The Celluloid Closet

Year: 1995
Production Co: Arte
Director: Rob Epstein/Jeffrey Friedman
Writer: Vito Russo/Rob Epstein/Jeffrey Friedman/Sharon Wood/Armistead Maupin
Cast: Lily Tomlin, Tony Curtis, Tom Hanks, Shirley MacLaine, Whoopi Goldberg, Gore Vidal, Harry Hamlin, John Schlesinger, Susan Sarandon, Antonio Banderas, Steve Buscemi, Charlie Chaplin, Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Fontaine, Liza Minelli, Johnny Weissmuller, Sharon Stone, Michael York, Harvey Fierstein

One of the most interesting things about this movie is when it was made. 1995 wasn't exactly the dark ages of gay acceptance – it certainly wasn't as far back as the era when I was in high school (the 70s and 80s) and 'faggot' was one of the insults of choice and where if you admitted to being gay there'd still be a very big stigma attached.

But the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras were only just becoming mainstream and media friendly, and it would be a long time before gay marriage was virtually enshrined in the public consciousness by the 2015 US Supreme Court ruling or the results of the virtual 2017 Australian referendum.

Lily Tomlin narrates the history of Hollywood's treatment – both on and off screen – of gay personalities and characters. It's an at-times ugly picture of the prejudices many of us grew up (and old) with during the 20th century, and it's not until you hear various talking heads and their own experiences that you realise how personal it can all be.

We all celebrated how Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman showed so many girls they can be the hero on screen, and in the same but opposite way many gay actors, writers, composers, directors and executives went through their childhoods and most of their adulthoods learning that what they truly were was something shameful at worst, comical at best.

Nowadays there's little to no stigma left in entertainment about being gay, and there's a strong sense that most of the people talking in the film were witnessing (in some cases causing) that shift. They were looking for their own 'if you can see it you can be it' figureheads, sometimes creating them because they couldn't find them anywhere else.

Most fascinating from a historical perspective is that – like depictions of every other kind of sexuality – homosexuality was pretty unashamedly shown in screens when the movie industry was born. It was the moral panics, self-appointed conservative censors and their various Codes that came later and clamped down on it, and whenever gay characters where shown, they ranged from the sissy caricature for comic effect to the morally aberrant victim who must be corrected into a Midwestern white bread heteronormative lifestyle.

It's an interesting historical document and a damming indictment of how immature and damaging society was being to a huge swath of the population, but perhaps most telling of all is that maybe Hollywood hadn't really moved on so much – most of the budget and preproduction was done with the blessing and behest of European media companies.

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