When a 25-year-old Will Smith portrayed a queer con man in Six Degrees of Separation in 1993 — his breakthrough film role — he refused to be filmed kissing another man on-screen. The reason? He had been reportedly been advised by Denzel Washington that doing so would endanger his Hollywood career as a leading man.
As a result, the final cut of the film shows his seduction of a character played by Anthony Michael Hall — but it is framed in such a way to avoid showing any locking of lips.
In 2016, Smith’s son Jaden finds himself in his father’s shoes. In a dizzying scene in The Get Down, Baz Lurhmann’s new Netflix show about the birth of hip-hop in New York, Jaden’s character Dizzee locks eyes with another man on the dance floor.
The scene couldn’t be gayer. Onstage, a drag performer lip-synchs to a retrofitted disco track by Christina Aguilera. Strobe lights flash. The camera cuts to scenes of other patrons engaging in hedonism. “Kiss him!” urges a girl. And the young men, after getting closer and closer, finally kiss.
The moment is a triumphant one for LGBT representation. It has been over two decades since the release of Six Degrees. In that span of time, the needle has moved enough that Jaden, as an actor, could do what his father could not: make out with a man on camera.
In the real world, the 18-year-old Smith has also cleared queer hurdles his father never did. Jaden regularly makes headlines with his gender-flexible fashion, daring to wear dresses and call them “clothes,” not “girl clothes.” He even wore a dress to prom. His status as a fashion pioneer helped him become the new face of Louis Vuitton, in which he wore a skirt in the ads.
However, in Tinseltown at least, there is always progress to be made. In a bizarre touch of editing in The Get Down, the viewer never sees the full faces of the kissing men. The scene flashes between close-ups of their lips to a shot of a woman's breast, a technique that frustrated some gay fans.
“With a tit literally in our faces, it's not like The Get Down's shying away from sexuality, just maybe homosexuality,” bemoaned Out’s Les Fabian Brathwaite. “Sure, they're at a gay club — note the duck walking drag queens — but where's the gay?”
It remains to be seen whether Dizzee will go further with his dance partner — and what the camera will capture. The Get Down released six episodes last weekend, but an additional six will be released in early 2017. What goes down may be a telling litmus test of just how far Hollywood has progressed since Six Degrees.
But in the meantime, enjoy the sweet smooch of progress from The Get Down below.