Curbing Homosexuality in American Football

As of 2017, there are only eleven known gay football players in the NFL’s 97-year history. This is likely because fans and players of American football tend to associate masculinity with heterosexuality, thus alienating those who identify as gay. We argue that gay American football players in the NFL feel the need to repress their sexuality because the general respect of fans is largely dependent on players’ sexuality before their athletic ability. The following pictures consist of male football athletes that either felt the need to repress their sexuality or embrace it in order to break through the social norms. In addition, pictures show that qualities stereotypically associated with masculinity, particularly toughness and aggression, are necessary to have (if one is to be accepted) in the sport of football.


Odell beckham junior

Sporting News.

In this image, Giants player Odell Beckham Jr. is yelling at a member of the Panthers who was barraging him with anti-gay slurs. This is just one of many instances throughout Odell’s career in which players or fans have remarked on his “feminine” mannerisms and hairstyle. Odell has never explicitly denied claims of his sexuality but has never come out as gay either. This ambivalence could signify that Odell is straight and does not take offense at such remarks, as he understands that his prowess is more important. On the contrary, it could signify he is gay but reluctant to come out because of the hate he has received. Regardless of the answer, the debate still overshadows the fact that he recently became the highest-paid wide receiver in football, a reflection of his true talent.


real men play football (2)

The Feminist Wire.

The phrase “real men play football” exemplifies the heteronormativity of football–that is, the state in which heterosexuality is defined as normal and homosexuality is opposed (Cashmore & Cleland, 2011). Although fans will publicly deny it, they associate “real men” with straight players whom they admire. This is evident in the responses of 3,500 participants who gave their opinions about the presence of gay players in 2014. 93 percent of them said homophobia should not be a part of football, but those same participants were shown to scream homophobic slurs at players (Cashmore & Cleland, 2011). Clearly, the real men being referred to here are the straight players.


football tackle

Funny Junk.

This picture illustrates that physical aggression is encouraged in football as it is necessary to play good defense in order to stop the other team from getting a touchdown. However “by rewarding physical aggression with on-the-field success and increased prestige in the sport, [it increases] off-the-field violence toward perceived outsiders and ‘weaker’ students” (Steindfelt, 2011, p.7). Due to fans associating homosexuality as not masculine, therefore weak, gay football players tend to mask their sexuality by being physically aggressive on the football field.


weight lifting

The Morning Call.

If someone plays football, they tend to have a large number of friends who also play football as they train together, play together, and practice together as a team. Naturally, when people spend a lot of time together they tend to form friendships. This is not a bad thing but does become a problem when “playing high school football and being embedded within a football network significantly [increases] the risk of serious violence” (Steindfelt, 2011, 8). This violence then could be used on the field in the form of physical aggression which helps protects the player’s hidden identity. In addition, it could be used against weaker, homosexual males to mask one’s own sexuality in order to pull off the masculine persona that fans look for in a football player.  


texas tough.jpg

Killeen Daily Herald.

Even in news articles, the media portrays football players as strong and tough. Notice how the font for the title is specifically chosen to look tough, as well as the football players who are standing in a stance that represents a tough persona. This public image affects the fans outlook on the players as the fans will think they are always this macho in real life. It is these types of pictures that fuel the pressure for a gay football player to hide his sexuality and act masculine.



Quotes Ideas.

The character referred to here is not athletic ability so much as sexuality. An interviewed football fan agreed that sports are about exploiting weaknesses in one’s opponents, but then followed with “…being seen as gay, and therefore unmanly, would be too good an opportunity to miss” (Cashmore & Cleland, 2011). His quickness to use sexuality-rather than skill-as a weakness shows that fans’ admiration of players hinges on the players’ sexual orientation. These attitudes will contribute to gay players’ fears of having their sexualities exposed.


Ryan O'Callaghan

New York Post.

Ryan O’Callaghan was an NFL football player for the New England Patriots. Throughout his career as an NFL player, his plan was to hide his sexuality from his teammates and fans, and when got out of the NFL he would commit suicide. We think that O’Callaghan struggled with coming out as he was constantly surrounded by guys who were very masculine and straight. O’Callaghan did not have the support system he needed in order to feel comfortable in a career that praises masculinity and heterosexuality. Only after his career finished did he start to open up to a psychologist and his teammates. In doing so, he started to become more comfortable living his life as he no longer had to hide his sexuality. O’Callaghan now lives his life with the thought of suicide rarely ever crossing his mind.


aaron rodgerx

The Capital Times.

This magazine cover describes Aaron Rodgers as a “fearless” superman and implies his potential to lead his team to victory in the Super Bowl. Although this cover evokes Rodgers’ talent and does not excessively masculinize him, it is telling that this article was publicized but his choice to leave the field earlier in the season was not. When teammate Donald Driver convinced Rodgers to leave a game post-concussion, very few online articles and newspapers discussed the event, and Sports Illustrated–which is heavily consumed by football fans–was not one of them (Anderson & Kian, 2012). This shows that sports media outlets are reluctant to publicize content that opposes the “impenetrable player” image and potentially de-masculinizes the players. Not only is homosexuality considered un-masculine by this media, but logical decision-making is as well. Rather than portray players making smart decisions that will impact their career and ability, Sports Illustrated focuses on marketing toughness as if it is the most significant quality of players.


Professional football players have repeatedly been bombarded with homophobic slurs from fans and fellow players alike. Although said fans will deny it and put on a facade of inclusivity, players take the criticisms to heart and, as a result, feel an urge to assert their heterosexuality rather than their talent on the field. This pretense of “masculinity” can start as early as high school due to the toxic nature of football networks. From that point on, the desire to include masculinity in one’s athletic identity only increases. As a result, NFL players and media promote heterosexuality as a necessary trait in the world of football. Ryan O’Callaghan, Odell Beckham Jr., and Aaron Rodgers are all players whose sexuality have taken more precedence in their lives than their athletic abilities. O’Callaghan struggled to accept himself because of his homosexuality; Beckham is verbally assaulted by players despite his outstanding performances as a wide receiver; and Rodgers is only idolized for his “fearless” masculinity that is promoted by the same people who promote heterosexuality as the norm. The players, media, and fans of NFL have therefore exposed the attitudes surrounding football as not being skill-centric so much as sexuality-centric.


Works Cited:

Anderson, Eric, & Kian, Edward M. (2012). Examining Media Contestation of Masculinity and Head Trauma in the National Football League. Men and Masculinities, 15(2), 152-173. DOI: 10.1177/1097184X11430127.

Cashmore, Ellis, & Cleland, Jamie. (2011). Glasswing Butterflies: Gay Professional Football Players and Their Culture. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 35, 420-436.

