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Gemma’s Gem of the Week: The Influence of Queer Representation in Film and Media

Gemma’s Gem of the Week: The Influence of Queer Representation in Film and Media

A few years ago during Halloween season, I performed alongside a queer shadow cast for a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. There was absolutely nothing that compared to the toast and toilet paper-throwing, party hat-wielding, cheering audience who had been major fans of this queer classic for years. During this performance, I discovered two major breakthroughs; a breakthrough in performance standards, and in my own sexuality. There was no pressure to be perfect. Everyone was encouraged to be perfectly messy. I hadn’t publicly come out yet, and this experience taught me the freedom of coming as you are. Once the show ended, I was feeling exhilarated, massively liberated, and empowered in my sexuality. Suddenly, reconciling with my sexuality and my closeted queerness didn’t feel as scary. 

The Rocky Horror Picture Show was a massive breakthrough post-Stonewall era. This triumphant film unapologetically incorporates a shameless and explosive celebration of queer identity through its pansexual, non-binary icon, Dr. Frank ‘N Furter. Originally portrayed by Tim Curry, this character went down in history as a queer icon. We witness inspiration stemming from the David Bowie glam rock era of heels, lipstick, and corsets. As the visionary and author Alok Vaid-Menon so brilliantly discusses in their work, corsets, lipstick, and heels are nothing new. Men can be seen wearing corsets, dresses, and makeup as far back as 400 years ago. This movie encourages cishet men, women, trans men, trans women, enbys, and queer folks alike to step out of their societal normalities and their heteronormative learnings, dust off unopened closet doors, and embrace the untouched colors that are yearning to come out. With its celebratory nature, this movie showcases a celebration of discovering your inner sparkle, and allowing those flags to fly high with pride.

Dr. Frank ‘N Furter was later portrayed by none other than Laverne Cox herself; a transgender icon, actress, writer, and activist in the LGBTQAI+ community. Laverne was the first transgender person to ever be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for her portrayal of the character Sophia Burset in Orange is the New Black. This riveting series sparked a queer revolution in television and media. We witnessed queer representation in one of its truest forms through the complex depictions of mental health, issues faced by transgender women of color, social injustice, the cruelty of immigration detention centers, and a normalization of queer relationships. Witnessing normalized queer relationships on television was an inspiration and a comfort for many closeted folks who now felt more at ease. This factor is one of many imperative elements that result from queer representation in the media that isn’t sensationalized, but organically normalized. Laverne is also the founder, creator, and host of one of my current favorite podcasts, The Laverne Cox Show. Her show features “intimate conversations with folks who help me to see and think differently so that maybe I can act differently.” If I’m being honest, every single episode of hers has inspired me to see and think differently. 

In 2017, Moonlight made history by becoming the first LGBTQAI+ film to ever receive the award for Best Picture at the 89th annual Academy awards. Director Nneka Onuorah said, “this win cements the idea that a story told from a marginalized perspective can be universally relatable for all audiences…for so long, people thought because the story is black or gay then that means it’s not mainstream. We are humans. We all can relate to the idea of toxic masculinity. We can relate to repressing our feelings. So why is it that Hollywood tries to say that these things won’t reach bigger audiences?” I vividly remember a dear friend of mine who had been deeply moved by this film. He’d talk to me time and time again about the stereotypes and standards of what it meant to be a “real man,” and what that box looked like; and how he just never felt like he fit there. Moonlight proved to be a great comfort, as well as a guiding light in embracing his sexuality, and quickly became one of his favorite films. If this film hadn’t been created, there would be one less resource out there that would allow people to feel seen.

Most recently, I was deeply moved by the latest series that touched queer communities far and wide. Dan Levy and Eugene Levy wrote what is now deemed as one of the greatest shows to air on Netflix in these past few years. Schitt’s Creek is a story that brings forth very real and raw representation of the queer community. None of these queer characters are overly spotlighted, glorified, or sensationalized. None of these characters have utterly tragic stories, deaths, or plotlines. They just are. And that’s what fans have fallen in love with the most. Dan’s vision is not only captivating and authentic, but it reflects his desire to write content that reflects what it means to be deeply human; and this is the content we need moving forward. 

Watching these characters have normal, healthy relationships, and embody being messy and deeply human while still remaining loved at the end of the day, tugged on my heartstrings more than anything. This show created a safe space for queer people to feel free in their expression, and this left a deep impact in me. Watching this show made me feel like it wouldn’t be a spectacle if I embraced my identity more through my fashion and relationships. If anything, I felt more encouraged and driven to do so. To Dan Levy, Eugene Levy, and the entire cast and crew of Schitt’s Creek: Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

By revisiting queer classics like Rocky Horror, and creating ground-breaking shows and movies like Orange is the New Black, Moonlight, and Schitt’s Creek, we are further expanding on a culture that normalizes and celebrates queer expression. We are even witnessing this representation through children’s media, such as the beloved Steven Universe, a powerful and heartwarming show that has been a guiding light for many of today’s youth. Since we become greatly influenced by the content we are exposed to, it is vital that we continue to move in the direction of creating more content that accurately represents our LGBTQA+ communities. Artists, filmmakers, creators, and actors alike have the ability to create the content we wish to see more of in this world that will allow others to feel seen. I am endlessly thankful for my Rocky Horror-inspired awakening those few years ago. As I write this, I have my first gender neutral articles of colorful clothing hanging in my closet, and I cannot tell you how happy I feel when wearing them. Feeling seen and represented in my identity has allowed me to feel a deeper sense of peace.

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Gemma Farquhar is the writer of "Gemma's Gem of the Week" and author of "The Shape of Something New." She is passionate about the future of storytelling and welcomes all ages to her column.

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