By Savannah Meyer
When the new movie Bros, was touted as the “first gay rom-com from a major studio” it should have been seen, in the eyes of many, as a triumph for LGBTQ+ representation in media. Not quite. Bros was deemed a box office failure in the weeks following its premiere and the star of the movie, Billy Eichner, was quick to blame the movie’s lack of success on straight audiences not showing up to see the film. Some critics attempted to debunk this claim, arguing that while “homophobia might have contributed to the damp performance at the box office… that doesn’t tell the whole story. After all, audiences showed up for Moonlight, and Brokeback Mountain…” (Placido, 2022). This critic points out a vital detail: not all LGBTQ+ films have been destined to be commercial failures. However, the films which end up with the most mainstream success are often movies curated to be digestible for straight audiences.
It’s important to consider that during the promotion for Brokeback Mountain the actors specifically shut down suggestions that the film was a “gay cowboy” movie, making sure to clarify that it was simply “a story about love”. Additionally, some sneaky promotional material for the film actually depicted the lead actors in straight relationships, a tactic which some are now claiming was “straight baiting”. Regardless, Brokeback Mountain had an audience because it was never explicitly promoted as a “queer movie”. The movie was quite literally made by and for straight audiences. It was a movie with straight cis male leads, directed by a straight cis man, based upon a short story written by a straight cis woman.
Meanwhile, the creators of Bros have dared to market their film as an explicitly gay movie. Unfortunately, they have also attempted to make the movie something for everyone. Bros may have an openly LGBTQ+ principal cast, but was it made for “the gays”? Not solely. Because any film attempting to reach mainstream success must cater to straight audiences. In doing this, both straight and gay audiences alike are alienated.
Furthermore, audiences seem to generally prefer their doses of queer media to be peppered with tragedy and devastation. Bros simply may have been too happy-go-lucky of a movie to catch an audience’s interest. In many cases, successful queer stories end in the death of queer characters, as is the case with Brokeback Mountain and many other classic LGBTQ+ films. Though certain contemporary examples involve less queer death, they still often involve the suffering of queer characters. This can be seen in 2017’s Call Me By Your Name, a film which famously ends with an excruciating three and a half minute static shot of the main character crying over his lost love, even as the credits roll. Straight audiences eat this type of media up.
This same concept goes for all types of queer media. Seeing how Brokeback Mountain and Call Me By Your Name were initially penned as a short story and a full length novel respectively, it is safe to say that the world of literature must also market itself toward the straight gaze. Notably, both pieces of aforementioned literature were written by straight authors.
It is important that we examine why straight authors (and screenwriters) have the desire to tell stories that are not their own. And why, when telling these stories, do straight writers force queer characters to suffer? Is it for the entertainment of the straight reader or viewer? Being queer is often transformed into a novelty of sorts in most media, and the function of queer characters is to perform queerness in a way that satisfies straight audience’s expectations. Queer joy is often times not one of those expectations.