Steinfeldt, Jesse A, et al. (2012) Bullying Among Adolescent Football Players: Role of Masculinity and Moral Atmosphere. American Psychological Association, 2, 340-353.





Ovaries in Office

Media Bias Towards Female Politicians

These images have been compiled from various television and print news media to show the clearly biased treatment of female politicians in political commentary and reporting. Historically, female politicians have received unequal coverage that heavily skews away from their politics and issues and towards their looks and appearance. Female politicians struggle to overcome the barriers in place and be taken seriously or trusted. Mainstream news media demonstrates a clearly biased attitude toward female politicians, not only in the US, but globally. ”Despite major shifts in the way that society views a woman’s role in the public sphere, the media continues to treat female politicians and candidates in a traditional gender role frames.” (Ryan, 2011)


Female politicians often fall victim to many of the same stereotypes that affect women in the professional world. A video called “The Pornification of Female Politicians” states that, “Because women candidates perpetually combat the double bind between femininity and competence, media frames that cast them as sex objects undermine their credibility as leaders in ways that do not undercut male candidates.” These stereotypes negatively affect the way female politicians are viewed by the public by subverting their competence and ability to do the job required of a public servant or political leader. The Argentinian political analysis magazine that ran an issue featuring Cristina Fernández used the stereotype of women as hyper-emotional to suggest that her emotional mood was affecting her political activity. This type of stereotyping is used by news media around the world to dismiss women as politicians to be taken less seriously by undermining their ability to act and think logically under pressure. Other newspaper covers feature politicians like Hillary Clinton, fists raised with headlines such as “NO WONDER BILL’S AFRAID” “Hillary explodes with rage at Benghazi hearing”. The suggestion that a female politician “explodes with rage” during a hearing makes it clear to the readers that this woman was out of control and angry. The title for this cover story, “Feisty Secretary of State Hillary Clinton first back at Congress in Benghazi hearing”.  Uses of terms and phrases like “explodes with rage” and “feisty” show that people consider her emotional as a female. There was no mention of Bill Clinton in the article (we’re pretty sure he wasn’t even there) until the end when listing her career history. “The hearings were an inauspicious exit for Clinton, the one time New York senator, first lady to hubby Bill Clinton, and 2008 presidential candidate, who is stepping down as the head of Foggy Bottom after four years.” (New York Post, 2013) The image of Bill seems to be for comedic effect, but his image is not at all relevant.



Wives and families of male politicians are often criticized, scrutinized, and verbally brutalized by news publications. This image of a Fox News segment showed a title referring to Michelle Obama as “Obama’s Baby MTHREEama”. While the network claimed it was an error in judgment by one producer, the attitude expressed by the producer in airing the headline is not an uncommon one, especially among the conservative news crowd.





Image: Independent
In this image an edition of Britain’s Daily Mail Newspaper is displayed with others. The cover is about Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and their meeting to discuss what Britain’s leaving the European Union will mean for Scotland’s connection to the U.K. However the newspaper decided that the most important part of this meeting was, which of these political leaders has the most attractive legs? The newspaper endured a significant backlash from this decision. There are several articles about the outrage that occurred after this story was published. There are many examples in news media where stories not only refer to a female politicians’ physical appearance but may (as in this case) focus on it completely. Even though there is negative feedback in many of these instances, the media continues to push these representations. It seems that it some cases the articles are titled in an a way that suggests objectification, even if the article is focused on other aspects of the politician, to catch the reader’s’ interest.


Alaska Magazine

In July 2007 Hillary Clinton spoke to Congress about the high costs of higher education. According to news outlets everywhere, her most important statement was not made by her words but by her blouse. There are several articles and discussions trying to decide if her slight v-neck was appropriate dress for Congress. “After all, it wasn’t until the early ’90s that women were even allowed to wear pants on the Senate floor.” (Givhan)


The Pornification of Female Politicians


The Pornification of Female Politicians

“Hillary Clinton Nutcracker” IE women versus men in the gender binary

The Pornification of Female Politicians



Givhan, R. (2007, July 20). Hillary Clinton’s Tentative Dip Into New Neckline Territory. Retrieved from

The Media’s War on Women: Gendered Coverage of Female Candidates:

The Pornification of Female Politicians (video)

Dunaway, Johanna, Regina G. Lawrence, Melody Rose, and Chris Weber. 2013. “Traits versus Issues: News Coverage of Female Candidates for Senatorial and Gubernatorial Office.” Political Research Quarterly 66: 715-726.


Lady Gaga and Her Influence as a Pop Icon

gagas WEHO pride monsters


Lady Gaga is without a doubt one of the most influential and recognizable faces in the music industry. She is particularly known for her penchant for the shocking. From provocative song lyrics to crazy costumes to over-the-top music videos, Gaga has done everything. She calls herself an activist and is outspoken in her support for progressive ideals such as LGBTQ rights and feminism, which she tries to convey through her work. While she has certainly succeeded in capturing people’s attention, some criticize the “extremity” of her antics and as a result can be deterred from the messages she tries to get across.



One highlighted event is when Lady Gaga wore the infamous “meat dress”. Wile many found her attire to be over-the-top and extreme, she continued to push for advocacy. In an interview in 2011, Lady Gaga stated that she wore the dress to advocate for the protest if the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the United States military.




Gaga is also known to be a feminist. In her early song “The Fame”, Gaga talks about the superficiality of a life of glamour and material wealth. Particularly, she makes a commentary on society’s view of beauty in women. In the song Gaga sings:


All we care about is pornographic girls on film and body plastic

Give me something
I wanna see television, and hot blondes in odd positions


Here again we see Gaga’s strong choice of wording as she bluntly points out that all society wants to see and all media wants to show is “hot” women being sexualized. Critics of her, however, may say that her music videos often portray women in a sexual way. Janell Hobson mentions in her article on Beyonce that some people criticize Beyonce as being too sexual and detrimental to the cause of feminism. Feminist bell hooks went as far as to say call her a “a terrorist especially in terms of the impact on young girls.” They would certainly say the same about Lady Gaga who is arguably much more extreme than Beyonce is.



One song that really turned heads, however, is Gaga’s “Judas”, inspired by the Biblical Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. The song is about forgiveness and betrayal, but more specifically, it can be read as a criticism against infidelity in men. In the song Gaga sings:

I’m just a Holy Fool, oh baby
It’s so cruel, but I’m still in love with Judas, baby
Woah woah woah woah woah
I’m in love with Judas, Judas


In this song Judas is a metaphor for Gaga’s ex and the song symbolizes how Gaga keeps going back to her ex despite all the times he hurt her and cheated on her.


