how could you make this list without including them? Not sure what there is to say that hasn’t already been said about Jake Gyllenhall’s best performance and Heath Ledger’s break-out role, made all the more tragic in the years gone by since the actor’s death. Wish I knew how to quit them.
2. Hedwig (from Hedwig and the Angry Inch)
This movie rocks. John Cameron Mitchell created and portrayed the character of Hedwig, a glam-rocker whose escape from East Germany left them with, um, an angry inch, in the stage show he also wrote, and immortalized the role in the film he also directed. I can quibble with the movie’s addition of an unnecessary, somewhat troubling Freudian excuse for what was already a psychologically fascinating character, but such details can’t tear this romantic rocker down from a deservingly high spot on this list!
Now, for the number one. I see you quiver with antici-
1. Dr. Frank-n-Furter (from The Rocky Horror Picture Show)
OK, it’s not the most progressive or complex character on this list (though the movie certainly was ahead of its time in addressing issues few movies would address over the next few decades). But is Tim Curry’s Sweet Transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania not the most fun? How many actors can take a role so ridiculous and make it so sublime? How many characters, on practically their own charms alone, create real world cults that still head down to the AMC Boston Common every week to act along with a silly ‘70s musical? How many gay youth, from 35 years ago to this day, have found solace in the message to not just dream it, but “be it”?
Honorable Mention: While we’ve never seen Agent 007 go out with a guy, props must be given to Sam Mendes for opening up the possibility of a bisexual Bond with some clever hinting in Skyfall. Let’s hope future movies are willing to follow through on this possibility.
Who are your favorite gay characters, in TV or Movies?