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Sexual diversity in cinema

cine diversidad sexualWhile sexual diversity is present in contemporary filmmaking without the stigmas that once condemned it, the road to achieving freedom of expression has been long and tortuous.

Cinema itself, conditioned by prejudice, has from the beginning opposed any sexual manifestation that was not considered “correct” and then, when it was convenient to end this censorship, there was a new set of rules to play by, again imposed by others.

These were early films in which homosexuality was represented in a stereotypical way, with characters dominated by lust, perversity, criminal instincts, who received the sobering punishment of death at the end of the plot.

Or alternately, effeminate characters, seen early on in silent film comedies and later exploited as personalities whose sexual preferences were not defined, was identified with complicit chuckles and elbowing by viewers given the accentuated clichés used in their portrayal (Our Betters, George Cukor, 1932).

In the silent short film Behind the Screen (2016), Chaplin’s character works carrying bags in a film studio. There, the beautiful Edna Purviance is not accepted as an actress and decides to dress up as a man so that she won’t be thrown out. Chaplin knows this and kisses her. A stage hand surprises them and tries to make a pass at Chaplin with feminine gestures, but the king of comedy gives him the boot. This the beginning of cinematic sexual misunderstandings, repeated, since then, a thousand times.

Although European cinema had its problems, the environment was freer than in the U.S. movie industry when it came to issues of sexual diversity. Born as a big business, Hollywood was shaken when in the 1930s the so-called Legion of Decency and other groups organized boycotts of films considered offensive. The Hays Code, in effect through 1967, allowed for the cutting of any film, or altering of content related to “insulting topics” such as homosexuality.

No explicit references to sexual diversity were required in the code devised by Bill Hays, but directors managed to create clues that could be interpreted by the viewer, without drawing censors’ attention.

Such was the case of the literary classic The Maltese Falcon (Dashiell Hammett) brought to the screens by the legendary John Huston, in 1941. A character in the novel (played by Peter Lore), who walks behind the prized statuette, is a homosexual crushed time and again by the tough detective Sam Spade. But unable to describe him openly, the director uses flowery music to introduce the character and has him rest the handle of his cane alongside his mouth.

There are plenty of examples of famous scissoring. Cut in Spartacus (Kubrick, 1960) was a scene in which the slave played by Toni Curtis bathes his master (Laurence Olivier), and both of them indirectly discuss their homosexuality by referring to the taste of oysters and snails.

Prejudices did not disappear with the Hays code and it has sometimes been directors themselves who decided to “soften” dramatic situations when recreating important literary works. This can be seen in The Color Purple (Spielberg, 1985), in which the protagonist’s lesbian orientation is practically erased. Other films have aroused mixed reactions in certain sectors of society, such as when Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee had two tough guys in the Old West fall wildly in love (Brokeback Mountain, 2005).

Today, issues of sexual diversity are addressed in the most varied productions and seen in festivals around the world, featuring conflicts that nudge viewers to reflect on old prejudices, which may now be less evident in cinema, but continue to persist in much of the international community.

(Source: Granma)

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