Just as heard turning, if not more so, is the accompanying music video for the song. The video plays out as a modern-day reimagining of the story of Jesus’ betrayal by Judas, in which Gaga plays Mary Magdalene.


There are many rather interesting aspects of the video. One is Gaga’s “touchiness” and fondness for Jesus, which would imply some sort or romance between Mary and Jesus, a suggestion that certainly would not sit well with Christians. Another is the apparent romantic tension that goes on between Gaga and Judas (played by Norman Reedus); eventually Gaga is shown washing the feet of both Jesus and Judas, which could imply a romance between Mary and both Jesus and Judas.


The video ends with not Jesus being killed but Mary, suggesting that, in light of the song’s theme of betrayal, she was betrayed by both Jesus and Judas.


Gaga is speaking out against men’s infidelity and telling women that they don’t need to go back to such men, but many Christians criticized her method of getting that message across, including the Catholic League who condemned her use of Christian imagery and the implications made from that imagery.

Overall, Lady Gaga is an outspoken individual who will continue to speak out for topics that she believes is important. One main theme that she highlights throughout here work is the freedom and choice of expression that people should have. While many people may not be a fan of the way she gets her messages across, there is no doubt that she continues to shock the world with her methods of advocacy.


Banet-Weiser, S. (2018). Postfeminism and Popular Feminism. Feminist Media Histories, 4(2), 152-155. doi:

Hobson, J. (2013). Beyonce’s Fierce Feminism. Ms. Magazine, 23(2)

Williams, J. (2014). ‘Same DNA, but Born this Way’: Lady Gaga and the Possibilities of Postessentialist Feminisms. Journal Of Popular Music Studies, 26(1), 28-46. doi:10.1111/jpms.12058

Kids these *gays!

A closer look into the changing narrative landscape of cartoons involving the lgbtq+ community, and the evolution towards a more inclusive society.

By Sahana Srinivasan & Rajinee Buquing

Queer readings of cartoons along with more overt representations of lgbtq+ characters/themes are important, powerful devices to work against internalized homophobia amongst the youth. These applications actively redefine the binary of female/male representations that is strict and persistent in the media. Looking at the progression of cartoons over the years, there is a noticeable shift away from performative masculinity and femininity by the opposite gender as the butt of a joke, towards more fluid creations of characters and stories.


“Bugs Bunny” in The Bugs Bunny Show (1960-1975) exemplifying trans tropes.

Screen Shot 2018-06-29 at 11.10.52 PM

Bugs Bunny

In earlier cartoons, trans characters were either included for the purpose of eliciting laughs, or to convey some kind of plot twist. In class we discussed five trans tropes in media, one of which was “trans as trickery.” Such a plot twist usually involves shaming the character who was trans or who partook in cross-dressing. In the Bugs Bunny short “What’s Opera Doc” (1957) Bugs adorns a dress, heels, and makeup and goes by the name “Brunnhilde”. Elmer Fudd, a character who usually seeks out to hunt Bugs Bunny falls in love with Brunhilde, but upon realizing Brunnhilde’s “foil,” he tries to kill the rabbit. Trans comedian Riley Silverman describes watching the short and recognizing that the humor came more from the lyrics of the song rather than Brunnhilde’s femininity (Silverman). Yet, this no doubt stereotyped trans women as existing to deceive straight men (Silverman). Although in the end, Fudd feels sorry and regretful for causing Bugs’ death, we discover that Bugs fakes his death too; this only reistitutes the negative “trans as trickery” trope.


“Smithers” from The Simpsons (1989-Present) ‘coming out’.

Screen Shot 2018-06-29 at 9.28.47 PM


The Simpsons (1989-Present) has been a popular animated sitcom which satirizes American domestic life. One of the characters, Waylon Smithers, maintained what seemed to be a close, more than friendly relationship with his boss Mr. Burns; the show portrayed Smithers as a stereotypical closeted gay man, with references to his questionable sexuality as the butt of the joke. Matthew A. Henry, professor of English and Cultural Studies at Richland College, describes in his article “The Simpsons, Satire, and American Culture,” how Smither’s sexuality was originally private and apolitical, but shifted to the opposite end once the episode aired in which Smithers openly announces his homosexuality (Henry, 123). Viewers religiously followed the characters from The Simpsons; Smithers’s coming out made national news. ABC news mentioned after the episode that Smithers’s character was inspired by one of the writer’s own struggle with embracing his sexuality. Alfred L. Martin highlights in his article “Scripting black Gayness” the idea that a writer’s “own gayness” increases the “authenticity and credibility” of the script which presents a gay character (Martin, 652). Although this is true, since Smithers is a cartoon character in a comedic sitcom, the script satirizes and mocks his homosexuality to ensure laughs; this can be counterintuitive to the idea of maintaining the aforementioned authenticity and credibility.

“Him” from The Powerpuff Girls (1998-2005) coding trans people as ‘Evil’.



The Powerpuff Girls presents three unsuspecting little girls as supernatural heros that save Townsville from everyday crime. This is progressive in the sense that girls are capable, powerful, and have complete agency. Reminiscent of our discussions of Ronda Rousey and Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, these girls as a collective are still able to maintain their sense of femininity, despite their powerful presence (that contests ideas of emphasized femininity and subordination). Rousey affirms in Charlene Weavings’ article, “Cage Fighting Like a Girl”,  that women don’t necessarily have to replace their femininity for their athleticism. However, we’ll digress and begin talking about the apparent problems with this show, not to mention their reboot that houses even more issues regarding lgbtq+ representation (specifically trans representation). Let’s talk about ‘Him’. Him is an androgynous figure sporting a dress, a widow’s peak, sharp facial features, a beard and lobster-like hands, and is the ultimate villain of the show. This character design lends to Julia Serrano’s claim in the book, “Whipping Girl” explains that whether real or fictional, there is an “impression that the trans woman’s femaleness is an artificial mask or costume” (Serrano, 41). In Him’s first appearance, he is described as “a villain so evil, so sinister, so horribly vile that even the utterance of his name strike fear into the hearts of men. The only safe way to refer to this king of darkness is…HIM.” (Powerpuff Girls wikia). Him’s presence in the show reinforces the narrative that “repeatedly queer-coded characters in animation are dangerous, evil, or at the very least, frivolous.” He even appears in more satanic transfigurations and hellish environments, where he exemplifies his manipulative, psychological powers. This can allude to the real-life othering of trans people, with the claim that they are confused and even have a mental illness. In many ways, with the reading of Him as trans and/or genderqueer, it becomes complicated.

The Legend of Korra (2012-2014) and Bisexual visibility.


