All Movies Can Be Queer If You Believe
By Wendy Lopez
The film opens with a man dressed in black leather, reaching for his sex toys. This is his story about his fight against the evil drag queens, a two-faced leader with polar opposite sidekicks and a flaming redheaded partner in a glittery jumpsuit, all to protect the city of Gotham. And who could forget Chase Meridian draped in those bedsheets, rejecting the man trying to do it all?
That’s how comedian Michael Foulk describes Joel Schumacher’s 1995 film “Batman Forever,” starring Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face and Jim Carrey as The Riddler. He said he always wanted to be Nicole Kidman in her role as the beautiful psychologist that turns down Batman in her bedroom.
There aren’t many films that represent the LGBTQ+ community, and Batman surely isn’t one to come to mind, but that’s what Queer Film Theory 101 is about. Foulk hosted this event that “takes movies not made for us and twisting them” on Monday at the Mueller Alamo Drafthouse. He and three other comedians took a look back to what movies they watched that had an influence on them, looking for queer subtext and finding a narrative not written for them.
Teresa de Lauretis, professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, first used the term “Queer Theory” at a conference in 1990.
University of Texas lecturer Curran Nault defines Queer Film Theory as “an approach to film studies that is attuned to the LGBTQ+ politics, practices and pleasures of cinema.”
Nault received his doctorate at UT in 2013 and is a joint lecturer in three UT departments: Radio-Televsion-Film, Women’s and Gender Studies and Asian American Studies. In his dissertation focusing on “queercore” in punk cinema studies, Nault said Queer Theory aims to disrupt the sexual norms.
“Queer Theory asks us to think outside the sex/gender/sexuality boxes that have been placed around our brains from the moment we’re born,” Nault said. “To think anew as a starting point for acting in, and acting upon, the world in radical ways that have the potential to make society more hospitable to differences of all kinds.”
Nault said this approach includes studying LGBTQ+ texts, specific producers and their processes, and the interpretations these audiences have of the media they consume. He said the role of film and media is very impactful in the “shaping of our identities and ideologies,” helping us to define what it means to be who we are and as “active audiences,” seeking meaning from what we consume, we can alter the interpretation of “mainstream culture.”
For example, comedian Roxy Castillo told the audience she found her queer awakening in the 1993 comedy sequel “Wayne’s World 2.”
“I remember my dad’s Dallas Cowboys’ cheerleader calendar and every month I would get so excited to see who the next cheerleader was,” Castillo said. “You know when you’re in the pool and you have the pool noodle between your legs and you’re playing a little too hard and you’re like ‘I feel too good!’ This movie was the first time I felt that tingly without a pool noodle or my aunt’s massage pillow.”
In Castillo’s clip of the movie, actress Kim Basinger dims the lights, starts the fireplace and dances seductively to some smooth jazz, attempting to charm Garth, played by Dana Carvey.
“It made me realize the power of seduction,” Castillo said. “As soon as I could take my clothes off, I was like ‘Who’s doing burlesque? I don’t care if you want to see it, you’re going to see it.’ I sometimes use that power of seduction to get what I want and give it to unworthy people.”
Despite having this confidence and thinking of herself as Basinger, Castillo said that even as a 30-year-old woman, she finds a bit of Garth in herself when she becomes nervous talking to women.
“I identify with the duality of self,” Castillo said. “My real name is Roxanne, but I go by Roxy. Roxanne is this really powerful side of myself that’s this goddess side that only my mother and doctors can call me, then there’s Roxy. Sometimes I’m Kim Basinger and sometimes I’m Garth.”
Raised by a single mother in Kenedy, a town 60 miles southeast of San Antonio, comedian Dale Herbert said movies were his babysitters.
“My mom would leave and work during the day during the summers and I would do the housework, so when she got home she didn’t have anything to do,” Herbert said. “She always liked to treat herself, which was going to the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio to see the Broadway shows. When she would go do that, I would get to rent four or five movies and stay at home on a Saturday.”
Herbert isn’t a fan of relationship-focused films, but prefers to see the strength of connections and friendship. He loves “Outrageous Fortune,” a 1987 comedy and action film starring Bette Midler and Shelley Long, for the strength of the women’s characters and the budding friendship. His favorite Star Trek series was “Voyager” because Captain Kathryn Janeway always did the right thing first, a value he applies to his work and life. As for LGBTQ+ specific movies, there aren’t many Herbert said resonated with him other than the first one he watched.
“I related to Timothy Olyphant’s character because he was a waiter, always wanting to do more, realizing his life passion was photography, but always stuck in life,” Herbert said of the 2000 film “The Broken Hearts Club.” “He decides ‘No, I got to go off and be me.’ What I’ve taken from that is the most important thing: know yourself, who you are and be confident in yourself before you can let anyone else into your life to share it with you.”
Comedian Eboni Staten finds that confidence and discovery in animation.
“I know in cartoons someone is fictitious,” Staten said. “They’re supposed to be perfect, have something simple to overcome, but they’re never really human, so it’s easy to relate to them. Animation in general is also beautiful and it’s art and I enjoy art that kind of way.”
In the 2012 TV movie “Ghouls Rule,” Monster High student Draculaura, daughter of Dracula, tries to set up Clawdeen Wolf, a werewolf who is a popular fashion designer, with her cousin. Clawdeen however avoids and fights with Draculaura, who eventually discovers Clawdeen is afraid of dating. Ultimately it works out for Clawdeen as she takes a chance and asks Draculaura’s cousin to dance.
Staten said she shares Clawdeen’s fear of dating and intimacy, especially because her queerness is new to her by a couple months.
“I’m seeing people do the thing that I want to do and they’re doing it so easily,” Staten said. “They’re being with someone so easily, stepping out of their comfort zone and I wish I could be there. It’s really easy to find simple things and problems and see how fictitious characters override them when reality is just so harsh as an adult.”
Nault said since his 2013 dissertation, there has been an increase in LGBTQ+ characters and themes within popular media, especially television and in the representation of the transgender community. But while he and many call “Moonlight” and its Oscar win for Best Picture significant, he isn’t too sure it will help many future low budget queer films make it into mainstream media, so the conversation can’t stop.
“Queerness has long been ignored and we must continue to claim our voice,” Nault said. “There is so much queer media left to be discovered and unpacked and we are learning new things about our identities and our communities every day. The possibilities are endless.”