Queer Representation in the Media

During this year’s Pride Month, Neoscape employees participated in a virtual Lunch & Learn presentation dedicated to the topic of Queer representation in Film and Television. The presentation was facilitated by Neoscape Graphic Designers Matt Meyers and Christopher Smith.

Representation of the LGBTQ+ community in mainstream media is a deeply important and relevant topic. The purpose of the presentation was to educate ourselves on Queer history, and raise awareness of issues that are too often overlooked. The Lunch & Learn provided a safe space for conversation as our discussion covered topics such as gender identity, community and intersectional representation. 

Below we have provided some of the touch points and takeaways from the presentation in the hope of  being a resource for those interested in learning more. In educating ourselves about the history of Queer representation, we are taking steps toward a better, more inclusive future. We are also happy to share some of our staff’s picks for positive LGBTQ+ presence in the media. 

Key Takeaways

The Lunch & Learn provided an overview of Queer representation in Hollywood’s past as well as the present. Takeaways include:

Hollywood’s History 

  • In 1927 the Motion Picture Association of America (MPA) appointed William H. Hays to create a set of production rules that corrected moral dilemmas in Hollywood. The outcome was the Hays Code, a set of 36 rules to follow in Film and TV. This included avoiding topics such as drugs, alcohol, interracial relationships and homosexuality. 
  • Billy Wilder’s 1959 film Some Like It Hot was the first film credited with challenging the Hays Code. Wilder broke the code by including overt explorations of gender, sexuality, and marriage.
  • After the box office success of Some Like it Hot, the MPA was challenged with updating its rating system. In 8 years, this system was to replace the Hays Code. Each rating depicts who is allowed to view the film. 
  • Immediately following the update, the 1969 film Midnight Cowboy was released and rated X for prostitution and homosexuality. The movie won the Oscar for best picture in the same year, forcing MPA to again re-evaluate its system. The community guidelines were updated and removed homosexuality as an X rating factor in 1971. Midnight Cowboy was then able to receive an R rating without editing a single frame 

Queer Coding 

  • Queer coding is the practice of using subtext to hint at a characters queerness without explicitly mentioning their sexuality. This was used to circumvent the stigma associated with queerness through much of Hollywood history. Often the queer-coded characters were villains, as it was seen as less taboo to associate queerness with other villainous traits.
  • Queer Coding dates back further than the MPA rating system. Alfred Hitchcock used this trope frequently. Some examples include his 1948 film Rope which depicted two male murderers who developed a romantic and sexual relationship with each other as well as his notorious Psycho (1960), in which the protagonist ventures out in drag to kill hotel guests. 
  • Disney, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network often portray villains as being highly camp and effeminate vs their more masculine counterpart heroes who save the day. Some examples include:
    • Captain Hook (Peter Pan, 1953)
    • Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians, 1956)
    • Jafar (Aladdin, 1992)
    • Scar (Lion King, 1994)
    • Him (Power Puff Girls 1998)
    • Shego (Danny Phantom 2004-2007)

Trans Representation

  • Early trans representation in Hollywood has always had a complicated and harmful past. Early depictions were commonplace for comedic effect, as if the sheer notion of trans existence is something to be made fun of.
  • Outside of comedy, trans characters were often depicted as the victims of hate crimes, the love interests “gone wrong,” or prostitutes. 
  • Trans history changed in 1952 when Christine Jorgensen became a global media celebrity. She was the first person to become globally famous for having gender confirmation surgery and undergoing hormone therapy. 
  • The 1990 documentary Paris is Burning gained notoriety in mainstream media for being the first documentary film to center on trans women of color. The documentary offers insight into ball culture in NYC during the 80s and 90s. It provides a look inside one of our most marginalized communities and how members of that community created safe spaces to be themselves. 

The Future looks Q-ute!

In addition to understanding the history of queer representation in film and television, we discussed positive queer representation in today’s press; an essential talking pointas we continue to educate ourselves. 

  • Figures like Laverne Cox see LGBTQ+ representation moving past the AIDS crisis, and space opening up for a positive future of representation. 
  • Shows such as Modern Family and Schitts Creek are normalizing queer characters and relationships in the media.
  • Intersectional representation is the importance of acknowledging that people come from different backgrounds, countries, cultures, sexual orientations, gender spectrums, ages, abilities, classes, professions etc. The term was conceptualized and coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. As this becomes more broadly discussed and commonly acknowledged, intersectional characters are increasingly being portrayed in the media.

Some of our favorite recommended shows and movies with positive queer representation include:

Netflix: 

  • Queer Eye 
  • Schitt’s Creek 
  • Sexual Education 
  • Dear White People 
  • Special 
  • Atypical 
  • Disclosure
  • Pose
  • Sense 8
  • She-Ra and the Princess of Power

HBO 

  • Euphoria 
  • We’re Here 
  • Hacks

Hulu

  • Shrill 
  • Difficult People
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  • Moonlight

Disney +

  • Out

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