Korra & Asami

The ending scene in the final episode of Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra explored the possibility of a romantic relationship between two female characters, Korra and Asami. The two ultimately decide to go on a personal vacation together and enter a new magical realm, interlocking fingers and looking affectionately into each other’s eyes. In “The Discursive Implications of Sexuality in the Final Scene of The Legend of Korra,” Professor of Communication Greg Langner analyzes the scene as a “series of actions” that “serve to alter the perceptions” of those who watch it (Langner, 31). In this sense the scene is rhetorical, and is ultimately up to the audience to interpret symbols such as hand-holding as an indication of romantic tension between Korra and Asami. As mentioned in class, although inclusivity of the LGBQT community is rare but slowly improving in American media, bisexuality visibility specifically is very low. Shows like The Legend of Korra could serve as a positive representation of bisexuality as it is seamlessly incorporated instead of used as a plot device or joke.

In a Heartbeat (2017) portraying innocent same-sex love.

In A Heartbeat Poster

In A Heartbeat Poster

In this student-produced animated short, sans-dialogue, a love story proliferates between two young boys. Its pixar-style animation is striking because it tinges the story with innocence, assuming it addresses similar audiences as pixar films. With this assumption, the film inherently begins to normalize homosexuality; it teaches younger audiences to act upon their instincts as opposed to suppressing their true, unexplored feelings. The central plot involves one boy’s heart ‘outing’ his romantic attraction and lust for another boy. One can argue that this has important implications regarding the ‘gay male gaze’, queerbaiting and exploitation, because the boy is more contingent on his romantic emotions; it is just another innocent crush! We don’t often see gay representation between characters of this age, sharing something so pure and genuine. With only a total-run-time of four minutes and six seconds, this is monumental for gay representation because it “is still rarified in animated or children’s cinema.” (Jake Nevins, The Guardian). Co-creator, Beth David elaborates in saying, “It wasn’t until [we] decided to switch it to a same-sex crush that the film started to feel like a personal story that we were invested in. It was the kind of story we wish we had seen as kids.” Co-creator Esteban Bravo also explains that “as leaders of children’s content, it’s really important for [studios] to represent [LGBT characters] because not showing LGBT characters leads to a lot of internalized confusion as kids growing up.”

Shipping “Evelyn” & “Elastigirl” in The Incredibles 2 (2018).

Ship Elastigirl and Evelyn

Evelyn & Elastigirl Tweet

There was a lot of hype surrounding the characters Elastigirl and Evelyn being gay in the new Incredibles 2 (2018) — enough for the twitter world to go crazy. Though neither of these characters explicitly reveal their sexuality or romantic attraction, moments where they have any physical contact or meet each other’s gaze is extrapolated, scrutinized and read as lesbian, as this tweet above by @Punziella confirms. One comment on the tweet identifies a duplicity in Evelyn’s representation (upon realizing she ends up being the villain), noting that if she is interpreted as queer by audiences, then she risks villainous queer-coding. This would then perpetuate the long contested coincidence that queer identities in media are seen as threatening and abnormal, particularly toward the heterosexual, cisgender majority.

“Voyd” as a lesbian fangirl in The Incredibles 2.

The Lesbians @ Elastigirl

Voyd Meme

According to writer and comedian, Jill Gutowitz, “Pixar is spoon-feeding us a parable for queerness” as we interpret “Voyd [as] a hilarious parody of queer fangirls.” The scene above where Voyd originally expresses her praise is translated into a lesbian meme. She worships her for paving the way for other female superheroes, explaining how “seeing Elastigirl out there fighting crime publicly made her accept who she was, and encouraged her to embrace herself, not what others said.” Being a ‘super’ out in the public means being a part of the minority, one that is mostly hated and bigoted, enough to encourage people to hide their true identities. What an ironic parallel to the idea of ‘coming out of the closet’, as Voyd’s diction is euphemistic of her implied sexuality. With a queer reading of the scene, she implicitly mentions being ‘out and proud’ of who she is, despite the prejudices people may have. Thinking intersectionally, in a more explicit reading of the scene, Elastigirl’s iconism makes women more visible and valued in society. She is a perfect example of how gender roles are shattered by becoming the breadwinner for the family, while her husband serves a domestic life (with the uniquely difficult task of raising the kids).

Steven Universe (2013-Present), queer theory and gender-nonconformity.


Steven Universe

Steven Universe, a show on Cartoon Network metaphorically supports non-heteronormative romances and explores the complexity of relationships. Surprisingly, Steven Universe is the first Cartoon Network show created by a woman. In the show, the main character Steven is “human-gem” hybrid in a world protected by gems. The gems have female identities, and are often shown interacting affectionately with each other. Although the gender of the gems is not explicitly implied, the creator of the show, Rebecca Sugar states in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that the “strong female presence is intentional (Sugar).” Sugar explains that she aims to “tear down the semiotics of gender in cartoons for children;” by doing so, she encourages children at a young age to change the pre-existing theories they may subconsciously maintain about girls and to be more socially aware and inclusive. Steven Universe is a great platform for presenting gender-nonconforming identities, agender, and genderqueer, that we don’t often see in the media (Dunn 1). Due to the “genre boundaries of the fantasy cartoon,” there is more freedom to explore gender fluidity using symbols like the gems, however, this can also be limiting because the gender identities could come across as mythical since the world is already so imaginative.

The shift from derogatory connotations of gender fluidity to a more progressive, nuanced portrayal of this range of identities is becoming more integrated in new animated media. The argument that these divergent representations enforce a ‘gay agenda’ onto the youth often comes up, but these representations are important because they encourage children to change their ideas of the gender binary and heteronormative relationships, without necessarily forcing them to assimilate to a certain identity. With this medium in particular, there are no boundaries in creating characters that reflect what society actually looks like. Although we assume that animated shows target younger demographics, older audiences must also be taken into account. Cartoons can be a useful platform for educating complicated themes while presenting them in an entertaining way.



