Gay and Lesbian Portrayal in Films by hcj

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									Gay and Lesbian Portrayal in Films

Jordan Immerfall & Daniel LaFrenz


        December 10, 2004

     The purpose of this research is to explore the

different ways in which gays and lesbians are portrayed in

films. Our research will focus on films that were made

within the past 15 years in the United States. We will also

focus our research on comparing the portrayal of homosexual

men and homosexual women. Our research will be focused

around a number of variables that we feel will provide us

with an accurate documentation of the way that homosexuals

have been portrayed in films in the past 15 years.

     We think that this research is important for a few

different reasons. The first being the recent increase in

movies that either are solely about homosexuals or have a

homosexual as the main character. The 1990’s produced many

more gay movies that any other decade has before (June

2003), and this trend seems to be continuing well into the

21st century. As more and more movies dealing with

homosexuality are being released, issues dealing with

homosexuality outside of cinema are also escalating. This

is of relevance to us because a large portion of the public

forms their opinions of homosexuals through what they see

on television or in the movies. Individuals who do not

personally know a homosexual may come to draw their beliefs

about homosexuals through films. Therefore, an unfair

  representation of gays on the movie screen could result in

  negative views of homosexuals in general.

  This research is also important due to the recent surge in the

gay rights movement. Many state laws and statutes are currently

getting battled out and voted on across the nation. Just

recently in the last popular election, a handful of states voted

on whether homosexuals should be able to be legally married or

not. Many of these people that are voting may have formed the

bulk of their opinions about homosexuals from films. This

representation or misrepresentation of homosexuals in films

could likely play a role when it comes to deciding some of these

laws or statues.

  Literature Review

       The first article that we reviewed was written by

  Jamie L. June in August of 2003. The goal in her research

  was to document the different definitions of gay, lesbian,

  transgender, and queer films, and how they have developed

  into a more popular genre. She focused her research around

  different film festivals, and the films that they showed.

  She identified 57 of these film festivals using a database

  as well as other online resources. She decided to focus on

  the different themes that were brought out by these

  different movies, as well as the reactions of different gay

and lesbian film festivals to these movies. The population

of this study is all gay, lesbian, transgender, and queer

films. She found about half of the films shown were not

overtly gay or lesbian films, and that most of the films

are not made my gay or lesbian filmmakers. She also noted

that the 1990’s were unprecedented for releases of gay and

lesbian movies.

    The second article that we reviewed was written by

David Bergman in 2004. This article was very relevant to us

because it dealt directly with what we were researching.

Bergman studied the ways that gays and lesbians were

represented in films and television. His population was all

gay and lesbian films or television shows. He argues that

many popular television shows or movies that have gay

characters could be classified as anti-gay. He says that

many times gays or lesbians aren’t allowed to have a

boyfriend or girlfriend, and that most physical gay or

lesbian contact is excluded, especially in television. He

found that many times gays and lesbians were victims of

violence, or faced tremendous prejudice. His main focus was

on how it seems that the most homophobic characters in

these films or shows are the gay people themselves. They

show through their actions that they think something is

wrong with being gay.

      The next article we reviewed was written by Matthew

Waites. This article was chosen after having to open up our

restrictions on the types of journal articles we were

looking for. We were unable to find many academically

reviewed articles dealing with both homosexuality and films,

so we focused on finding articles about homosexuality that

we could apply toward our research focused on films. This

article focuses on the age of consent for homosexuals.

Waites found that around the age of 16, these homosexuals

had earned the type of “equality” as far as cognitive

decisions, to allow them to declare themselves homosexuals.

We can use these findings to predict that the homosexual

characters that we observe in our films will be older than


      The next article we studied in order to get a

thumbnail sketch of research that has been done on gays and

lesbians from a sociological standpoint. This article was

written by Barbara Risman in 1988. The article studies the

different stereotypes and assumptions about homosexuals,

and then breaks these stereotypes and assumptions down

further. She finds that many homosexual men possess the

same qualities, like creativeness, and being more outwardly

sensitive. She also concluded that many lesbians do tend to

act more masculine, or possess more masculine qualities

than heterosexual women. This article will be useful to us

when we are picking out different stereotypes that are

shown in the gay and lesbian films that we review.

