Marginalized Characters

There’s a drastic shortage of films that revolve around adolescent LGBTQ characters and their stories.  This absence leads to a lack of role models, positive coping mechanisms, and/or catharsis.  More disturbing than this detrimental absence is the marginal role that LGBTQ individuals play in feature films that focus on adolescent straight characters.  There’s one particularly damaging role that functions in a similar way in the movies Saved! (2004) and Easy A (2010).  Both of these movies have plots that rely on LGBTQ adolescents who are grappling with the painful reality of being marginalized.

Saved! stars Jena Malone and Mandy Moore, both of whom play straight adolescents, Mary and Hilary respectively, who attend American Eagle Christian high school.  The plot of this satirical film revolves around Mary’s pregnancy and the resulting ostracization and demonizing that occurs not because Mary is pregnant (a fact she keeps hidden) but because she loses her faith in God.  As Hilary and her friends attack Mary (even attempting an exorcism at one point), Mary finds comfort in fellow outsiders like Cassandra, who is Jewish, and Roland, who is an atheist.  They help Mary realize that she doesn’t need to be saved, least of all by the holier-than-thou Hilary and company.

In Easy A, a film that borrows its plot minimally from The Scarlet Letter, Emma Stone plays Olive, a high school student who gains a reputation for being promiscuous.  Amanda Bynes plays Marianne, the religious female responsible for ostracizing Olive for her sexual promiscuity.  In the end, Olive clears her name and finds a fellow.

The problem with these films is that they both utilize the insecurity of gay individuals to form a plot.  Mary gets pregnant by her gay boyfriend, Dean, the summer before their senior year in an attempt to convert him to the straight side and thus “save” him.  Olive is also a high school senior who develops a reputation for being sexually promiscuous when a gay friend, Brandon, asks her to pretend to sleep with him.

“You don’t understand how hard it is, all right?  I’m tormented every day at school…sure we can sit and fantasize all we want about how things are going to be different one day, but this is today and it sucks…so please just help me.”

So Olive pretends to sleep with him because she wants to help him.  

Both of these actions present the idea that there are no solutions except to play it straight until you’re in an environment that’s not homophobic.  With a lack of LGBTQ role models with which to identify, scenes like these are particularly troublesome, especially since  Dean and Brandon are also not featured extensively aside from the above mentioned scenes.

Brandon is, however, referenced at the end of the film in another troubling moment.  In the beginning of the movie, Olive introduces the slim parallel between Easy A and The Scarlet Letter.

“The books you read in class always seem to have some strong connection with whatever angsty adolescent drama’s going on.  Except for Huckleberry Finn…cause I don’t know any teenage boys who have ever run away with a big hulking black guy.”

Then when the movie is wrapping up everybody’s story with a snapshot, the audience gets a picture of Brandon in bed with a black man, watching Huck Finn on TV.  Where do I begin with this?  I recommend that you go here: http://queerblackfeminist.blogspot.com/2011/01/easy-african-american-storylinejoke.html because I can’t do any better than that.

Fairy tale endings don’t just happen.  “It gets better,” is just a phrase, not a code to live by.  I appreciate the support, the intention, the sentiment around the movement “It gets better.”  But it doesn’t just happen.  It doesn’t just get better.  Among other things, it takes a network of allies and the ability to utilize positive coping mechanisms.  And it would be nice if feature films started providing the indispensable role model character for LGBTQ youth as they do for other groups.

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~ by thornfieldrose on May 6, 2012.

2 Responses to “Marginalized Characters”

  1. Oh heyyyyyy, interesting post. I hadn’t considered these things. However, I do think the Easy A thing is pretty apparent and it always rubbed me the wrong way that the solution was to fake him being straight. But, I think there’s a bit more to the Saved! reference. Because Dean does come back at the end, happy about who he is and with a significant other, I think the “playing it straight” with him comes a lot from the high school religious influence found in the beginning of the movie. But in the end, he does develop a better sense of self and is proud to be out and who he is…so not all is lost, hopefully. Because I like that movie and I don’t want to it be all bad, lol. ANYWAYS, wonderful post. Making me think. I especially like the concluding paragraph on the “it gets better” phrase.

  2. I do agree that Dean seems to develop a stronger identity as a gay man, but the audience doesn’t get to see that development, which makes the character so flat for any LGBTQ individuals watching.

    And I like Saved! also for it’s religious commentary so it was more difficult to pick at Saved! than Easy A.

    Thanks for commenting, and I hope that you keep reading 🙂

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