Henry, M. A. (2014). The Simpsons, Satire, and American Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Weaving, Charlene. “Cage Fighting like a Girl: Exploring Gender Constructions in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).” Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, vol. 41, no. 1, 2013, pp. 129–142., doi:10.1080/00948705.2013.858393.
Serano, J. (2016). Whipping girl: A transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.
Langner, G. (2015). The Discursive Implications of Sexuality in the Final Scene of The Legend of Korra. Colloquy,11, 22-43. Retrieved June 27, 2018.
Martin, A. L. (2014). Scripting Black Gayness. Television & New Media,16(7), 648-663. doi:10.1177/1527476414560443
Juzwiak, R. (2014, June 13). Here’s a Brief History of Queer Children’s Cartoon Characters. Retrieved June 28, 2018, from
N.H. (2015, June 15). ‘Steven Universe’ Creator on Growing up, Gender politics, her Brother. Retrieved June 28, 2018, from
Nevins, J. (2017, August 04). In a Heartbeat: The story behind the animated gay love short that’s gone viral. Retrieved June 27, 2018, from
Guttowitz, J. (2018, June 19). This New Character in ‘Incredibles 2’ is a Big Lesbian Metaphor. Retrieved June 29, 2018, from

The B Word – Comparing Male and Female Bisexual Representation in Television

Bisexual people are represented far more frequently in television than they are in film, but that representation is certainly not always positive or productive. We would like to explore the representation of both explicitly bi characters and characters that are implied to be bi, and how those have changed over time. Some tropes that we will address in this essay are the avoidance of the word bisexual and the idea that bi men are actually gay and bi women are actually straight, correlating an existing double standard in partner acceptance of  bisexuality in a heterosexual relationship. As this is a class on gender and media, we would also like to focus on how bi women are represented verses how bi men are represented.


Photo from Bitch Flicks

Scholars often point to the 1990s as the decade in which sexual orientations beyond heterosexual finally began to be really explored on television (Corey, 190.) Up until then, the concept of bisexuality to be far too complicated and taboo to ever explicitly address. However, the explicit recognition of bisexuality by name is an even more recent development. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, shows typically only portrayed bisexuality as a phase or a sudden shift from straight to gay. As shown above, Willow (played by Alyson Hannigan) from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is an infamous example of the latter. When Willow starts dating women in the later seasons of the show, she begins identifying as a lesbian. Confusingly, her previous attractions to men are still referred to as having been genuine, but the idea that she could be bisexual is never mentioned. Some point to Willow previously identifying as straight as an example of compulsory heterosexuality, a concept that theorizes lesbians often feel compelled to act like they are attracted to men due to societal pressure (Rich, 1996.) Others look at Willow as the prime example of bisexual erasure.



Photo from Doctor Who Wiki

Sci-fi and fantasy television shows in particular often were among the first to explore bisexuality, as their genres provided magical and/or futuristic explanations for non-normative sexualities. Jack Harkness (played by John Barrowman) from Doctor Who and Torchwood is an omnisexual time traveler from the far future. The fact that he flirts with people of all genders and alien species is presented as a result of hailing from a more progressive time period, and his sexual orientation is never identified by name. Rather, the show focuses more on his overt flirtatiousness, a trait often found in stereotypical depictions of all bisexuals, especially men.


At first glance, it’s pretty easy to analyze the differences in current bisexual representation for men and women on television. Bi women are sexualized in order to titillate a male audience, and bi men are hard to come by. However, as bisexual awareness and representation in mainstream media has increased over time, new patterns have begun to emerge. The discussion of bisexuality in TV is not only increasingly showing, but the differences in a straight couple’s partner reaction to bisexuality is also becoming increasingly present. An example of this discourse is represented in Orange Is the New Black.


Photo from No Glitter No Glory Blog

In the series, Piper Chapman (played by Taylor Schilling) is a young woman serving time in Litchfield prison for perjury and money laundering. Prior to turning herself in to do her time, she becomes engaged to her male partner, Larry Bloom (played by Jason Biggs). Piper becomes openly transparent about what everyone refers to as her “lesbian phase” with ex-girlfriend Alex Vause (played by Laura Prepon). During this previous relationship, Piper became involved in an international drug cartel per Alex, ultimately leading to both of their sentencing. Larry and his family, as well as Piper’s family accept her relationship as a temporary lesbian “phase” and due to that relationship ending, Piper is conclusively straight. Larry especially never refers to Piper bisexual, just that she was merely experimenting with being a lesbian. He even passively voices his welcoming attraction to this previous relationship. Inherently, this gives an example of a male gaze becoming prominently aroused in a female partners’ sexuality with another female.

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Photo from

In the hyperlinked article, it is stated that Piper, in the entirety of all Orange Is the New Black episodes, is only referred to as bisexual once. Her consistent black and white representation of her either being straight or gay constitutes this recurring theme of bi erasure. In the show, Piper soon falls back to her relationship with Alex, consequently presenting issues with both partners pushing her to be straight or gay, never openly bisexual. This not only pushes Piper to pick a side, it reflects a real life bisexual troupe of either being one or the other. This is an issue many bisexual individuals face, however, female bisexuals in particular are more-so sexualized and accepted as having sexual attraction or activity with another female from their male partners. For male bisexuals, this is not always the same. HBO series Insecure presents this example of a double standard in partner acceptance of sexual fluidity.


Photo from Medium

In Insecure, Molly (played by Yvonne Orji) is portrayed as a young career woman who is longing for a committed relationship. In her search for love through many run-ins with men in person and through dating apps, she eventually meets Jared (played by Langston Kerman). In the beginning of their relationship, Molly becomes overly infatuated with Jared. In one episode, Jared comes over to have dinner with Molly, and they begin to discuss their past sexual relationships. Molly begins to explain lesbian encounters in college, and Jared echoes that he, too, had a similar experience. Molly, clearly immediately taken back, questions him about his sexuality and if he was gay. She very much so echoes the rhetoric that someone is either one or the other; gay or straight.

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Photo from Out

Molly presents to Jared as if everything is fine, and in the next coming scenes she begins to panic. She presents her situation to her friends and they immediately tell her to end things with him because he’s obviously gay. This explicitly shows the double standard of men not only not being accepted as having a “phase” but also as being bisexual – they are pushingly portrayed as just being gay. Molly explains that she has difficulty finding Jared attractive because of this incident and eventually does end things with him. To summarize this contradictory perspective from a female partner via quote from the Medium article hyperlinked above, “Men — and particularly black men — are often judged by where they put their penises, even if it only happens once (Gray, 2016).


In the image below, different quotes are presented that discuss bisexual tropes and echo this issue of male erasure vs. female disapproval as partners of bisexual individuals in media representation.



Photo from AutoStraddle

The discourse displayed above echoes many issues and perspectives represented not only in media, but in real life bisexual experience as well. The male vs. female perspective is not only pressuring for the bi individual, but for their partners as well. This challenges sexual binary and that sexuality is multiplex and more fluid. Trends in media often represent the bisexual view as solely appealing to the male gaze or being invisible. Generally speaking, it’s still rare for a character to be explicitly identified as bisexual, rather homosexual and “in the closet” or straight undergoing an experimental phase. 



