In as the earliest queer images in

In this essay I
will be discussing the history of homosexuality in film, such as the earliest
queer images in the early 1900’s, followed by certain homosexual stereotypes portrayed
on screen and how Hollywood attempted to rid certain portrayals of sexuality. I
will then discuss the film ‘Moonlight’
(Jenkins, 2016) as my chosen screen text, which is a film about a young
African-American man and his journey of self-discovery and sexuality. In this
film I will talk about how themes such as masculinity, identity, sexuality and
poverty all impact peoples life’s, although often society has set gender roles
for people to abide by, making it difficult for not just everybody, but
especially homosexual young African-American men.

 

Queer images
could be found on screen as early as 1895, a film by William Dickson and Thomas
Edison commonly known as ‘The Gay
Brothers’ (Dickson, 1895). The very short, half a minute long film shows
two men embracing each other and dancing together quite intimately, as there
was no title cards or subtext to go with the footage, the meaning behind the two
men dancing is undetermined. There are a lot of silent films in this era that
contain same-sex intimacies which modern audiences might label as homosexual,
there is just no way to know for sure, because of the time of production. Other
films that contained same-sex intimacies, or insinuated relations are ‘Wings’ (1927) and ‘Flesh and the Devil’ (1927), both of which had scenes of same-sex
kissing. At the time, especially in the early 1900’s, this kind of activity
would be taken with a pinch of salt and would be seen as friendly behaviour and
nothing more, perhaps because audiences then wasn’t as open minded as audiences
today. “The lack of controversy probably lies in the fact that the male
characters in these films were conventionally masculine: strong, active,
aggressive” (Benshoff and Griffin, 2005, p22). What Benshoff and Griffin mean
by this is, is that same-sex intimacy on screen would only be accepted by
audiences if the men were playing a heroic masculine role, so when they are
together on screen it isn’t seen as feminine, which would be seen in a negative
light. If two male actors were to go against their set gender roles, audiences
might view them as being weak because they are betraying how society want men
to act. “As long as one maintained one’s proper gender role, same-sex affection
was allowed and even celebrated” (Benshoff and Griffin, 2005, p22).

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The pansy
stereotype is a label given to men for acting feminine both on and off screen,
the stereotype was first seen in the early 1920’s by male actors acting out of
their gender role. The pansy label was originally there to describe a certain
kind of homosexual male; they often were “a flowery, fussy, effeminate soul
given to limp wrists and mincing steps” (Benshoff and Griffin, 2005, p24). This
stereotype is often regarded in a negative light on screen, such as Jared
Leto’s character Rayon in ‘Dallas Buyers
Club’ (Vallée, 2013) who was always looked down on because of the way he acted
and dressed, as it was very unfamiliar for men to act so effeminate and was
often rejected by society. Another important feature of the stereotype is that
the pansy is often very elegant and well educated, which might suggest that the
pansy comes from an upper class background. ” Evidence of this can be found in
‘Capote’ (Miller, 2005) as Philip
Seymour Hoffman plays a character called Truman Capote, who speaks very softly
and carries himself in a very effeminate way, although that doesn’t distract
from the fact that he is incredibly intelligent and comes from an upper class
background. Benshoff and Griffin claim that the use of the pansy character on
screen was originally intended as comic relief. “The pansy was typically used
in these films as a source of humour, relegated to the sidelines in throwaway moments
or small supporting parts, simultaneously announcing both his presence and his
inconsequentiality” (Benshoff and Griffin, 2005, p26). This kind of comic
relief is performed by Anthony Daniels’ character C-3PO in ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ (Lucas, 1977).
Audiences have been known to view these kind of portrayals of homosexual men as
offensive, as it undignified them.