    The last paper we reviewed was written by M. Gleitzman

in 2003. This article examines the ways that homosexuals

stereotype members of their own groups; that is, what are

the stereotypes that gay men hold about gay men, and what

are you the stereotypes that lesbians hold about other

lesbians. This study looks at 90 homosexuals and their

stereotypical thoughts. He focused on the knowledge that

each group had about their own group, and of other groups.

He found that gay men’s stereotype of lesbian women was

closer to the general consensus than was lesbians’

stereotypical thoughts of gay men.


    We are going to predict that most of the homosexual

characters in the films will be “adults”.    By adult we mean

they will be older than 16 and live on their own.       This is

because we feel that children are not generally thought of

as being legitimately homosexual.    Young adults and

children who are homosexual are easy to dismiss as

“experimenting” and therefore will not be part of most


    Another one of our predictions is that homosexual

women will be shown participating in more serious

homosexual acts than homosexual men.   Women are sexualized

more in our society and we feel this will also hold true in

our research study.

    Homosexual men will be shown in a majority of the

films possessing exaggerated feminine qualities.    We think

that homosexual men are often portrayed as the “sissy” and

we think this will be exaggerated in the films.

H1: Homosexuals in the films will be portrayed as adults.

H2: Homosexual women will be shown participating in more

homosexual acts than homosexual men.

H3: Homosexual men will be shown in a majority of the films

possessing exaggerated feminine qualities.

Data and Methods

    In our research the unit of analysis is homosexual

characters in recent films.   We chose our sample of films

based on four criterions.

    The most important of these was choosing films that

had a main character who was a homosexual.   In order to

examine homosexual portrayal we thought it would be best to

choose from films that gave the audience more than just a

glimpse of homosexuals.   We wanted to choose films that

could have an impact on how people viewed homosexuals.      We

obtained a list of films with homosexual movies from the

“Over the Rainbow Shop” we also added to this list movies

we have seen and felt should be included.   These were

movies that were popular but were not on the list, such as

“Philadelphia” and “Monster”.

    The next step was the year the film came out.      We

wanted films that were relatively recent because recent

films have dealt with homosexuality in a more direct manner

than older films.   Recent films are viewed by more people

today and are what wee feel impact people more.   We decided

to choose from films no older than 15 years.   While keeping

this in mind we also tried to have a variety of years

represented in our sample.

    Our next criterion we based our selection on was the

sex of the main homosexual character.   In our study of the

portrayal of gays and lesbians in films we wanted to

include a general explanation of homosexual portrayal and

any differences between the portrayal of homosexual men and

women.   We decided that half of the films in our sample

would have a female homosexual as the main character and

half would have a male homosexual.

    The final criterion we used was how widely known the

film was.   Our research is concerned with how people might

come to make decisions about homosexuals.   We thought that

films that were widely known and easily accessible would be

more likely to influence how people perceive homosexuals.

In order to achieve this we chose to go to well known local

movie rental stores and make a list of homosexual films

that were available.   We thought that this would be a good

representation of how widely known a film is.

The ten films we chose are:

  1. Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)

  2. Philadelphia (1993)

  3. Birdcage (1996)

  4. Chasing Amy (1997)

  5. As Good as it Gets (1997)

  6. Gia (1998)

  7. Boys Don’t Cry (1999)

  8. Big Eden (2000)

  9. Rules of Attraction (2002)

  10.    Monster (2003)

    Our dependent variable is the overall portrayal of

homosexual characters in these ten films.   We measured this

portrayal based on a number of different independent

variables.   We coded for: sex, race, age, cross-dressing,

sexual acts, pressure to act straight, homosexual

relationships, negative attitudes towards homosexuals (by

straight characters), death of homosexual character,

homosexual character’s lifestyle, and gender role reversal.

              Age: 1= teens, 2= 20’s, 3= 30’s, 4= 40’s, and so


              Race: 1= white, 2= black, 3= other

              Crossing Dressing: 1= yes, 2= no

       We coded this based on whether men dressed like women

 and whether women dressed like men a majority of the time.