Photo from Tumblr

However, the times are changing. More and more bisexual characters are popping up on TV every year, and they’re being represented better than ever. Brooklyn Nine-Nine made headlines when one of its main characters, Rosa Diaz (played by bisexual actress Stephanie Beatriz,) came out as unquestionably bi. Rosa is a character who rejects many of the stereotypes commonly associated with bisexual women. She has a rather standoffish and aggressive personality, and is never shown behaving or looking a certain way to appeal to men. Her sexuality is presented as something she has known since she was a child, which challenges the common representation of female bisexuality as a phase or experiment. Rosa’s coming out also made Brooklyn Nine-Nine one of the few mainstream shows not centered on queerness to have more than one canonically queer character in its regular cast, suggesting that her inclusion is not a case of tokenism.


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Photo from Tumblr

Similarly, Adam (played by Tyler Posey,) one of Jane’s many love interests on Jane the Virgin, is a recent example of a character that contradicts common bisexual male stereotypes. The decision to make him bi was done to directly combat the idea that bi men can’t be attractive to women. In an interview with Variety, showrunner Jennie Urman states that they wanted to present a “romantic hero who’s also bisexual.” While this initially challenges Jane’s religious upbringing and causes her to hesitate, Jane and Adam then have a straightforward, on-screen discussion about what bisexuality means, and they continue dating. While their relationship doesn’t last long, their reason for breaking up has nothing to do with Adam’s sexuality. Despite briefly playing into the trope that women are reluctant to date bi men, Jane the Virgin ultimately ends up challenging this stereotype by showing Jane working through her prejudices.


It can be easy to look at the examples of Rosa and Adam and think, most audiences don’t need a TV show to spell out how homosexuality works, so why do this for bisexuality? Their explicit denials of bisexual stereotypes can be blunt at times, but the fact is that such bluntness is still needed in a world where many people still don’t believe that bisexuality is real or acceptable. Studies show that 15% of straight men don’t believe that bisexuality exists, more college students disapprove of bisexuality than homosexuality, and up to 80% of lesbians think bi women are just going through a phase (Castleman, 2016.) With television remaining one of the most widely consumed forms of media, we feel that it’s of great importance that bisexual representation on the small screen becomes more common and more positive in order to better support such an underrepresented community.



Castleman, M. (2016, March 15). The Continuing Controversy Over Bisexuality. Retrieved from

Corey, S. (2017). All Bi Myself: Analyzing Television’s Presentation of Female Bisexuality, Journal of Bisexuality, 17(2), 190-205. DOI: 10.1080/15299716.2017.1305940

Gray, B. M. (2016, December 29). No Homo; or, why Jared in Insecure is one of my Heroes. Retrieved from

Martin, A. L. (2014). Scripting Black Gayness. Television & New Media, 16(7), 648-663. DOI: 10.1177/1527476414560443

New Report Reveals Bisexual Youth Face Specific Challenges – and Need Our Support. (2014, September 23). Retrieved from

Rich, A. (1996). Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Experience, Feminism and Sexuality, 130–141.

We Need More Women Behind the Camera

While many fans and creators are fighting for film to be more inclusive of women on screen, it seems many have forgotten those of us behind the camera. We all know that the film industry is a boy’s club, but when it comes to those creative choice roles, women still have hardly been able to break in, particularly in the highly visual roles of cinematography and editing. Women make up 5% of cinematographers and just 14% of editors. These bleak numbers are especially concerning when you consider that these roles are not just crucial to the process of creating a film, but they determine what we see and for how long. These are powerful jobs that have shaped the way we literally look at others; we cannot ignore the gender gap just because a few more women made it on screen.

Now, with much more visibility for female filmmakers, we can see there is a gendered difference in how women choose to film and edit images. We all know that the potency and strength of the male gaze perpetuates the kind of media we’ve been seeing and the gender gap of creative lead roles, but it goes a little deeper than that. Similarly, the choices cinematographers and editors have made perpetuate the male gaze, training the eye to look at women as erotic objects. In this essay, we will compare the female “gaze” of popular films to those with the typical male gaze and analyze how it affects the film. Moreover, we will argue that women cinematographers and editors provide a new perspective, rather than a “gaze,” that doesn’t sexualize and objectify women in film. The successful reboot, Mad Max: Fury Road deals with topics of gender roles and exploitation, but it was also masterfully edited by Margaret Sixel. We will be comparing it to another action/adventure movie: Suicide Squad. Nicholas Winding Refn’s most recent film, like all his others, The Neon Demon divided audiences, but what many can agree on is the film’s beautiful cinematography from Natasha Braier; we’ll compare the cinematography to another Refn film, Only God Forgives, a similarly divisive neon lit film.


Choosing The Neon Demon is multifaceted; while the director of cinematography is a woman, the film itself is about our society’s extreme standard of beauty that continues to get younger. The interesting dilemma Braier faces is how to capture the male gaze and its effects without taking away the actress’ agency and objectifying them herself. In some ways, Braier subverts the guidelines of classic hollywood cinematography. The first Director of Photography’s (DP’s) hired were originally portrait photographers. Thus, they were trained to shoot using gendered difference. Women were to be shot with many close ups, diffused lighting, and with some backlight to achieve a halo effect. This style intends to exhibit women’s gentleness, (Keating 2006).

Natasha Braier’s cinematography seems to take these guidelines and subvert them. Main character, Jesse, appears doll-like, but powerful. Braier specifically chose camera lenses to create a porcelain look. Moreover, Nicholas Winding Refn completely trusted her skills with light, but chose to film the movie entirely in digital, a first for Braier, and wanted to shoot mostly on tripod to create a photoshoot look, (Oppenheimer 2016). Otherwise, Refn gave her complete control and agency, (Refn 2016).

In this shot from Only God Forgives, the character Mai is obviously angry with the main character. Initially, we can see via the screen composition that Mai takes up only a third of the frame, but off to the side; this offsets any intimidation her anger could have. Despite the neon lighting, Mai still is lit softly; the light on her face is diffused enough that we can clearly see her features, but, regardless of how mad she might be, she still looks delicate. The brightest light in the room shines next to her legs, attracting one’s eyes to look at them. In a sense, this forces us to view Mai with the male gaze; we look up and down her body, sexualizing her despite her emotions. Most scenes of Mai are shot this way.