 

The Production
Code was written in 1930, which was initially a list of rules for filmmakers to
abide by, used mainly for Hollywood films. The Production Code was simply a way
of preventing films from showing audiences disturbing or morally wrong images,
such as nudity, homosexuality and strong violence. After the great depression,
it became easier and easier to disregard the Production Code as there wasn’t
any strict way of enforcing it. “For all its efforts, the Production Code
didn’t erase homosexuals from the screen; it just made them harder to find” (The Celluloid Closet, 1995). During the
great depression period, large Hollywood studies would often try to include
more and more controversial images in to their films as there were far less
audiences in cinemas due to the financial crash, this was done because there
were less people to complain about content so directors would try to push their
creative ideas without being told otherwise. The Production Code attempted to
abolish homosexuality from screens across America and they succeeded for three
decades. “Some Histories of the Production Code era claim that homosexuality
was completely erased from American Cinema for the next three decades.
Certainly, the Breen Office officially attempted to scour “sex perversion” from
American movie screens, asserting that even the mention of anything other than
monogamous heterosexuality was dangerous” (Benshoff and Griffin, 2005, p30). Over
the years, it was evident that The Production Code was becoming increasingly homophobic;
it even reached a point where they attempted to erase the word ‘pansy’ from
scripts in Hollywood. The reason for this may be because the Production Code
were trying to make way for films with a slightly more dramatic setting, rather
than comedies to accommodate the pansy stereotype, all to bring audiences back
in to cinemas after the great depression. After the Production Code was
abolished in 1968, it has allowed filmmakers to express how homosexuality
should and should not be portrayed on screen; ‘Moonlight’ (Jenkins, 2016) has
been a beacon of light in Hollywood, especially in African-American communities
where young men feel they should sexually abide to how popular media expects
them to be.

 

Jacquie Jones
claims that the on screen African-American male is deprived of any kind of
relationship, which creates the image of them being nothing more than overly
sexual, violent and viewed as anti-social by white communities. “By depriving
the Black on-screen male of a connection to the society through any type of
humanizing relationship, mainstream motion pictures offer only models of
violence and other forms of antisocial behaviours” (Jones, 1993, p250). This is
mirrored in ‘Moonlight’ (Jenkins, 2016), the main character Chiron is deprived of
a relationship because as his sexual orientation, which his highly rejected in
his community, his sexuality leads to Chiron being beaten up by other young
men, as he gets older, Chiron eventually enters a life of crime and violence.
This is because both society has rejected the idea of being homosexual and so
has his own mother, a relationship that is supposed to be stronger than
anything else. As Chiron is deprived of any kind of real relationship, he’s
isn’t able to self-identify and define what kind of person he is, instead he’s
ushered in to the position of following in the footsteps of bullies and a
mother who doesn’t know how to love. Hollywood often portrays white men and
black men in two very different perspectives. “The white male is responsive and
interactive. His goal, in this sense, is to maintain primary contact with
women, although this usually translates into pursuing a sexual connection”
(Jones, 1993, p250). African-American men on the other hand, are portrayed as
an oversexed character whose only intension is to have sex; the audience is
never shown African-American men to crave a relationship.

 

‘Moonlight’
(Jenkins, 2016) contains strong themes of Black masculinity as well as Black
sexuality. After being bullied by other boys at his school, Chiron tries to
find comfort from his mother about this, only to be bullied by her too. Both of
which tease Chiron about the way he walks and dresses, insinuating his
sexuality. This leads Chiron to act out of character, a more masculine version
of him in order to fit in with the rest of the community. The theme of
masculinity is introduced as early as the first act, another boy confronts
Chiron during a soccer game, which is really just an excuse for all of the boys
to wrestle and show dominance in a field outside of town. The boy who is
talking to Chiron asks him why he’s being “soft” for not joining in and even
demands a reason to why Chiron walks away from the violence so easily. This
puts pressure of Chiron at a very young age to act more masculine than he
really is to fit in with the other boys, forcing Chiron to feel the urge to fit
in to social normalities in his community. “As Chiron grows older, he
recognises the need to conform to this heteronormative idea of black
masculinity. He has two choices: embrace his sexuality in the Knowledge it will
open him up to abuse and hatred, or perform the identity of a straight black
male and live a quieter life” (Watts, 2017). As a result of his, surroundings
and his unintentional need to adapt to his surroundings, Chiron chooses to
follow the path of the stereotypical black gender role that is shown on screen
so frequently, he has suddenly become very muscular, wears a grill and hints to
the audience that he sells drugs too. Chiron is still the same person, but he
has had to adapt both his personality and physique to fit in with what both
popular media and his community expects of him. “Our assumptions about “black
male” capability derive from the representation of African American men in
local and national media” (Page, 1997, p99).

