Movie Moments and the Importance of Queer Representation in Film
If you have been a long time attendee of the Fairy Tales Queer Film Festival, you may have noticed that each year the festival has a different theme, be it a Sweet Sixteenth Birthday, Juicy Fruit, Knowing Your Roots, or even the iconic year of soup can labels. This year’s theme — which many of you have likely seen on our website, on our social media profiles, or maybe even around the city — is Movie Moments.
As film viewers, we all have our movie moments; some of us remember our first movie, or a movie moment that made us laugh, or cry, or even sing along. Some of us can quote entire movie scenes from memory. Some of us may have vivid memories of experiencing specific movies with best friends or family members or boyfriends or girlfriends. Since Fairy Tales is all about bringing queer films to Calgary, this year we wanted to focus on very specific kinds of movie moments. The question that is being asked of staff, of board members, of the programming committee, and of all of you this year is: “What was your first queer movie moment?”
When I think of firsts, one film that always stands out for me is But I’m a Cheerleader since it was the first queer film I can remember watching that wasn’t extremely sad and not only is it one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, but it was probably the first queer film I had ever watched that could even be described as funny. It felt like the first film I had watched that was a direct challenge to heteronormativity and I loved the way it directly challenged many stereotypes about what it means to be gay.
James Demers, the Executive Director at Fairy Tales, remembers his first queer movie moment very well:
“My first queer movie moment was the 1994 film Boys Don’t Cry starring Hilary Swank in what was one of the first Oscar winning performances for a queer character. I was 12 and for some reason my parents had trusted me with a solo blockbuster card. The twenty-something who rented the film to me either knew nothing about the film or neglected to check the 18A rating before passing it through the scanners. All I knew was the person on the front looked tomboyish like me and I had to watch it.
“The film itself is typical of an Oscar winner: it’s beautiful, powerful and horrifically violent. The rape and murder of the main character was just as impactful to me as seeing my first queer sex scene. As a young trans man (although I hadn’t articulated that to myself fully yet) the message of who I could be and how I should expect to be treated in the world was definite. I identified strongly with Brandon and believed that to be myself openly, especially in a cowboy city like Calgary was dangerous. I have not watched the movie since my initial viewing and I have never forgotten a single frame of it either. I do believe watching the film kicked my decision to transition down the road a bit and provided me a reason to become an activist at 15. It is an important film and I strongly believe it should be seen and understood for the true story that it is. My passion for honest, three-dimensional queer character representation started with my first film and drives my work today.”
Seeing someone onscreen who we can relate to through shared traits such as sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression (to name just a few) can be a significant moment for many of us. Not only does it expand our understanding of the world, but it can also help us to feel connected and like we are not alone in the world. Seeing ourselves onscreen lets us know that we matter.
I am still thrilled by Laverne Cox’s presence in the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black and I imagine that featuring a black trans woman on a hit TV series who is played by a trans actress is helping many trans women and girls to feel less alone in the world by seeing someone like them in the media. Not only that, but this significant representation of a trans woman on TV can also teach trans women and girls that they can live fulfilling and successful lives and make a difference in the world just like Laverne Cox.
While we’re still on the topic of trans characters in film and television, I don’t think I will ever forget Boy Meets Girl, a feature film screened at Fairy Tales last year for our sixteenth annual festival. It was a first of many things for me. It was the first feature film I have ever seen that had cast a transgender actor, rather than a cisgender actor, in the role of a trans character. Not only was the main character of the film a trans woman, but this was also the first film I had ever seen in which a trans character was given a happy ending. Even a year after first watching Boy Meets Girl I still think about it and hope that many future films will follow in its footsteps and that we will start to see more films that assign the roles of trans characters to trans actors and that the stories of trans people will include happy and uplifting endings.
For all of us at Fairy Tales, queer movie moments have had a huge impact on our lives. As Rachel Braeuer, one of the Fairy Tales Board Directors, has explained about the board members, “All of us are here, in part, because of a movie moment that turned us on to queer film.” This year’s lineup of films promises diverse stories and representations of many often ignored and underrepresented spaces of the LGBTQ+ community. These films will bring you portrayals of disabled queer performers, a look into the lives of queer youth loving themselves and bringing about change by telling their own personal stories through theatre, a complex and developed portrait of bisexuality, insight into the political climate of Iran and the difficulties faced by gay Iranians who even consider seeking refugee status in the West, and much more!
Maybe you will have a movie moment of your own at this year’s festival. We look forward to sharing it with you!
Veronica Reeves is the returning contract Festival Assistant with Fairy Tales for our 17th Annual Festival, and a recent graduate of the New Media Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Lethbridge.