“Reverse Shot” takes a look at modern queer cinema

If you’re an independent film fan, you probably read Reverse Shot. It’s not a light read, by any means, but provides consistently thoughtful commentary on modern cinema.

The current issue, “Proposition 24: Defining a New Queer Cinema,” takes a look at contemporary LGBT film, focusing on gay representation during the Bush era. The writers were left to define “queer cinema” however they wished — and the result is a compelling collection of articles ranging from homo-eroticism in “bromance” movies to the distinctively feminist message of gay filmmaker Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven.

Of particular interest to lesbians is Chris Wisniewski’s look at The Wire. Wisniewski believes that the evolution of LGBT characters on television makes TV show representation a vital part of any discussion of queer cinema.

“Visibility, broadly defined, is no longer the standard by which representations of queer people on television should be judged. Progress has inflated our expectations, and now LGBT audiences have come, rightfully, to expect more than inclusion. Quality representation matters in two senses: the quality of the shows themselves and the quality of the portrayals on those shows.”

Wisniewski contrasts the portrayal of Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Vito in The Sopranos with the gay characters in The Wire. While Willow’s lesbianism and her relationship with Tara were at first “refreshingly frank,” Joss Whedon basically blew it when Tara was killed and Willow went off the deep end. The “dead/evil lesbian cliché” outraged fans.

The Sopranos’ “gay Vito” storyline, which seemed contrived from its onset, also frustrated fans. For one thing, the story seemed to drag on forever, even though we all knew that it would not end happily. By the time Vito was brutally killed, nobody much cared.

The Wire, on the other hand, established the sexual orientation of its gay characters from the beginning. Kima Greggs (Sonja Sohn), the out lesbian police officer, has scenes with her partner Cheryl (Melanie Nicholls-King) that are amazingly normal.

Being gay is just part of who Kima is, not her central identifying characteristic. And although the relationship between Kima and Cheryl eventually fell apart, it was parallel to the deterioration of a straight character’s marriage. Kima, despite some initial acting out, maintained her sense of self despite the breakup.

“Late in the show’s run, in one of its most touching moments, Kima’s son comes to her late at night because he can’t sleep, and she lulls him by sitting with him at the window, encouraging him to say goodnight to everything he sees.”

“One gets the sense that Kima might have an instinct for motherhood, and that it might give her something real to hold on to beyond the job. She’s one of the few characters who escapes The Wire with some degree of integrity and nobility, and she may be its moral center.”

That’s certainly not something we often see in lesbian characters.

Another essay of special note is “Gender Neutralized,” which explores the documentary Be Like Others. The subject is surprising: sexual reassignment surgery not only is legal in Iran but also is provided free of charge. While this at first looks remarkably enlightened, we discover that the reason for the policy is that it is considered a way to “correct” homosexuality. Since same gender attraction is repugnant, the “cure” is to change gender. Wow.

I’ve learned something from every “Proposition 24″ essay I’ve read so far. It’s well worth your time. Check out the whole Reverse Shot issue and let us know what you think.

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