Films and TV series about LGBTQ+ adults are not uncommon. Most are distributed with a mainstream audience in mind and are quite popular. The recently released feature film version of the Broadway revival of Mart Crowley’s play The Boys in the Band on Netflix is one example of a lively, evocative production centering around a small group of gay men in 1968. Crowley’s play was quite controversial when it opened off-Broadway pre-Stonewall riots when gays were closeted for the most part and shunned by many.
The popular British series Last Tango in Halifax on PBS, DVD, and Passport has factored lesbian relationships into the plot. A few seasons ago, its writer Sally Wainwright, came under fire for falling into what apparently is a nasty old cliché of killing off the lesbian. Apparently to atone, Wainwright wrote the HBO series Gentleman Jack, based on the diaries of the real-life 19th century independent-minded lesbian Anne Lister who also lived in Halifax, West Yorkshire. Season one of Gentleman Jack starring Suranne Jones is a sensation!
However, what is fairly rare even today is the appearance of children who display what society considers to be gay mannerisms. These behaviors are commonly exhibited in the form of boys cross-dressing or choosing toys commonly associated by our society with girls. The characters are children who display tastes outside what we loosely call the “social norm.”
Several films feature young boys who act in ways that are thought to be girlish. In the recent short-lived HBO series Happyish, the little son’s favorite fun is dressing up as the princess in Frozen and singing her signature song. The parents are fine with that.
In Freak Show from 2018, little Billy Bloom quotes Oscar Wilde and is obsessed with his mother’s frilly frocks. Mom is played by Bette Midler. By age 17, Billy, played by Alex Lawther, is a full-blown cross-dresser who wears evening gowns, bangles, and beads to school and hopes to be homecoming queen. Present in the script is the role that schools can play in either reinforcing ignorant hatreds or opening young people to alternate behaviors.
In A Kid Like Jake, a Kindergarten-age boy wears dresses and a tutu. He plays games associated with girls. This makes him a target for bullies. With a father, played by James Parsons, who is a Freudian psychologist, and a mother, Claire Danes, a lawyer who loves ballet dancing, the future for this little boy will not be difficult within the walls of his home, but school will offer challenges.
Of films with this storyline, my favorite is Breakfast with Scot, a Canadian comedy/drama from 2007. Here, adults Eric, a former-hockey-star-turned-TV sportscaster, and his partner Sam are keeping their gay relationship a secret. Eric feels that revealing his homosexuality will ruin his reputation as a hockey star. Then they take temporary guardianship of young Scot Latour, an orphan who wears a charm bracelet, favors boas, wears make-up, sports a pink poodle belt, sings songs from musicals, and tells another boy he could kiss him.
This film has charismatic characters and does not ofen rely on stereotypes. More than the other films mentioned, it tugs at the heart strings. One could even consider it a holiday movie because there are Christmas scenes, and Scot often sings holiday carols.
How about films that feature little girls who display LGBTQ+ behavior… girls who wear boys’ clothing? Odd, but this state of affairs would not be as dramatic. Girls wear jeans and unisex or boys’ outfits. Many girls play with trucks, shun dresses, and shorten their names in ways that make them boyish. They don’t seem to attract attention in today’s world. It seems that, in this instance, boys bear more of the brunt of behaving outside societal norms.
Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.
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