After the production code was brought in during the 1930s in Hollywood it became much harder to show several different things on the Hollywood Screen.
There were restrictions on the length of time a couple could be seen kissing, whether you could show a couple in bed together, even a scene from Disney’s Snow White had to be cut because she was shown in bed with the seven dwarfs, and then there was a complete restriction on showing homosexuals on screen due to what was known as ‘sex perversion’.
However after existing in Hollywood for over thirty years the final part of the code, which just happened to be the section concentrating on sex perversion, came down in 1968, finally allowing homosexual characters to be shown in Hollywood films.
There had been gay characters shown in films prior to 1968, but these films were from countries such as Italy and Great Britain (notably Dirk Bogarde in 1961’s Victim, the first English-language movie to use the word homosexual), but with the dominance of the Hollywood film they hadn’t made enough of a global impact.
After the production code had fully come down, gay people were finally being shown in some films, but we had a very odd portrayal as throughout the 1970s and 80s we were mainly shown in a negative light, usually as villains or victims.
As the 1990s came around gay people finally began to get a slightly better portrayal. We weren’t necessarily tragic or villains, as we were now cast in the role of the ‘gay best friend’ in several Hollywood rom-coms, where we minced about helping our girl friends shop for the perfect shoes. Hello stereotype. But we were far from leading characters.
Over this period of time we were getting more of a leading role in some independent films, such as My Own Private Idaho by Gus Van Sant, but these were seen by limited audiences and we were once again just missing out on the mainstream, and we weren’t leads in big blockbuster films.
It wasn’t until the 2000s with the release of Brokeback Mountain that we finally saw a mainstream Hollywood Blockbuster depict two gay men as the lead characters. Alas they were very tragic figures but it was a true portrayal of the time it was set in. But since this we have still not seen many big Hollywood films featuring unambiguously gay characters as leads.
Yes there was Milk and The Kids Are All Right, which both garnered success, but this is only two where there could have been many more.
Maybe its Hollywood’s fear of not appealing to a big enough audience or maybe it is the fear of actors not wanting to be seen as gay and alienate a large section of their audiences – we will probably never know.
But what we can see is that whilst these fears hover around behind the doors of Hollywood, it looks as though while we’ve made progress we really haven’t come tremendously far in the last 40 years. Maybe we will just have to wait another 40 until there’s real parity with straight characters, and live with the fact that we do have exposure in many indie films these days. Every little counts after all.