Queer TV, movie characters de­serve bet­ter

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

One thing that sucks about be­com­ing so­cially aware, or “woke” as the kids call it, is an in­abil­ity to en­joy pop cul­ture like I did in the past. Over the week­end, I watched one of my fa­vorite movies, “Mona Lisa Smile,” for what feels like the mil­lionth time. I’m a sucker for a good chick flick, es­pe­cially one that has fem­i­nist un­der­tones.

For the un­in­formed, “Mona Lisa Smile” is a film set in the 1950s about pro­fes­sor Kather­ine Wat­son, por­trayed by Ju­lia Roberts. On the sur­face, the movie is a bea­con of pro­gres­sive­ness, and while I still en­joy the film, there’s one as­pect that ir­ri­tates the hell out of me.

School nurse Amanda Armstrong, por­trayed skill­fully by Juliet Steven­son, is the only queer char­ac­ter in the movie and we only know that be­cause an­other char­ac­ter told Kather­ine about Amanda’s dead part­ner. Amanda starts her brief time on screen as fod­der for gos­sip. Her fi­nal scene is tragic, like those of many other queer fe­male characters.

Af­ter be­ing fired for pro­vid­ing con­tra­cep­tives, she tells Kather­ine that she should have left when her part­ner died be­cause there was “noth­ing left to love.” As I watched, I couldn’t help but wish Amanda was given a pre­quel or at least an­other scene be­cause I’m sick of queer characters be­ing used as hu­man fast-for­ward but­tons for plots.

I saw the same thing hap­pen a few weeks ago as I binge-watched Netflix’s “Dear White Peo­ple.” One of the characters, Lionel, seemed to only ap­pear when he was needed by a straight char­ac­ter or for comic re­lief. Lionel, like Amanda, has so much po­ten­tial and I pray that he gets an ac­tual story and per­son­al­ity as the se­ries pro­gresses be­cause watch­ing him pine af­ter his straight room­mate got old quickly.

Like many things in my life, my feel­ings swirl around my in­ter­sec­tions. I was dis­ap­pointed in Lionel’s char­ac­ter be­cause as a Black queer per­son, I’m used to see­ing Black queer characters in Black me­dia get used the same way. If a cre­ator wants to throw in a laugh, throw in a flam­boy­ant Black gay man or, in Lionel’s case, an ex­tended mas­tur­ba­tion scene. Need some tragedy? Make his daddy beat his ass or throw him in a trash can a la “Em­pire.”

Amanda’s story struck me be­cause although she was a white woman, I iden­tify with how quickly her story was pushed aside and how typ­i­cal it was for queer fe­male por­tray­als. While male queer characters tend to be prob­lem­atic, they are af­forded dimensions that queer women don’t get. Queer women’s sto­ries are al­most al­ways tragic or neg­a­tive. Ei­ther some­thing bad al­ways hap­pens to them or some­one dies. They don’t get re­demp­tion or hap­pily ever af­ter. They’re merely an af­ter­thought. It’s a lit­tle too close to re­al­ity con­sid­er­ing queer women’s spa­ces are dis­ap­pear­ing at an alarm­ing rate.

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