Screen Musings

In another shot from The Neon Demon with intense feelings and the use of neon and portraiture lighting, we get a different view of the main character Jesse going on the runway for the first time. Despite it being about the fashion, the camera stays mainly on her face. Similar to the first shot, this scene has some bits of red light. She is lit well with a diffused light to soften her facial features; however, the harsh contrasting color  and intensity lighting defies traditional gendered lighting techniques. Though backlighting is a traditionally feminine technique, the intensity of the light and the camera like rhythmic flash, removing the intended halo look and taking it to a sinister level. The lighting itself subverts expectations of how we see women, making Jesse look feminine and imposing. The harsh lines of triangular mirrors reinforce this imposing idea and forces the viewer to be only able to see Jesse and for her to look as if she sees the viewer three times. Jesse is center in the frame, her head taking up a third of the screen. She looks directly into the camera, as if looking back at the viewer. Moving left and right she kisses herself, as if knowing we are watching. This takes away the suspension of disbelief that a viewer can watch the film guiltless of their voyeurism, because Jesse sees that we are looking and takes back her sexuality.



In these next two examples, the female characters are being sexualized by other characters in the films. In the scene from Only God Forgives, the main character Julian imagines what he would do to Mai if he could. The use of beads is already alluring, asking us to pass through. Moreover, the beads are a red, contrasting with the blue that lights her. Mai is the only thing lit, forcing us to keep our eyes on her. Looking away from us others her and reinforces that she is to be looked at and not seen or heard. She looks down and the camera cuts to her exposed legs, which are now the most brightly lit, therefore what the eye is drawn to. The camera voyeuristically follows their hands and he touches her as if it is there watching. This scene allows the viewer to join in on Julian’s sexual fantasy as we both stare at Mai and her legs.


Screen Musings

From The Neon Demon, this shot is when Jesse is asked to pose nude for the first time. She is alone in this room with the photographer when told to undress. There is traditional portrait lighting, which is normal for a photo shoot. The lens flares on the camera suggest explicitness and intimacy because it obscures part of the shot. Jesse stays center frame until the photographer starts to paint her body; she moves herself away from the center. The most important aspect of cinematography here, despite all the traditionalism and the predatory situation, is that the camera never moves. The shot stays long on what happens here and does not pan, zoom, or move in anyway. It stays on the tripod. As a result, it does not allow us to join in with the photographer and sexualize this situation. Additionally, it does not allow us to ogle Jesse at all. We see this situation for what it is, creepy.



With both of these shots from Natasha Braier’s work in The Neon Demon we can see what fellow cinematographer Zoe Dirse said about female filmmakers “we… take a direct view of subjects and, ultimately, of ourselves,” (Dirse 2013). Braier’s work reinforces Refn’s intended message about the insane value we put on beauty. Braier gives agency to Jesse, being what Dirse called the “unobtrusive observer.” We see things for what they really are through Braier’s lense, and subsequently look back at ourselves and what me might do about what is on screen.


Editing was initially a job reserved for women. It was seen as a straightforward process only concerning how to cut and splice together individual film cells. Seeing as it was entirely based on cutting and splicing, the job was instead titled: cutter. When women were working as cutters it was seen as an entirely technical job, only deserving to be “below the line.” Then as more analysis and emphasis was put on how cutting together film manipulates what is seen the editor arose. Editing became “above the line” as it is now seen as an extremely creative process in filmmaking and with this high regard came the domination of male editors.

Now within cinema the “male gaze” has become the norm and standard of how women are displayed. With this view a women’s “appearance [have become] coded for strong visual and erotic impact,” only seeing them as objects to be looked at, (Mulvey, 1999). Edits contribute to how we see the subjects in film and through what perspective we look through. As an example of this visual and erotic impact we chose to analyze a brief edit focusing on Harley Quinn-rather Harley Quinn’s legs-from Suicide Squad which was edited by John Gilroy.  

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This edit starts with Harley dressing herself in the middle of an airport in front of several dozens of guys. What we first see is this shot of her legs which are positioned in a traditional pin-up girl pose. Then we pan up to this screenshot of Harley’s midsection. This entire pan shot takes 2 seconds. Within these 2 seconds Harley moves her butt back and forth in a swaying motion several times to attract attention to this midsection. This pan very much contributes to the male gaze in that it simulates how men see women as nothing more than sexual objects, “they are essentially making the case that women have no worth beyond the extent to which they can be sexualized.” (Serano, 2007)

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To contrast this pan shot of Harley Quinn we chose another action film that uses a similar scene with a different edit. Mad Max: Fury Road was edited by Margaret Sixel who instead of choosing a single pan shot decided to cut from the chastity belt to the feet where the belt lands. This cuts out the legs entirely and leaves no room for this actress to be ogled and objectified. Instead of a pan shot from the legs up to the chastity belt where her body can be sexualized we instead focus on the impact of the belt being cut off. Leaving out the legs fastens the process to one second leaving no time to look at and sexualize, all we have time for is to focus on the action of cutting off and releasing the chastity belt. This extremely quick cut has us focused on the impact of the belt hitting the ground and the relief it brings when she finally gets it off.

Both editing and cinematography are extremely powerful visual tools to manipulate the eye to how we view the subject on screen. When the industry is dominated by men behind the camera and edits their view of the world and how they want to see it it becomes visualized for the rest of us. Then this view of those who are not the stereotypical male in Hollywood becomes “othered.” These subjects who aren’t portrayed properly soon influences how the rest of the population thinks they should be looking at these othered subjects.  

Mulvey says “film… reveals … straight socially established interpretation of sexual difference,” (Mulvey 1989). Women are to be looked at, and as a result film has become inherently voyeuristic. Because the industry is controlled by men and patriarchal ideals, we have learned to read film as if we were all straight males. Viewing film this way affects how we perceive women outside of the theater. Real women become nothing more than objects to be viewed at the same way Mai and Harley were created to be.


Dirse, Z. (2013). Gender in cinematography: Female gaze (eye) behind the camera. Journal of Research in Gender Studies, 3(1), 15-29.

Keating, P. (2006). From the portrait to the close-up: Gender and technology in still photography and hollywood cinematography. Cinema Journal, 45(3), 90-108. doi:10.1353/cj.2006.0034

Oppenheimer, J. (2016). Looks that kill Federation Internationale des Archives (FIAF).

Refn, N. W. (2016). Moving pictures Federation Internationale des Archives (FIAF).

Serano, J. (2009). Whipping girl : A transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity. Berkley: Seal Press.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism :Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP, 1999: 833-44.

Straight Actors Playing Gay Roles: Is This A Representation Issue?

In recent years, Hollywood has been applauded for their increasing acceptance and portrayal of gay relationships in major films. However, the vast majority of these roles are played by heterosexual actors. What are the consequences associated with continually casting straight actors to play gay roles? Should this be considered a representation issue or should heterosexual actors continue to be rewarded and encouraged to portray people of a different sexual orientation.

