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Remembering Robin Williams: 10 iconic LGBT film characters

Gareth Williams August 11, 2015

With today marking the one year anniversary since Robin Williams’ death – PinkNews take a look at other notable LGBT characters in films.

When the Birdcage was released in 1996, it was critically acclaimed by multiple sources. GLAAD even went as far as saying the film went ” beyond the stereotypes to see the character’s depth and humanity.

“The film celebrates differences and points out the outrageousness of hiding those differences.”

To mark the actor’s vast contribution to the world of LGBT film, PinkNews are taking a look back at 10 more important LGBT characters who graced the silver screen.

1. Alike (Adepero Oduye) – Pariah

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Winning multiple awards – including the Best Independent film and Best Breakthrough Performance from the African-American Film Critics Association – this film tells us the life of Alike, a 17-year-old teenager who’s embracing her identity as a lesbian. Her mother dislikes that her daughter is becoming more “butch”, insisting instead she wears feminine clothes and avoid her lesbian friend Laura.

“I am broken. I am broken open. Breaking is freeing. Broken is freedom. I am not broken – I am free.”

2. Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) – Milk

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Based on gay rights activist Harvey Milk, this 2008 biographical film was released in tie with the 2008 California voter referendum on gay marriage. With Harvey Milk being the first openly gay person to be elected into public office, this film chronicles the activists life starting from his 40th birthday.

The Hollywood reporter described the film as “a very human document that touches first and foremost on the need to give people hope”.

Sean Penn, who took on the lead role of Harvey Milk, won multiple accolades for his work on this film – including Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role – whilst also being nominated for best on screen kiss between him and James Franco.

3. Elizabeth & Victor (Jessie Matthews & Sonnie Hale) – First a Girl

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Although not vocally LGBT, this 1935 film – which led to a later adaptation of Victor/Victoria – definitely had some queer whisperings, due to homosexuality not being allowed on screen.

Jessie Matthews plays Elizabeth, a down on her luck show girl gets her break disguised as a boy, who then impersonates a girl, impersonating a boy!

Confusing to say the least. She is assisted by her waspish platonic friend Victor – a female impersonator, who was described by many as “not the marrying kind”.

4. Ennis Del Mar & Jack Twist (Heath Ledger & Jake Gyllenhaal)Brokeback Mountain

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When people discuss LGBT film, Brokeback Mountain is almost definitely going to come up.

One of the many emotional love stories in queer media, the film has gained a cult following – with many believing that it’s a rite of passage for young gay men to watch the film.

Upon it’s release, Brokeback Mountain caused a lot of controversy due to it’s blatantly, apologetic gay storytelling. One theatre in Utah actually got sued by Focus media when the venue pulled the film at last minute saying it was “dangerous” for “traditional families”. The shirts worn in the film were later sold for charity on eBay for over $100,000 leading to them being known as “the ruby slippers of our time” as a direct reference to the Wizard of Oz.

The poigniant line “I wish I knew how to quit you” still tears up even the most modern of audiences.

In a recent interview with Out magazine, many of the team who worked on the film spoke about how Heath Ledger was “extraordinarily serious” about gay rights in the film.

5. Bob Elkin & Dr. Daniel Hirsch (Murray Head & Peter Finch) – Sunday Bloody Sunday

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Sunday Bloody Sunday, released in 1971, is supposedly the first film to show a shame-free gay kiss.

The British film is based around a bisexual man (Murray Head) who bed hops between a male jewish doctor (Finch) and a female recruitment consultant (Jackson).

The pair know about the existence of each other and even share mutual friends, as well as lovers.


6. Shug Avery & Celie Johnson (Margaret Avery & Whoopi Goldberg)

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The Color Purple is based on an epistolary novel by Alice Walker of the same name.

Directed by Stephen Spielberg, the film follows the story of Celie and bringing up the problems faced by many African American women in 1900s – including sexism, poverty and racism.

Whoopi’s character is forced to marry the abusive “mister” who’s old flame comes – a jazz singer called Shug Avery – comes to live with the couple. Shug and Celie eventually enter into a sexual relationship which has been deemed one of the most iconic African-American same-sex couples in American cinema. The relationship also allowed the film to show bisexuality without any judgement.

7. Bernadette Bassinger, Mitzi Del Bra & Felicias Jollygood fellow (Terrence Stamp, Hugo Weaving & Guy Pearce) – The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Dessert

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Ever wanted to see Agent Smith from the Matrix in spandex and feathers? This fabulous trio is coming to you as a 3-in-1.

This Australian comedy classic gave us just that and much more. The story of two drag queens and a trans woman who must venture across the outback in a bus, lovingly christened “Priscilla”.

Arguably one of the first films, especially in Australian cinema, to bring LGBT themes to a mainstream audience – it is often known as a cult classic. Not to mention, the film also gave us one of the most theatrical dance routines to one of the best club hits ever.

8. Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) – Philadelphia

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Philadelphia was one of the first films to bring the AIDS epidemic to the limelight. Before this film, the topic was rarely mentioned let alone represented in Hollywood. Hanks won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Andrew Beckett. In his acceptance speech he mentioned Mr. Rawley Farnsworth, his high school drama teacher, as well as classmate John Gilkerson – both of whom were “two of the finest gay Americans”.

He continued: “I know that my work in this case is magnified by the fact that the streets of heaven are too crowded with angels. We know their names. They number a thousand for each one of the red ribbons that we wear here tonight.”

9. Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank) – Boys Don’t Cry

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Brandon Teena was a trans man who was raped and murdered on New Years Eve, 1993. Hilary Swank’s portrayal of Teena not only won her an academy award but also brought forward the all important subject of the treatment of trans people in the US. In order to prepare for the role, Swank supposedly rapped her chest in tension bandages and put socks down her trousers in order to live like a male for at least a month.

10. Paris is Burning

 

 

 

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It’d be near impossible to pick just one character from this cult documentary – so we haven’t. This documentary turned the nations attention to the African-American, Latino and LGBT communities involved the NYC ball culture of the 1980s. It also focuses on how members of these communities face problems of racism, homophobia, AIDS and poverty. From teaching the audience about ‘voguing’ the film also gave served us terms that are commonplace in certain gay communities nowadays; from ‘realness’ to ‘shade’.

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