Why Queerbaiting In Films and On TV Really Needs To Stop

 

I’ll be the first to say that queer representation in media in 2018 has been amazing so far! From Love, Simon to Pose to the new season of Queer Eye, we’ve been blessed with an abundance of LGBTQ+ themes on the big and small screens! However, along with the positive shows and films mentioned above, there’s unfortunately still a lot of “queerbaiting” going on. “Queerbaiting” is when films, TV shows or books suggest and hint at a non-hetero relationship or character, but then never actually explicitly portray this – and it’s actually more prevalent than you may think.

 

For example, a film that I am really looking forward to, but nervous to see for exactly this reason is Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald. I’ve been a Harry Potter fan since I was very young, and I was very happy when J. K. Rowling said over a decade ago that Albus Dumbledore is gay. However, since then there’s been a disappointing lack of demonstrative proof of his sexuality all books, films, or writings from Rowling’s website, Pottermore.com. Furthermore, fans’ hopes for an unequivocal portrayal of Dumbledore as gay in the upcoming film were dashed in January of this year when the director David Yates stated that Dumbledore’s homosexuality would, “Not explicitly” be depicted, reasoning that “the fans are aware” of his sexuality already. Of course, being the author J. K. Rowling knows her characters better than anyone, but just saying that a character is gay and then not explicitly backing it up in any of the source material seems like a way to try and make yourself seem LGBTQ+ inclusive, without angering a demographic that might be averse to such a character and in this day and age, it’s just not good enough.

 

Looking from one gigantic franchise to the other, Marvel has done a similar thing in their Cinematic Universe. Over the past ten years the Marvel Cinematic Universe has expanded to encompass 20 films, and still, there hasn’t been a single explicit non-hetero character. This was supposed to change with Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok, who in the comics was in a relationship with another woman and canonically bisexual. Tessa Thompson and director Taika Waititi even shot a scene in the film that made Valkyrie’s sexual orientation clear. However, this scene was cut as it “distracted from the scene’s vital exposition”. This excuse seems very feeble since the scene just showed a quick glimpse of a woman leaving Valkyrie’s bedroom. With a film as big as this one, it seems likely that not only was the studio worried about not getting viewers from American demographics, but also losing the market in decidedly not-LGBTQ+ countries such as Russia and China.

 

 

Conversely, these tactics can also be used to keep viewers interested. Having been accused of exactly that many times, the CWs Supernatural is just one of many shows that use suggested LGBTQ+ storylines to keep viewers interested. Tension between two of the show’s lead’s Dean and Castiel (pictured above), played by Jensen Ackles and Misha Collins respectively, has long since been noted by fans – especially when the writers fall back on romantic tropes when writing storylines for the two characters and explicitly paralleling some storylines between the two with those of canonical lovers. Yet, it’s been ten seasons since Castiel first appeared on the show and there’s been neither an explicit denial nor confirmation of the relationship dubbed “Destiel” by fans of the show. In fact, in a rather meta episode in season ten entitled “Fanfiction”, Destiel is acknowledged – but only as subtext.

 

Having to be dependent on smaller, independent studios for LGBTQ+ media, being forever doomed to make do with subtext, or having actors, directors and writers assure us that characters are LGBTQ+ without showing that explicitly in their work – especially if a drop in profits is the only reason for avoiding it – is just not good enough in a time where LGBTQ+ rights have taken such strides forwards. There’s simply not enough diversity (only 6.4% of character’s on primetime TV identify as LGBTQ+) and hinting at that kind of representation whether through characters or relationships in order to attract a specific demographic, without offending the other is a lot more harmful than many think, because it makes it okay to not have explicitly LGBTQ+ characters as long as they’re hinted at – all to avoid losing viewers and their money – and thus further lowers the rates of diversity in entertainment media.

 

 

Sources:

images sourced from Google Images

https://ew.com/movies/2018/01/31/fantastic-beasts-dumbledore-gay/

https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-features/how-tessa-thompson-went-from-indie-actor-to-thor-ragnarok-badass-116635/

https://www.advocate.com/bisexuality/2014/07/17/fans-take-supernatural-task-queer-baiting

https://www.theverge.com/2017/11/9/16628754/glaad-study-tv-lgbtq-characters-diversity

https://www.forbes.com/sites/scottmendelson/2018/05/18/claiming-solo-lando-or-fantastic-beasts-dumbledore-are-gay-or-bisexual-offscreen-is-a-con/#3ad4350b1a9c