WATCH: The Celluloid Closet

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Based on the book written by the late GLBT activist, Vito Russo, this documentary is about the history of lgbt images in the media (namely films). It starts off in the 1920s, during the boisterous vaudeville age up to the 90s. It’s interesting to see the sentiment and attitude towards our community reflected in the current films of any given time. It seems like a ping pong between business decisions and religious and societal feelings that has allowed certain depictions of the LGBT community through a censorship system meant to control.

I love how many filmmakers, screen writers and actors who may or may not be queer describe their experience with queerness in this medium. Lily Tomlin narrates and stars such as Whoopi Goldberg and Tom Hanks give their two cents. One thing that struck me is how media has the power to “teach straight people how to think about gay people and [. . .] teach gay people how to think of themselves.”

Another thought on it is my favorite line from Harvey Fierstein who loves the stereotypical “sissy” character and divulges his mission is “Visibility at any cost.” I must agree. Though it’s dangerous ground to tread, I like the idea of not giving a fuck just enough to allow a character, any type of lgbt character, into the mainstream.

This documentary tries to generalize just enough for palatable understanding and leaves enough room for more questions of progress to be asked. It touches on how gay men are viewed as opposed to gay women and the changing thoughts on it. My favorite thing I took away from this film is how filmmakers who wanted to put a decent gay character in a mainstream film was to do it in a way where folks could read between the lines. Some films  had subtleties that allow a gay audience to hope and delight in maybe seeing someone like them in a very real, believable role. Besides that, our community is put in films to laugh at, pity, fear or hate. Much work has yet to be done to showcase queer folks as brazenly normal people who happen to be gay to balance out dangerous stereotypes and generalizations.

Of course, this doc is unable to be nuanced enough to touch on attitudes where race and culture intersect with queerness, since American history by nature, likes to omit anything not white and male. It was an interesting watch and might even tempt you to pick up the book it was based on and have an interesting read.

Watch it now for free!

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