Monday, April 20, 2009
In the almost twenty years since the filming of Paris Is Burning, the LGBT community as a whole has experienced somewhat of a coming out in mainstream popular culture. It always seems as though comedy is the first place people and ideas that were formerly taboo gain acceptance, and this is definitely the case with gay and lesbian roles in movies and t.v. shows. However, since the 1990s there have been more and more serious roles and discussions of LGBT people in dramatic, mainstream movies and shows, Queer as Folk and Brokeback Mountain being two that immediately come to mind. There have also been more roles that depict gay characters in films and t.v. series that don't focus on their homosexuality, but are instead simply people who are homosexual. A good example of this is the character of Marshall on HBO's newly released United States of Tara, a show about on a dysfunctional family that must deal with the mother's (Toni Collette) Multiple Personality Disorder.
Although these advances are pretty important to the acceptance and integration of the gay community into mainstream culture, there are still parts of the LGBT community that have not yet sufficiently escaped the comedy spotlight. Transgendered people and the drag lifestyle are both still mainly entrenched in farcical depictions, such as Victor/Victoria, Tootsie, and the classic Some Like It Hot. Now, I'm not saying that I don't think drag-based movies are good or funny (Some Like It Hot is one of my all-time favorites) but I do think it's a shame that the topic hasn't been explored in more serious films.
There are, however, a few exceptions to this rule. Since the 1990s (Paris Is Burning actually probably influenced some of these films) there have been a few good films made about transgendered lifestyle, if not about the drag scene. Hedwig and the Angry Inch came out in 1993, a staged musical-turned-film about a rock band fronted by a transgendered singer. By the end of the film, Hedwig sort of reminds me of some of the older drag queens in Paris Is Burning, particularly Dorian Corey. Though she sees her mentee go on to become a successful rock star, she somehow never makes it big and spends her career playing small coffee joints and shady dives. The most recent film I can think of that really focuses on the trangendered lifestyle is 2005's Transamerica, starring none other than desparate housewife Felicity Huffman. Transamerica is the story of Bree, a transsexual awaiting his last operation who learns he has a son from a one-time sexual encounter when she was still a man. Bree is forced to confront her past before the operation can go on, and is one of the only non-documentary films that I know of that deals directly with being transgendered.
The drag scene and transgendered lifestyle has not yet been as explored as thoroughly as other aspects of the homosexuality, but there are a few excellent exceptions. We can only hope that these exceptions lead to acceptance.