 For the women would include wearing suits and also

 dressing in a way that would make other characters notice

 they aren’t dressing the way they are suppose to.

              Sex acts: 0= none, 1= kiss on cheek/hand or any

         minor show of affection, 2= kiss on the lips or more

         intimate show of affection, 3= sexual intercourse or

         strong sexual interaction

              Pressure to act straight: 1= yes, 2= no

       This would include any form of suggesting to the

character to act or even pretend to be straight.

              Homosexual relationship: 1= yes, 2= no

              Negative attitudes towards homosexual(s): 1= yes

       2= no

       This includes jokes about homosexuals, name calling,

and gestures or faces made towards homosexual characters.

           Death of homosexual character: 1= yes, 2= no

           Gender role reversal: 1= yes, 2= no

This would include men acting as women and women acting as

men.   If this was not relatively obvious to the viewer than

we used the way the other characters interpreted the



     We found that the average age score was 2.5.     This

means that the characters average age was between 20 and 30.

This supports our hypothesis that homosexual characters

will be “adults” older than 16.

     What we feel is our most interesting finding is the

average scores of homosexual sex acts.   With the highest

score being a three, women scored an average of 2.3 and men

an average of 1.4.   This means that women were shown

participating in more serious homosexual acts than men.

This supports our hypothesis that homosexual women will be

more sexualized.   We also found that women scored an

average age of 2 meaning 20’s while men scored a 3 meaning

30’s.   This also fits our hypothesis that younger women are

interpreted to be more sexual and more attractive.

     Despite these findings and our hypothesis we found

that half of the women cross-dressed and par-took in gender

role reversal while only 10% of men crossed-dressed and par-

took in gender role reversal.   To our surprise our

hypothesis was proved incorrect in this case.

     Out of the films we watched, we found that one third

of the homosexual characters die.   We did not hypothesize

about this but we feel it is still very interesting to our

study.   Out of those who died 40% was due to AIDS.      We also

found that one third of the homosexual characters were

pressured in one way or another to act straight.        Negative

attitudes towards homosexuals were present in about 75% of

the movies.     Characters participated in homosexual

relationships about 86% of the time and about 80% of the

characters were white.

Discussion and Conclusion

    We live in a society were people are still very

homophobic.     The number one reason people voted in the past

elections for the candidate they did was based on morals.

More specifically, morals can refer to the idea of

homosexual marriage and homosexual rights.     An overwhelming

majority of people are against homosexual marriage and

homosexual rights and this was shown by the election of a

President who also is against marriage and rights of

homosexuals.     These feelings are illustrated strongly in

our research.    Negative attitudes towards homosexuals seem

to be a common part of these films.     This may influence the

public attitudes or may be a representation of an already

existing attitude.     Although there were some movies that

exhibited absolutely no negative attitudes towards

homosexuals, suggesting there may be a trend away from this.

    The American Psychiatric Association removed

homosexuality from its list of diseases about 40 years ago.

However there was still pressure from other characters on

the homosexual characters to act straight in about one

third of the films.   This may not be suggesting that people

feel it is a disease but we think it is at least suggesting

that people feel they can change homosexuals or that being

a homosexual is a choice.

    The AIDS epidemic was for a long time considered only

a “gay” disease and was ignored by the government.    Death

seems to be a common theme in these films.   With one third

of the characters succumbing to death and 40% of those from

AIDS the idea of AIDS being a “gay” disease seems to still

be prevalent.

    Our most interesting finding, that homosexual women

are more sexualized than homosexual men, came as no

surprise to us.   Women have always been sexualized in our

society.   And the idea of homosexual women tends to also be

something sexualized.   Homosexual men are what most people

seem to be afraid of and are what leads most people into

drawing conclusions about homosexuals.   So the fact that

women scored higher on average in sexual acts than men was

expected and we feel suggests strongly that homosexual

women are more sexualized and may also be more accepted.

    A weakness our research faced was that we only had

time to view 10 films.   We feel that 10 films is

representative but that more films may have allowed for

more variables and given a more accurate picture of how

homosexuals are portrayed in films.


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