London: Routledge, 2003.
At the time Richard Barrios published Screened Out in 2003, the cinema going audience had not yet met with Ennis and Jack, the two ‘gay cowboys’ from Brokeback Mountain (2005). At the point of writing this review, we still have to wait for the theatrical release of Milk, Focus Features’ next ‘big’ gay film. Just like Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, Milk is directed by a well-respected director (Gus van Sant) and has major stars as its gay protagonists. Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger were praised for their acting, and it is likely that the same will happen for Sean Penn who plays the San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected for such a substantial political office. What makes both these films outstanding is their singularity. Major films that feature gay and lesbian characters as main protagonists remain rare in mainstream cinema. One still has to turn to smaller art houses for independent queer film productions. Homosexuality is often used as a source for stereotypical parody, and although a slight sense of subversion should be encouraged, one could wonder if popular mainstream comedies such as I now pronounce you Chuck and Larry (2007) can make a difference in representing the queer community. Independent film production, world cinema and certainly television production do dare to politically and socially challenge contemporary society’s presumptions on sexuality and identity. But ever-present Hollywood is staying behind in relation to the rest of Western society, portraying a reality where on-screen queer sexualities are often lacking. Of course, some dramedies such as My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) and The Object of my Affection (1998) had a ‘gay best friend’, but major adventure and action films did not yet feature a queer lead.