 

‘Moonlight’
(Jenkins, 2016) would often ask the subtle question of whether or not the
shape, mannerisms and movement of the characters can determine their sexuality
alone. Though popular media, such as impressionable films, a person’s body
language is often the sole indicator for their sexuality. “Chiron is shown as a
child enjoying a dance class at school, looking at himself in the mirror and admiring
his own movements. Jenkins also includes scenes where the actor looks directly
in to the camera. These are reminiscent of scenes in Paris Is Burning, inviting the audience to examine the body
language and features of the subject. Whilst we are told that Chiron is gay,
the sexual orientations of the other characters are not explicitly revealed”
(Watts, 2017). This makes the audience wonder if you really can tell just by a
persons body language if an individual is homosexual or not, also because of this
the audience is forced to analyse secondary characters a little bit closer,
such a Juan or Kevin, as their sexuality may not be obvious from your first
impression of them. It is often assumed in popular media that because a man
acts feminism by the way he talks or his body language that he wants to be a
women. “It was theorized that homosexuals desired same-sex affection because
they considered themselves (or desired to be) members of the opposite sex. In
other words, homosexual men supposedly wanted to be women, and homosexual women
wanted to be men” (Benshoff and Griffin, 2005, p21). ‘Moonlight’ (Jenkins,
2016) goes against the grain in the final act, Chiron is now a very is a very
big, strong and masculine man. He might have changed himself in this way
because he is aware of how society perceives sexual identity and wants to, show
people that your sexuality shouldn’t have a correlation to your body language.

 

As ‘Moonlight’
(Jenkins, 2016) divides the film in to three acts, it is a clear evolution of both
Chiron’s sexuality and masculinity. In the first act of the film, Chiron’s
father figure, Juan, tells him a story about when he was in Cuba with his
friends and a lady said to him that under the moonlight his skin looked blue.
Then she insisted on calling him ‘Blue’, Chiron then asks Juan if his name is
‘Blue’, to which he responds “Nah” whilst smiling at Chiron. Juan didn’t
acknowledge whether or not that he thought his own skin looked blue, as he knew
other peoples opinions of him didn’t matter because he is comfortable with his
individuality. “In a certain “light” Juan looked different to her than he looks
to himself. Her perception of him didn’t change his perception of himself or
the objective colour of his skin” (Raunig, 2017). This is a life lesson Juan is
trying to teach Chiron because of the children at school bullying him by
calling him names like ‘faggot’, Chiron is supposed to discover what kind of
person he wants to be on his own, he shouldn’t let the other children tell him
who he is or determine what his sexuality is. Being the only father figure in
Chiron’s life, Chiron picks up his life lessons, teachings and mannerisms, as
he gets older in the film. The colour blue is shown several times such as
Chiron’s backpack in the second act or the blue dish soap that he uses to give
himself a bath, the bath scene is just after the scene when Juan swims with
Chiron in the ocean, teaching him to swim, which almost resembles a baptism. A
baptism is something that the father is traditionally there for holding his
child. Juan’s car is also the colour blue, which Chiron is often riding in.
Chiron might feel the need to imitate Juan, as he was the very first person
Chiron opened up about his sexuality to. Because of this bond between them,
just like a real rather and son, the son tends to imitate his father, as he is
their role model.

 

In the scene on
the beach with Kevin, moments before Chiron has his first gay experience, Kevin
asks Chiron “you cry?” to which Chiron replies, “I cry so much sometimes, I
feel like I’ma turn to drops”. They both see this as an opportunity to open up to
each other and to escape the masculine role that he is expected to fill as a
man. Chiron is aware that toughness is associated with being masculine, as a
whole and to conclude this essay, ‘Moonlight’ (Jenkins, 2016) is about a young
man and his journey of sexual discovery. The question of “Who is you?” is asked
repeatedly throughout the film and serves as what Chiron needs to discover on
his own, this is the meaning of ‘Moonlight’ (Jenkins, 2016).