by Tara Miller
In a society and culture that privileges straight, white narratives, lack of representation can be detrimental to those of us with marginalized identities. (Complex) Representation Matters.
As a queer woman of color, it’s often difficult for me to enjoy and relate to mainstream films—I so rarely see myself or any real part of my identity portrayed in them. Watching, hearing, absorbing stories about straight, white people over and over again can quickly spiral into feeling like my identity is wrong, not valid, and not important.
Over the past few years, I’ve generally avoided films, because the risk of watching another straight white character, another superficial and stereotyped sidekick or extra character of color, or a one-dimensional queer person or queer relationship was too great and too dangerous for my strengthening identity. Even my incredibly on-point, badass mother jokes that it’s impossible to watch movies with me because my mind goes into critical-of-white-supremacist-heteronormative-patriarchy overdrive.
When this year’s Oscar nominations came out I didn’t pay much attention and have since learned that they are unsurprisingly true to the establishment’s white, straight nature.
Shortly after the nominations were announced, however, Jada Pinkett Smith announced her boycott of the awards ceremony and called for other people of color to do the same. In her public video, Smith suggested to people of color that “maybe it is time that we pull back our resources and put them back into our communities, into our programs. And we make programs for ourselves that acknowledge us in ways that we see fit. That are just as good as the so-called mainstream ones.”
Criticism of the Oscars from people of color is not new--Eddy Murphy gave this speech about lack of black representation among Academy Awards winners before introducing the 1998 nominations for Best Actor. In 1973, Sacheen LittleFeather rejected Marlon Brando’s award on his behalf, because of the negative treatment of Native Americans in and outside of film and TV industries.
Stories about and nominations of out, queer people are also rare among nominees and winners, and even more so for queers of color.
Hollywood is clearly dominated by white, straight stories and depthless, stereotyped characters of color. For a long time I thought there really weren’t any films that spoke to marginalized communities and that there never would be. And I was pretty turned off from the film industry because of it.
In the last year, however, I realized how powerful films can be when they DO tell marginalized stories in authentic and empowering ways. And these films EXIST. There are not enough of them, largely because producers and studios don’t tend to invest in and support films about Qs and POCs (perhaps this is linked to the fact that they don’t get acknowledged by big award shows like the Oscars, exemplifying the vicious cycle that is the heteronormative white supremacist patriarchy).
But as you all probably know, marginalized people are brilliant and creative and resilient AF and we have INCREDIBLE stories. There are a number of them out there, but I saw four in particular in the last year that exemplified this incredibleness.
I do not think it would be a stretch to say that these films changed my life, strengthened my sense of self, and broadened my understanding and acceptance of queer experiences. I’m beyond excited to share these four films with the AFO community.
Many of you have probably seen one, if not all of these films, but if you haven’t GET ON IT!
And if you have any additions to the list, please contact us so we can add them here.