Oscar 2005: Year of Sexual Diversity

Despite films like “Crash,” which deals with racism in contemporary America, and geopolitical exposes like “Syriana” and “Munich,” the 2005 movie year may go down in film history as the year of sexual diversity. It's hard to recall a year in which sex, sexuality, and gender have featured so prominently in American films, both mainstream Hollywood and independent cinema.

I am deliberately using the concepts of sexual diversity and sexual orientation, rather than gay-themed movies, because the rather new phenomenon goes beyond homosexuality or lesbianism.

For decades, American culture has been both puritanical and hypocritical as far as sexual matters are concerned. Hence, most American movies, such as Spielberg's “E.T.” and others, have ignored the fact that children has sexual urges, a libido. Compared with European cinema (particularly French and British), there's been discomfort to address directly sexual issues.

Things began to change over the past decade, when gay characters became routine in Hollywood movies and TV soaps. Just witness the popularity of “Will and Grace” and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” and the fact that there are specifically targeted gay cable channels.

For your consideration, here are some highlights of the sexual diversity evident on American screens in 2005, a seminal year in terms of tackling head-on the impact of sex and gender on our everyday lives.

Gay Love in Period Pieces

The repressed love between two gay cowboys (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) in “Brokeback Mountain,” a romantic epic that spans two decades, 1960s to 1980s.

Old-Fashioned Homos

More stereotypical gay characters, flamboyant queens, continue to decorate our screens, as was manifest in the British period piece, “Mrs. Henderson Presents,” and the movie musical, “The Producers.”

Homosexual Writers

Good (“Capote”) and no so good (“The Dying Gaul”) have put at the center eccentric writers such as Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in the former, and more political gay writers (such as the one played by Peter Sarsgaard in the indie, “The Dying Gaul.”)

Interracial Gay Couples

In the reunion-Christmas comedy, “The Family Stone,” one of Diane Keaton's sons is gay (and deaf) and has a black companion. He is totally accepted by his parents and siblings, and neither his homosexuality nor is interracial bond are an issue. In “Rent,” one of the central couples is interracial (see below)

Bisexuality

Three attractive (and straight) actors played bisexuals: Campbell Scott in “The Dying Gaul,” Johnny Depp in the historical drama, “The Libertine,” and Pierce Brosnan as a hit man in “The Matador. The sight of Brosnan walking in the lobby of a hotel while wearing Speedo bathing suit and high boots is one of the funniest images of this movie year.

Transvestite and Politics

In Neil Jordan's 1970s tragic-comedy, “Breakfast on Pluto,” Cillian Murphy plays a transsexual who gets caught up in Irish revolutionary politics and survives intact–with
integrity and humor.

Gays and Politics

In “The Constant Gardener,” the husband-diplomat played by Ralph Fiennes suspects that his political activist wife is having an affair with a colleague, only to find out that he is gay.

Lesbians

Relatively speaking, Hollywood is more comfortable with stories about gays than lesbians. On TV, you can see a whole lesbian series, “The L Word,” with Jennifer Beals. Even so, one of the central couples in the musical movie “Rent,” is lesbian and it's an interracial couple, a white and a black woman (played by Tracy Thoms and Idina Menzel). Though set in 1989-1990, the movie depicts a wedding between the two women, attended by their respective families and friends.

Transgender

There have been documentaries about trans-gendered individuals, such as “Southern Comfort,” but it's been seldom treated so directly on the big screen as it is in “Transamerica,” featuring Felicity Huffman as a man about to become a woman, only to realize that back in college he had fathered a son, who's now a gay hustler.

Graphic Portrayal of Sex

In the past, Hollywood was afraid to depict homosexual love on screen (both gay and lesbian). Thirty years ago, audiences were shocked when Peter Finch kissed Murray in “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” But no more. Though “Brokeback Mountain” is about repressed sexuality, the movie contains a graphic scene, an anal intercourse between Ennis Del Mar and Jake, never before seen on screen. In “Transamerica,” a key scene depicts the penis of one of the central characters and fellatio in the car.

In “History of Violence,” two of the strongest scenes involve sex between husband and wife Tom and Edie Stall (played by Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello).

As writer-director and actor, Woody Allen has been obsessed with sex, or rather talks about sex, in his films. Yet arguably, he has never portrayed sex in a steamy and alluring way as he does in “Match Point.” Just watch the passionate embrace between Scarlett Johnasson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, when they are caught but undeterred by heavy rains, a visual clich in film noir that nonetheless works well for this movie.

Adulterous Wives

In Noah Baumbach's semi-autobiographical serious satire, “The Squid and the Whale,” a married couple splits and the wife (played by Laura Linney) is smitten by her tennis instructor. In the past, adultery was the privilege of screen men, and women engaged in illict affairs, just like prostitutes, were penalized by ostracization and even death.

Messages and Agendas

What's encouraging about the new movies is that, with few exceptions, the sexual orientation of the characters is not an issue, and they are not about the traumatic experience of coming out.

Times have changed, and the tragic fate of the two cowboys in “Brokeback Mountain” (which is mostly set in the 1960s) can only be understood vis-a-vis the social and historical context in which the story takes place.

Movies Referenced in the Article:

Breakfast on Pluto
Brokeback Mountain
Capote
The Constant Gardener
The Dying Gaul
The Family Stone
A History of Violence
The Libertine
The Matador
Match Point
Mrs. Henderson Presents
The Producers
Rent
The Squid and the Whale
Transamerica