New LGBTQ holiday movies bring joy — and ‘dishonest’ stereotypes

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Single all the way.  Philemon Chambers as Nick and Michael Urie as Peter, in Single All The Way.  (Washington Post illustration; Philippe Bosse/Netflix; iStock)
Single all the way. Philemon Chambers as Nick and Michael Urie as Peter, in Single All The Way. (Washington Post illustration; Philippe Bosse/Netflix; iStock)

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Nerdy romantic comedies aren’t usually Robby Bailey’s favorite genre during the holiday season, but after watching Netflix’s gay Christmas movie “Single All the Way” with his partner, he was pleasantly surprised.

Gay characters in other movies often look like caricatures, written by someone who “met a gay person once,” said Bailey, 37. But these characters were “just like everyone else,” he said. “It was more relevant.”

The holiday movie season is picking up steam, as has queer visibility in recent years in its winter romantic comedies. For some people like Bailey who are part of the LGBTQ community, this performance has added to the holiday cheer.

“We believe that everyone deserves love and that our storytelling is enriched by reflecting the diverse voices, perspectives, traditions and families of our audience,” wrote Lisa Hamilton Daly, executive vice president of programming at Hallmark Media, in a statement to the Washington Post. “Our top priority is to create a positive entertainment experience for everyone – one that all viewers can see themselves in, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, cultural background and orientation. sexual.”

Some backlash followed, reminiscent of what Disney faced from conservatives for including gay characters in recent films. Christmas TV movie veteran Candace Cameron Bure left Hallmark this year to join Great American Family, a conservative network that “will keep traditional marriage at its heart,” she told The Wall Street Journal Magazine.

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Holiday movies that incorporate characters that queer people root for are nothing new. Toronto singer-songwriter Cory Stewart, 38, noted that many LGBTQ Christmas fans relate to characters like the Grinch, who fights as an outsider but forms a chosen family with his dog, Max. . And actresses whose work is adored by queer fans, such as Jennifer Coolidge, Fran Drescher and Lindsey Lohan, are indirectly inviting their LGBTQ followers to support their holiday plans as well.

But more and more studios in recent years have centered same-sex relationships in their rom-com stories. In 2020 alone, Hulu released “Happiest Season,” Hallmark’s “The Christmas House,” and Lifetime’s “The Christmas Setup,” the networks’ first original holiday movies to prominently feature same-sex couples. Last year, Netflix added “Single All the Way” to the LGBTQ canon. Hallmark’s “The Holiday Sitter” and the theatrical release of “Spoiler Alert” followed this year.

On the one hand, it’s refreshing to be reflected in the campy, silly media and plotlines that make up holiday romantic comedies, said Edmond Chang, assistant professor and researcher of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at the University of Ohio.

But Chang also worries that the trend is just a business tactic, especially as it becomes profitable to tap into new audiences in the relatively inexpensive vacation genre.

“The other side of representation is sometimes it’s flat, it’s stereotyped, it’s not very nuanced,” they said.

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“Single All the Way,” and other gay vacation flicks like it, follow the same rough Hollywood-shaped storyline for their straight counterparts, in which the handsome big-city maven returns to her small town for the holidays. and find true love. But the Netflix original also infused details that brought depth to the gay characters.

“You can see people who are funny and love their parents and who are messy and complicated when it comes to love,” Bailey said.

“Single All the Way” was “the first time it wasn’t just a movie about coming out or something negative,” Stewart said. “It was more about a family accepting and someone coming home for Christmas.”

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More LGBTQ stories should strive to be equally joyful, said Taylor Cowan, a 26-year-old Transportation Security Administration officer in Sarasota, Florida.

Aware that her options for seeing lesbians like her in films are limited, Cowan says she is open to watching any gay film. But especially during the holidays, she wants to see relatable queer characters who don’t suffer.

“So many gay movies are very sad to watch, and they might be really good and beautiful and everything, but they’re not enjoyable on their own,” she said. “Sometimes you want to watch something that puts you in a good mood.”

Cowan appreciates when LGBTQ cultural references in movies are subtle and specific, she said, such as when a character talks to their plants they named or when a scene is punctuated by a lesser-known Britney tune. spears.

“Everyone deserves to see themselves portrayed, and if you’re at a point in your life where you’re confused about your identity or trying to come to terms with it, it’s definitely helpful to see characters like this that you can relate in the media,” she said. “I kind of figured it out when I was 19, but I feel like it wouldn’t have taken me that long to understand it if I had seen more of it depicted.”

Bailey said his self-discoveries were tied to movies such as the 1998 coming-of-age film “Edge of Seventeen,” especially growing up in a small town where there weren’t many of homosexuals. Stewart said he used to hide in his bedroom to watch “Queer as Folk,” an early 2000s Showtime drama series that featured a group of gay friends and was filmed near Stewart’s home. Watching the show, Stewart said, gave her hope that life would improve.

“Single All the Way” reminded him of that.

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“For Christmas movies to be shown where there are happy portrayals of gay couples and gay life, I’m sure it had an impact on children who are going through similar things right now in small cities across North America,” he said. “I’m very encouraged.”

Franklin Mason, 29, felt more hesitant. Mason, who lives in Washington and works in accounting, enjoys escaping life’s hardships during the Christmas season: decorating her Christmas tree, stock up on rich eggnog, and browse BET Plus to watch cheesy holiday movies. Last year, he found and watched “A Jenkins Family Christmas,” which features a main character who is gay and black, like him.

But Mason acknowledges that many black movies deal with underlying black homophobia, with gay characters made acceptable to straight audiences. Sometimes that means seeing overly flamboyant or unrealistic gay characters. With “A Jenkins Family Christmas,” it struck him as strange to see the black, gay character in the story defending his decision to date only white, gay men.

“I think when you start peeling back the layers and asking more questions, it’s often rooted in…self-hatred and isn’t the whole picture,” Mason said. “I think that’s dishonest. It’s based on stereotypes and assumptions.

Nor is it expansive. Able-bodied, cisgender white men make up the bulk of on-screen gay men representation.

“The queer spectrum is so broad, and we seem to only see a sliver of it,” Stewart said.

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Having more queer black producers and directors in the writing room could help avoid those pitfalls, Mason suggested. And Chang, a professor at Ohio University, has found that more and more LGBTQ filmmakers are succeeding in the film industry.

Over time, Chang said, they hope more queer creators will be listened to. Until then, they plan to follow the growing difficulties of LGBTQ holiday movies anyway.

“It’s important to see the media we have right now,” Chang said. “It gives you the opportunity to think about what could be different.”

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