Casting Call: Why Authentic LGBTQIA+ Representation In Films Matter

Casting Call: Why Authentic LGBTQIA+ Representation In Films Matter


Representation of the LGBTQIA+ can come in many forms, but merely casting our face just puts another mask on our identity. 

Related: Here’s Why Coming Out Remains To Be A Personal Choice

Storytelling is powerful and it’s one of the most important human traditions that continue to shape who we are. From our first bedtime story that taught us about big dreams and heroes to novels that put new perspectives into light, it’s a major influence on what we believe. But out of all these forms, there’s one that makes narratives as real as it could be­–films. Films can create a world that would otherwise be unimaginable and with its universal language, no matter where the viewer is from or at, one can still witness the narrative being told. It’s an intensely personal form of art but modern cinema isn’t pure of Hollywood magic. Over the past year queer films have been gaining more traction in the mainstream media such as “Moonlight”, “Call Me By Your Name”, and “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”, but as viewers are now demanding stories that deliver a greater sense of purpose and diverse representation in the cast and crew, it’s important to know the difference between tokenizing “representation” and authentic storytelling.

After decades of LGBTQIA+ characters being mostly nonexistent on the television screen, the new norm of queer inclusion in media is a cause for celebration but what’s disappointing is that once again, our stories are treated with the easy way out. Treated as stock members or even worse as half-baked and lazily written queer characters to simply tick off the diversity box. For example, when queer characters are written into a movie it’s either their sexual identity is glossed over, or on the other hand, they make being the stereotypical “gay” their only characteristic. Essentially, it’s a way to avoid being called out instead of making the effort for actual representation. What most films tend to get wrong is that LGBTQIA+ representation means having characters whose queer identity is showcased without it defining their entire character. Like most people, we are complex individuals who are worthy of progressive arcs just like any normal leads. It’s the bare minimum to cast a face and it feeds into the notion that we are less worthy of decent stories, or our identities are less valuable. 

As a queer woman, it’s almost out of the question to avoid the feeling that my personal relationships are highly sexualized when I can name numerous films that use a scene of two attractive women kissing while panning over their bodies to attract the male gaze. Even worse to find out that it was orchestrated by a heterosexual male director who claims this is representation. While my sexuality is fetishized as a fantasy for men on screen, in the real world it comes with demeaning back-handed compliments of “that’s a shame, you’re pretty naman”. It was only when I sat through “Portrait of a Lady On Fire” directed by Céline Sciamma, where I saw myself being represented on the screen. From the way they developed Marianne and Heloise relationship through subtle but intense glances, cautious movement of fingers to get close enough to hold hands, or mere smiles that only they could understand the meaning behind off as they hid their romance during the oppressive eighteenth-century, captured the ways how queer relationships cope with their emotions. It didn’t include any hyper-sexualized scenes or nudity for the prying male eyes but rather initiate mate gestures and features that are seen through a queer gaze. It was these nuances of love that are specific to the queer experience that I and many can still relate to as we live in a society where being ourselves isn’t fully accepted.

Major progress has been made since the filmmaking industry treated homosexuality as a sin and I have witnessed both films and TV shows even in the local cinema who given the same equal respect to queer characters. Production companies are also beginning to understand that having a queer director or members in the writing room is the best way to bring these stories to life. So, as we evolve to coloring the frames of movies, the LGBTQIA+ community deserves to be treated more than a requirement on a checklist, a business deal to make, or a side script to larger stories. Because in the end, behind every face is a story to be told, and all stories matter. 

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