The following images are a collection of stills from mainstream Hollywood films that have cast straight actors in prominent gay roles. Although many of these actors received accolades and praise for their work, the implicit homophobic casting choices for these roles denotes an overt preference for straight actors in Hollywood. Equal opportunity should be provided for LGB actors to tell their own stories, and Hollywood’s preferred norm of excluding gay actors from films like these should be challenged and questioned for the reasoning behind these choices.

Call me by your name

-Photo from Digital Spy-

Call Me By Your Name opened in late November to overwhelmingly positive reviews, with a number of critics remarking on how two straight men, Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet, so beautifully played the two lead gay roles. This image above features both lead actors Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer in one of the more intimate scenes of Call Me By Your Name. However, despite the positive feedback, the film has garnered some pushback regarding the casting choices and the lack of intimate scenes that would force the audience to fully confront the reality that the movie is indeed a story about a gay relationship. One could argue that Hollywood has an investment in making movies that are marketable to both heterosexual and gay audiences, but the larger issue is whether this story should even be considered a realistic portrayal at this point.

On an even broader scale, there is such a long history of Hollywood preferring to cast straight actors in gay roles that to chalk these choices up to marketability seems to be a little too naive to be believable. The impact that media has on our society is immeasurable in its scope, and is “…a powerful tool that societies can use to create and proliferate the values, assumptions, and stereotypes of their society to the populace” (Lucas, Raley, 2008). Is palpability to a broader audience a good enough excuse in this day and age to repeatedly deny gay actors from being cast in roles that tell their own stories?

gaybaitingArmie Hammer

-Photo from US Magazine-                                 -Photo from Paul Hansen-

Why is it that straight actors are repeatedly cast into gay roles when there is no shortage of qualified gay actors to play these characters? When Luca Guadagnino, the director of Call Me By Your Name, was questioned about his casting choices by the Hollywood Reporter, he responded by saying, “This film is about the blossoming of love and desire, no matter where it comes from and toward what. So I couldn’t have ever thought of casting with any sort of gender agenda” (Lee, 2017). Although Guadagnino may personally have not considered any gender agenda while casting, the consequences behind his choices contribute to the overarching Hollywood gender agenda of systematically excluding gay actors from films depicting their relationships.

Both of the lead actors in Call Me By Your Name are ostensibly heterosexual, and Armie Hammer is pictured with his family in the photo above. Timothée Chalamet has also dated several women including Madonna’s daughter Lourdes Leon. However, on the media circuit and while promoting Call Me By Your Name, both actors emphasized their chemistry and strong personal relationship, with critics accusing the actors of “queerbaiting”.  The actors’ continual emphasis on their personal relationship off-screen could simply be a marketing scheme to promote the movie, or possibly represent a more sinister side of Hollywood’s continued reluctance to fully accept gay actors in these types of roles.



-Photo from Stanford Daily-

Brokeback Mountain is another example of a critically acclaimed film featuring straight actors cast to play gay lovers. Similar to Carol and Call Me By Your Name, this film was nominated for numerous awards, and received praise for depicting the raw and complex emotional and sexual relationship of two cowboys. Poole summarized the significance of Brokeback Mountain as an “…opening dialogue with heretofore off-limits straight groups and as a location for personifying the ultimate fantasy of two “real” men having passionate sex and falling in love” (Poole, 2014). This film explores the spectrum of sexuality and attraction through contrasting both characters heterosexual relationships with the romantic, and often volatile relationship that they share.

However, this film also follows the fairly consistent theme among these types films in Hollywood of under-representing gay actors. Movies depicting gay relationships should be relatable to gay people. But many suggest that these films cater to a straight audience more than they do a gay one. These movies commonly exploit gayness as a mysterious spectacle.  When actors play gay characters, they’re often applauded for their “bravery”. Colin Firth may have summarized the irony of this situation best when he said, “If you’re known as a straight guy, playing a gay role, you get rewarded for that, if you’re a gay man and you want to play a straight role, you don’t get cast — and if a gay man wants to play a gay role, you also don’t get cast.”

heath ledgerJake Swift

   -Both photos from E! News-

Pictured above are the two lead actors of Brokeback Mountain, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, with their respective partners. Both of these men outwardly depict characteristics associated with hegemonic masculinity, and in real life, are far from the effeminate cowboys that they portrayed onscreen. Brokeback Mountain made history by being the first movie depicting a gay romance to crossover to the mainstream. One could argue that perhaps Hollywood was not fully willing to accept the reality of homosexuality by going so far as to cast an openly gay actor in the first widely released film of its kind. However, over 10 years later, this trend of essentially non-representing gay actors in these types of films continues to be an issue.



-Photo from Giphy-

The film Carol differentiates itself by being arguably the first mainstream film to depict the complexities of a romantic relationship between two women. Carol is also unique in that the film explores a time of sexual repression in the 1950’s while viewers see the film through a modern-day lense. In all of the films however, “…heteronormative masculinity is challenged, but in a way that reidealizes American manhood as one that is predicated on effete style and taste and mandates a visually upper-class identity as a key component” (Clarkson, 2005).


 -Photos from Daily Mail-                                                                      -Photo from PopSugar-

Carol is another example of a film where straight actors play gay characters. It is also worth noting that every actor from all three of these movies is white. This issue may seem independent from the topic at hand, but it is in fact relevant due to the underrepresentation of both minorities and gay actors in these roles. The concept of a dominant identity exploiting an identity with less social power remains consistent among both issues.

As consumers of media, it is important to understand the factors at work behind the films that we see and the actors who portray the characters. The lack of openly gay actors portraying characters that share their own sexuality should be considered a representation issue in Hollywood. All three of the films analyzed undoubtably represent important milestones for mainstream media wanting to hear stories from a diverse group of people, specifically non-heterosexual romantic relationships. However, the systematic exclusion of gay actors from telling their own stories should not be ignored and an emphasis should be placed on equal opportunity.



Poole, J. (2014). Queer Representations of Gay Males and Masculinities in the Media. Sexuality & Culture,18(2), 279-290. Retrieved June 29, 2018, from

Lucas, J. L., & Raley, A. B. (2008). Stereotype or Success? Prime-Time Television’s Portrayals of Gay Male, Lesbian, and Bisexual Characters. Journal of Homosexuality, 51(2), 19-38. Retrieved June 29, 2018, from

Clarkson, J. (2005). Contesting Masculinity’s Makeover: Queer Eye, Consumer Masculinity, and “Straight-Acting” Gays. Journal of Communication Inquiry,29(3), 235-255. Retrieved June 29, 2018, from

Lee, A. (2017, February 8). Why Luca Guadagnino Didn’t Include Gay Actors or Explicit Sex Scenes in ‘Call Me by Your Name. The Hollywood Reporter.