New list of LGBTQ holiday movies sparks joy and criticism over depiction of queer stories

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With the holiday season, come the holiday movies. And this year, the onslaught includes something new – an unprecedented wave of films focused on LGBTQ relationships.
While some industry insiders say “it’s about time,” critics say Hollywood still has work to do to eliminate the tropes often associated with queer stories.

According to film journalist Mary Beth McAndrews, the selection of light films featuring gay characters is significant and signals a “very big change” in Christmas movies.

“Most of the time in these [holiday-themed] movies, gay characters are secondary characters, ”McAndrews said.

“When you realize your sexuality as you grow older and you think, ‘Am I bisexual? Am i gay? Am I a lesbian? I don’t see myself represented ‘… it makes you sad not to see yourself. ”

Dan Levy and Ben Lewis Join Holiday Movies

But 2020 has brought about a drastic change. US based vacation movies such as Dashing in December, the Christmas house and I hate the new year all chose same-sex couples in the lead roles.

Canadians are also taking part in the action: Ruisseau Schitt star Dan Levy plays a supporting role in the recent The happiest season, while Lifetime’s very first LGBTQ vacation movie – Christmas setup, which premieres today at 8 p.m. ET on CTV Drama – stars Toronto-born Ben Lewis alongside her real-life husband, Blake Lee.

Ben Lewis, left, appears with husband Blake Lee in Lifetime’s The Christmas Setup, which premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on CTV Drama. (Release of Neshama / Bell Media)

This role, Lewis said, represents a significant cultural shift, a shift that was highlighted when he was tested for COVID-19 before arriving in Ottawa for filming. An older gay man who has tested both Lewis and Lee said he was amazed at the progress in his life, Lewis said.

“He was very emotional because he likes to rub his nose, tell us how much performance means to him, how much it’s something he never thought he would see,” Lewis said. “And so that was a very early indication… of the utmost cultural importance to make the film. ”

McAndrews said this change, in holiday movies in particular, is significant. While films featuring queer stories have been successful, they often deal with heavy, depressing and austere themes.

WATCH | Why there’s a new wave of LGBTQ holiday movies this year:

Happiest Season and The Christmas House are among the holiday movies released this year featuring same-sex relationships. 6:48

Meanwhile, lighthearted films – like Christmas and holiday themed ones – have been left out, “because they’re not technically considered important,” she said.

“But like I said, gay people deserve joy,” McAndrews said. “Gays are funny, like we’re all hilarious and deserve to have a little bit of joy and a little cheese. Yes why not?

Happy movies needed

Christin Baker has noticed this trend for years. As the director of the 2019 LGBTQ romantic comedy Season of love, she said hers was one of the few movies that focused on the happy side of queer stories.

“We were the only ones last year with LGBT characters,” she said. “If you’ve seen the list of holiday movies that were released, [gay people] were all secondary characters or were part of a larger whole. ”

After the film’s release, she said she received a deluge of fan posts on social media. They thanked her for making a film that represented them – that they could watch with their parents or children – that was not primarily about hardship.

So far, Baker said, the vast majority of films featuring this portrayal – like Moonlight, Green book, or Call me by your name – focused on pain. While these movies are important, she said, the painful stories aren’t the only ones to tell. And during the holiday season, films about rejection and sadness aren’t what most people are looking for.

“They come out of stories. These are unrequited loves. They’re ‘I can’t be with you because society tells me to’ or ‘I’m dating, but my Mormon parents are going to hate me,’ “Baker said of existing LGBTQ movies.

“I think the community is finally saying, ‘Wait a minute, we enjoy the sad stories … [but] we would like a few happier ones now. ”

Baker’s next movie, I hate the new year, is part of the wave of LGBTQ-focused films this year.

But although they are welcome by many, they have not escaped criticism.

Happiest season – the 2020 Christmas romantic comedy starring Kristen Stewart, Aubrey Plaza and Dan Levy – has borne the brunt of those reviews. Despite strong reviews and popularity – in its opening week, it had the most views of any original movie on Hulu, according to Variety – his screenplay sparked debate.

The film follows Abby (Stewart) as she visits her girlfriend’s family while on vacation. Abby considers proposing to her girlfriend, Harper (Mackenzie Davis), only to find out that Harper hasn’t spoken to her Conservative parents yet.

WATCH | The happiest season trailer:

For USA Today entertainment reporter David Oliver, it was more or less the same: one of the season’s most anticipated holiday films by default to tropes all too common in LGBTQ media.

“I didn’t want to watch another exit story and a toxic relationship onscreen,” Oliver said. “I felt like I had seen enough – I’ve experienced enough.

The film, he argued, could have explored what a healthy gay relationship looks like, with a love affair about two people who have already accepted each other. By focusing on an exit story – which isn’t even solved in a healthy way – it just adds to the stack focusing on gay trauma.

Even outside of Happiest season, Oliver said, there is more to do. While there is more gay representation in the movies, there are still few transgender people in the lead roles.

And despite the greater number of holiday movies, the portrayal of LGBTQ people in movies and television is still in single digits, said Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of LGBTQ activist organization GLAAD.

All is not lost, however; Ellis said just watching the increase in the number of these films is a positive.

“I’m more than happy, honestly,” she said. “We’ve gone from being relatively invisible in holiday movies… to now this year, five feature films include LGBTQ people as the main story.

She said if the studios were nervous about doing these stories, the economy convinced them to change. A significant percentage of young people identify as LGBTQ, she said, and creators are finally playing catch-up.

“What you are seeing is that movie studios, TV channels, and streaming content creators are realizing that if they are to attract the next generation of viewers and viewers, they really have to attract and include all identities, ”she said.

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