Bleats

While The Favourite Is A Win For LGBT Representation, Bohemian Rhapsody Feels Like Two Steps Back

There were wins and losses for the LGBT community at this year's Oscars.

In case you missed the most exciting news to come out of this year’s Academy Awards, Olivia Colman won Best Actress for her role as Queen Anne in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite. 

The movie, written by Australian Tony McNamara with Deborah Davis, is a brilliant piece of cinema, and many LGBT film buffs (myself included) are thrilled with the win. Not least because of what would have happened if it had been shut out of the awards entirely.

While the fact that Glenn Close has to continue living her life without an Oscar is a terrible tragedy, Colman’s win is definitely deserved.

The Favourite has been cited as an example of LGBT representation in cinema done right, and that’s even when you consider the fact that the majority of the cast is straight.

Straight people portraying queer characters can be done, and done well, and two of this year’s Best Picture nominees can serve as case studies for how it can be done well, and how to do it in a way that fails spectacularly.

Bohemian Rhapsody, directed by Bryan Singer, who has faced numerous allegations of sexual misconduct since the film’s release, has been repeatedly criticised for the way it handled the issue of Freddie Mercury’s sexuality.

Setting aside the fact that we don’t know whether Mercury identified as gay or bi, we do know that he had relationships with men, and that his tragic death was a result of HIV/AIDS, and that he’s since become a hugely important figure for millions of LGBT people.

Many of those people feel that Bohemian Rhapsody, the biopic for which Rami Malek won Best Actor at this year’s Oscars ceremony, overlooked these aspects of Mercury’s life in favour of a straight-washed and sanitised version of events that would be more palatable to mainstream audiences.

Writing for Vox, Aja Romano says of the movie:

“Bohemian Rhapsody is a movie that consciously tries to position a gay man at its center while strategically disengaging with the “gay’ part as much as it can, flitting briefly over his emotional and sexual experiences and fixating on his platonic relationship with an ex-girlfriend instead.”

Self-described ‘gay historian’ Laurie Marhoefer wrote for The Conversation:

“Mercury, along with all the other men and women who tested positive for HIV in the 1980s, was a victim not just of a pandemic but of the failures of his own governments and of the scorn of his fellow citizens. The laughable initial response to the HIV pandemic helped seal Mercury’s fate.”

The context in which Mercury existed and, tragically, suffered, is important, especially when seeking to create a somewhat realistic biographical film. While celebrating Mercury’s successes and impact is important and worthwhile, his impact cannot be divorced from his sexuality and the impact he had on several generations of LGBT people.

Meanwhile, The Favourite doesn’t shy away from depicting queer sexuality on screen. Between the lovers spats and tastefully-filmed sex scenes, the relationships between the three women at the centre of the film are brought to life by Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone. Their obvious love for each other – both on and off-screen – is evident, and makes the film a joy to watch.

This chemistry is missing from Bohemian Rhapsody, because it isn’t even given a chance to exist – the main relationship in Mercury’s life, if the film is to be believed, is with his ex-girlfriend.

Gay characters have often been desexualised in film so as to make them seem less threatening, and despite being directed by a gay man, Bohemian Rhapsody doesn’t escape this trap.

The Favourite does an excellent job of depicting female sexuality in a balanced way, showing them as sexual beings without falling into any traps of hyper-sexualisation or fetishisation of lesbians.

Maybe it was easier in the case of The Favourite because anyone who would have objected to the overt queerness in the film, or would have criticised the film’s inaccuracies, is long dead, while in Bohemian Rhapsody‘s case, the surviving members of Queen served as creative consultants, and have attended the majority of award shows this season alongside the cast and crew of the film (save for Bryan Singer, who has been conspicuously absent).

But creating the ‘definitive’ biopic about a beloved LGBT icon while overlooking his sexuality in favour of a message about platonic love does both the icon in question and the LGBT community a disservice.

For many LGBT people, especially those who were young in the late 70s and 80s when Queen were at their height, Freddie was one of the first queer celebrities they’d seen. Where is the movie about his life that targets those fans as its main audience? Because Bohemian Rhapsody certainly isn’t it.

The Oscars Just Gave A Shout Out To Menstruation, And It Doesn't End There

Here's how you can help ensure a period doesn't end a girl's education.

The documentary short Period. End Of Sentence. just took home Best Documentary Short at the 91st Academy Awards, and the team’s thank you speech was iconic.

The short follows women in a rural Indian village as they tackle menstruation stigmatisation, make their own affordable sanitary pads and work towards financial independence. It was directed by 25-year-old Rayka Zehtabchi and released on Netflix last year.

Zehtabchi opened her thank you speech with, “I’m not crying because I’m on my period or anything! I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!” and producer Melissa Berton capped it off with, “A period should end a sentence, not a girl’s education”.

It was a pretty powerful moment considering it was taking place on stage during Hollywood’s most prestigious award ceremony, and considering how stigmatised periods are around the world, and it clearly resonated with people.

If the speech got you fired up about the issue, firstly, watch the documentary on Netflix, and secondly, check out organisations like Days for Girls International or The Pad Project.

If you’re good with a sewing needle, you can register to sew a Days for Girls kit. Days for Girls provides sanitary products to girls and women around the world, and relies on volunteers to sew the reusable shields and liners included in the kits. You can find a local group to join, or register as an independent sewist.

If not, never fear – you can still support The Pad Project, the group involved with Period. End of Sentence. They liaise with activists who have expressed interest in the machine featured in the documentary that makes affordable and biodegradable menstruation products, and help raise enough money for a machine and one years’ worth of supplies for that town or village. You can donate to them here.

These are incredibly worthwhile causes, because, in the words of Oscar winner Berton, “a period should end a sentence, not a girl’s education”.

Gay Couples In Japan Have Filed A Lawsuit To Challenge The Country's Ban On Same Sex Marriage

They filed their lawsuit on Valentine's Day, which feels incredibly appropriate.

Thirteen gay and lesbian couples in Japan have filed a lawsuit challenging the country’s stance on same-sex marriage, claiming that it’s unconstitutional for the country to refuse to recognise same-sex couples.

It’s the first legal challenge of its kind in Japan, and it’s seen couples ranging in age from their 20s to their 50s bring lawsuits against the government in Nagoya, Osaka, Sapporo and Tokyo.

The couples are seeking ¥1 million in damages, which works out to about $12,780AUD, as well as legal costs and  5% of the damages sought until payment is complete.

One of the plantiffs, Kenji Aiba, told the media:

“We’re not demanding anything special; we just want to have a chance to stand at the same starting line in our lives.”

He added that he hoped “this lawsuit will let us share the hardships of sexual minorities with all people in Japan and that it will help other LGBT people”.

In the lawsuits, the couples argue that ignoring same-sex marriages and letting officers in charge of issuing marriage licenses reject applications from same-sex couples is in violation of the constitution, and that this treatment has caused them emotional distress.

Makiko Terahara, one of the lawyers representing the couples, explained:

“In our lawsuit we want to point out the status quo is in violation of Article 24 of the Constitution that guarantees the freedom to marry — it states that ‘Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes’”. 

Terahara also argued that the denial of equal marriage rights violates Article 14, which states that “all of the people are equal under the law.”

While there are technically no laws banning same-sex marriage, previous governments have interpreted Article 24 of the constitution to mean that same-sex marriages are illegal.

Currently, 10 out of Japan’s 1,719 municipalities have enacted ‘partnership’ ordinances that make it easier for same-sex couples to rent together, amongst other things, but these are not legally binding.

Globally, just 25 countries recognise same-sex marriage, with Australia becoming the second country in Oceania to do so in late 2017.

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