What Are The Elements Of Queer Cinema?

With the growing mainstream acceptance of LGBTQ+ people, the number of movies released under the ‘queer cinema’ banner is growing. Some of these movies have even managed to gain mainstream appeal although, of course, they aren’t as popular as the big blockbusters. Because queer cinema is growing at a rapid speed, we figured that we would spend some time talking about what elements make up queer cinema.

Do note that we are going to be focusing heavily on new queer cinema here, which popped up around the 1990s. While many of these movies are focused explicitly on the gay community, there are some movies that come under the new queer cinema banner e.g., Brokeback Mountain, and Milk that do have mainstream appeal. Pretty big mainstream appeal, at that. However, many of these more mainstream queer cinema movies may be lacking some of the elements that more traditional queer cinema has.

Let’s take a look. You’ll see what we mean.

Queer Relationships 

Just because a movie features a queer relationship, it doesn’t necessarily make it a piece of queer cinema. Not by the strictest definition of the word, at least. If it did, then many, many more modern movies would come under the banner of queer cinema.

When we are talking about one of the major elements of queer cinema, we are talking about queer relationships. They will often be front and center of the movie. It may discuss growing relationships, learning that a person is a homosexual, the trials and tribulations of being in a relationship, etc.

While there may be various story elements in a piece of queer cinema, almost all of it will revolve around the queer relationships. In fact, chances are that everything is going to be about the queer relationship. The other things will be in the background.

Depiction of Real People with Real Problems

When the new queer cinema movement began to evolve, we started to see a change in the way that homosexual relationships were shown on the screen.

When you watch non-queer cinema movies, at least those that are a few decades ago, that depict homosexual relationships then you’ll often find that the homosexual relationship may be the butt of a joke. The characters may be treated as a bit odd, and they certainly wouldn’t have gained that much screen time. If they did, a lot of this screen time would have focused heavily on them being gay, and how they are so different from everybody else.

Queer cinema changed this up a little bit. In fact, queer cinema changed this up a lot. Queer cinema focuses on the more realistic aspects of relationships. It is about the pain you suffer, the joy you get to experience, the romance, etc. The characters in queer cinema are real. They are real people who just happen to be gay.

Some people have said that queer cinema is all about pushing the established norms. Gay cinema often depicts white, gay male relationships. Queer cinema is not afraid to be grittier. It favors realism over everything else.

You may even say that queer cinema subverts expectations. A lot of people seem to have that feeling that gay cinema should paint gay people in a positive light at all times. This is something that many pro-gay campaigners have been aiming for. However, the reality is that we all have our flaws, not just in our relationships but who we are as people. Queer cinema shows this.

While all queer cinema will focus on queer relationships, eventually this becomes almost ‘background noise’. You’re watching people experience their lives, and they are just gay people doing that.

As we said – this is a stark contrast from the way that queer people would have been depicted in movies in the past. This is something that allows more queer people to latch onto the movie. Queer cinema shows that they can live life the way they want to live it and that their life isn’t just guided by the fact that they are gay. Being gay is just part of who they are, even if being gay is going to shape a lot of what they end up doing with their life.

Less Positivity

A lot of queer cinema isn’t overly positive. It looks at the negative aspects of life. This is, in part, down to the mainstream narrative that gay people are always bubbly or fun loving. They can be negative. As a result, you’ll find that some queer films deal with murder, rape, assault, etc. Incredibly heavy themes. Even when they are comedies, there will often be heavy negative theming behind them.

Sexual Moments

Yes. Sexual moments. A lot of queer cinema focuses heavily on the intimacy, and you will rarely find a piece of queer cinema that doesn’t feature at least one sex scene in it.

When there are sex scenes in most forms of queer cinema, it will be much more about the romance of things, rather than the hardcore passionless stuff. Not that those sex scenes don’t exist (they do), but queer cinema focuses a lot more on the actual romantic relationships, so you get far fewer of them.

How hardcore the sex scenes are will vary from piece of queer cinema to queer cinema. Some queer cinema movies go heavy on the sex scenes. You may see a bit of nudity, etc. However, you won’t get something that even comes close to porn. However queer cinema films will focus more on a bit of kissing, and some implied sex. Think of the type of thing that you would get in one of those terrible romcoms rather than a full-blown sex scene. You still know what is going on, but not enough that it pushes the age rating of the queer movie up.

