You Can't Get Married When You're Dead

Critics are heralding Milk as an exceptional film. Still, there’s one way in which the film is not exceptional but rather utterly conventional: The gay guy ends up dead.



Brokeback Mountain x390 (publicity) |

The problem
cannot be solved by saccharine gay romantic comedies or
feel-good after-school specials. There should be more
nuanced and diverse representations of LGBT people in
American cinema. We've seen plenty of wedding
planners, activists, and writers. Where are the gay cops,
judges, parents, and teachers? What about lesbian
lawyers, grandmothers, singers, and bankers? What
about gay people of color and interracial couples? Or
bisexual and transgender people who are happy and
self-assured? Where is the hard-working,
family-loving, person-next-door who happens to be gay
but whose role in the film is not premised on pathos?

A recent
exception to the stereotypical trend may be Brokeback
, a sensitive and complex portrayal of the
romantic relationship between two cowboys. In addition
to wide critical acclaim, the film became the
eighth-highest-grossing romantic drama in American
film history. However, in the end, the film followed
the same dead-gay-man pattern with the brutal beating of
Jake Gyllenhaal’s character.

Did he really
need to die for it to be a great film?

representations matter. Movies provide a lens through which
we view history and understand ourselves and others.
According to the Pew Research Center for the People
and the Press, 60% of Americans do not have an openly
gay relative or close friend, and only 25% of these people
support same-sex marriage. In contrast, among the 40% of
people with an openly gay relative or close
friend, 55% support marriage equality.

If more film
characters (and their nonfiction counterparts) come out of
the closet, tell their stories, and show America that their
experiences are similar to and as diverse as those of
straight Americans, we might witness a time when more
people in more states support equality over
discrimination. Had Hollywood produced different types of
gay characters on the silver screen, perhaps more
people would have voted against Proposition 8 in
California and other such ballot initiatives that have
been passed in 30 states.

For now, though,
we’ll settle for a few films where the gay
protagonist survives until the credits.

Tags: film