Films about queer people are fine, as long as they're not too queer...
That most often seems to be the tack Hollywood takes. They'll make a glowing biopic about a queer icon, or a moving queer love story, but when it comes to actual queerness or *gasp* queer sex... well, Hollywood tends to tiptoe around things, because we mustn't turn off the straights!
Most recently, this issue has been brought to the forefront with the release of the Freddy Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody. The film had a backlash before it was ever released for its plans to tread lightly when it came to Mercury's sexual identity, and especially his battle with AIDS during its early years as an epidemic among queer people (along with other marginalized groups). The marketing of the film seems to strain to obscure Mercury's identity and the film's queer content, and now that the film has finally dropped, many reviewers are finding that those early suspicions of "straightwashing" were dead on.
Perhaps with Bohemian Rhapsody on the brain, a Twitter user recently unearthed promotional materials for another queer film that was "straightbaited" within an inch of its life: Ang Lee's 2006's Oscar-nominated film Brokeback Mountain, a story of a love affair between two cowboys that was widely marketed as a story about just plain ol' love at best, and explicitly straight love at worst.
I know y'all hate queerbaiting but you know a what I find really funny? Straightbaiting, imagine being het and ente… https://t.co/Q6T15J3cNq— wik saw bo rhap & cried (@wik saw bo rhap & cried) 1541265692.0
And this trip down memory had people kind of shocked!
@swiftledger @Hyuuchuu WHY?? There’s no reason they couldn’t show two men hugging on a poster in 2006!!— Amy Rose (@Amy Rose) 1541376909.0
@swiftledger Why would anyone want to see it based on those posters?— Rachael Eyre (@Rachael Eyre) 1541407011.0
But they perhaps shouldn't have been. As others pointed out, it wasn't just Brokeback Mountain that got this "straightbaiting" treatment:
@swiftledger Another personal fave of the genre https://t.co/IbNDK75mjZ— Ashley (@Ashley) 1541391448.0
Nor was this just a mid-2000s phenomenon. Call Me By Your Name suffered a similarly derivative marketing push just last year:
@swiftledger This is just like this https://t.co/7BAxohOeL3— greeney (@greeney) 1541414935.0
But the tweet that really struck a nerve was this story, from professor and "queer Twitter" icon Anthony Oliveira:
hello i worked a small arthouse cinema as a teenager when this movie came out and my job for four weeks was to refu… https://t.co/7WnMQbDuFe— Anthony Oliveira (@Anthony Oliveira) 1541389610.0
Which triggered all kinds of memories of the film for queer and non-queer folks alike:
@meakoopa I used to tell a joke on stage how when my mom & I were about to watch brokeback, she said “I dont want y… https://t.co/s1iEpwLTdM— Kat (@Kat) 1541394531.0
@meakoopa that feels like it would have been wildly traumatic. i was traumatized by a teacher saying it was "very d… https://t.co/1jt7z98e2m— ai | noted homosexual | 🌈🏳️🌈🌈 (@ai | noted homosexual | 🌈🏳️🌈🌈) 1541389922.0
(honestly i shook with rage and suppressed tears every time lolol)— Anthony Oliveira (@Anthony Oliveira) 1541390510.0
@meakoopa I was a junior in college, when it was released. Thought if I suggested to go see it, my friends and fami… https://t.co/liLrmibJB5— BOOTYfull HARVEST (@BOOTYfull HARVEST) 1541423699.0
But these weak-spined marketing efforts were no match for the power of the film itself, which endures as a watershed for many queer men to this day, as one of Oliveira's followers made clear.
@meakoopa My friend and I were both extremely closeted but could rely on each other, and in Junior year had read th… https://t.co/neFAWMrAHY— Ace Wants You to Vote on the 6th (@Ace Wants You to Vote on the 6th) 1541390879.0
@meakoopa But we were like "who cares, we are going to sit here with our bears and watch this gay movie and sob in… https://t.co/OrAOcmucVu— Ace Wants You to Vote on the 6th (@Ace Wants You to Vote on the 6th) 1541390937.0
No verdict just yet on whether Bohemian Rhapsody will have the same iconic place in the queer art pantheon, but given that the film itself barely goes there when it comes to Mercury's queerness--in contrast to films like Brokeback Mountain, which definitely does (hashtag tent scene)--it seems that'll be a tough sell.