May Focus on Issues Relevant to Queer People

The idea of queer cinema is rather broad. However, many pieces of queer cinema may focus on things that are highly relevant to queer people.

For example, if you are watching a queer period drama, then you may see a lot of discussion about how homosexuality was forbidden in that period. So, being queer and in a relationship seems like a forbidden love. We know that there are some people that won’t see it as a piece of queer cinema, Brokeback Mountain is a movie that focused heavily on these elements. Even Milk, which is a more recent period movie, involves a lot of that too.

On top of this, you may see a discussion of gay issues that have happened throughout history. For example, the AIDs epidemic, the fight for gay rights, etc.

You may also spot a lot of dealing with some of the vitriol thrown around at queer culture. For example, homophobia, etc.

You have to remember that queer cinema, while a lot of it has become much more mainstream, is still targeted at gay people, and thus they want to hear about the experiences that gay people have. It helps them to empathize. It also lets them see that issues can be dealt with, and that they are not going through everything alone. In fact, this is probably one of the main reasons why queer cinema became so popular in the 90s. Queer people, who had only just started to deal with not being shunned by society, wanted to hear from people that had the same experiences as them. Queer cinema allowed this.

Exploration of Sexuality and Gender Identity

In recent years, we’ve started to see queer cinema tackle the preconceived ideas about gender and sexuality, especially the former due to the current political situation in the US.

Queer cinema is about making massive political statements about gender and sexuality. It is about showing that sexuality and gender may be much more fluid than the mainstream audience may think.

Queer cinema movie makers do not try to keep secret what they are attempting to do with the movies they make. They know that they are political statements, and they know that they are going to be exploring themes that other movie makers would be afraid to touch due to the risk of censorship, or at least not appealing to the mainstream audience.

This is something that does tie in heavily to the idea of more realism in these movies and not any idealism. By exploring sexuality and gender identity, queer cinema can show a range of people, and how their sexuality and gender don’t impact their main lives, but still has a major impact on the way that they think and feel, or the way that other people end up approaching them in their life.

When you watch a piece of queer cinema, expect to see lots of political statements, judgments, the characters exploring who they are, etc.

You may find a lot of queer cinema actually showcases people who are just discovering who they are from a sexuality or gender perspective. This is something that makes a lot of sense for queer cinema as it allows that realism, and it allows the exploration of who a person is, while also tackling the reality of the situation.

Confrontational Toward Heterosexual Culture

This is an element that does seem to be appearing more and more often in queer cinema. It isn’t widespread, but it has certainly become one of the more staple elements.

A lot of queer cinema movies are very confrontational against the idea of heterosexual culture. We wouldn’t say it is necessarily in a mean way, but it is very antagonistic. Remember – queer cinema is about pushing the boundaries of what is allowed, and queer cinema is one of the ways to give back the ‘attacks’ that people often deal with when they are gay.

We guess the best possible way to think of this is as queer cinema attacking the often wrong viewpoints that some heterosexual people have toward them. We suppose it is all about stimulating discussion in the community, or at least explicitly pointing out that the ideas are wrong.

That being said, there are some pieces of queer cinema that really push the idea of antagonism. For example, The Living End is a queer piece of comedy drama. It is meant to be in the vein of Thelma & Louise. The movie starts with the murder of a homophobic police officer, before an epic road trip.

Final Thoughts

Queer cinema isn’t anything new. Although, it is only recently (in the mid-1990s), that we really started to call it queer cinema. From the 1990s onwards, queer cinema movie makers started to explore some heavy themes in their movies. They focused on the realism of being gay. They looked at the exploration of sexuality and gender both from a political and a personal perspective. They helped to create movies that would challenge the norms found in mainstream movies. They show that gay people are just like everybody else. Not in the mainstream movies where gay people are often painted as positive people, or maybe the butt of a joke. They are real people, with real lives, who are exploring the world in the same way as everybody else.

We suggest that you check out a few pieces of queer cinema. As you watch them, you will likely notice the same themes repeatedly. While queer cinema has evolved a lot (especially since some of it is now targeted at mainstream audiences), it still has the overall same vibe it has had for the last few decades.

Gay Worlley

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