June is the official month of LGBTQIA+ Pride celebration, a time to commemorate numerous individuals and groups who strove and struggled to find a voice for their community. June also happens to mark the beginning of my high school summer break.
Two years ago this time of the year, my approach to converge both events was to plonk down on a couch and relish Blue Is the Warmest Colour (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013), a French Romance film. This Palme D’Or winning film revolves around the dizzy, exhilarating homosexual relationship of the dreamy ingénue Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and the older, blue-haired Emma (Léa Seydoux).
Since I was absolutely taken with it, I posted screenshots of a few of the film’s frames to my Instagram Stories. This has been something of a tradition or ritual to me for years – a way to technologically and socially record every cinematically defining moment of my life. With this particular 24-hour lasting screenshot post of mine, little did I know that an amusing, (hopefully) well-meaning DM (Direct Message) awaited me in my inbox.
It was a reaction from a classmate (let’s call her Shelly for privacy and convenience) and this is exactly, for word-to-word how her text read: “This movie is basically a 3 hour porno with a plot ahahaha”.
Although I’ve described this reaction as amusing, I’d be dishonest if I didn’t say it was also a little disappointing. Let’s be clear about one thing – Shelly claimed to be supportive of the LGBTQ community and evidenced this by posting selfies at Pride marches and the like. However, her fundamental understanding of Gay expression in art was severely distorted, hence her interpretation of Blue Is the Warmest Colour was nothing but disheartening.
I absolutely believe that everyone is entitled to their own informed opinion, and nobody is obligated to like or dislike something as per someone else’s judgment. However, I also take delight in justifying the artistic intentions behind some of the undeniably misunderstood cinematic and literary works I’ve savored over time. Hence, I jumped at the opportunity to act as the defending lawyer for an unjustly prosecuted, falsely accused movie plotline. With a smiley-face emoji to indicate that a friendly counterattack was coming her way, I wrote that Blue Is the Warmest Colour was important in cinematic history because it emerged as a mainstream movie in a time where LGBTQ+ conversations were beginning to find a new wave of acceptance majorly fueled by the Internet.
It was a Palme D’Or recipient at Cannes, which is one of the highest honors (not to say that awards ceremonies are undeniable indicators of the worth of a film). I mentioned that after decades of societal stigma, the film’s coming-of-age genre made viewing homosexuality on the large screen as something sensual but simultaneously unadulterated. Even back then, it didn’t feel like a political statement – it was a raw depiction of the suppressed kind of human sexuality that finally found its light at the end of the tunnel. It wasn’t glorification or differentiation – Adèle’s happiness and pain, every spectrum of her emotion was identical to what she would have felt had she been in a heterosexual relationship. To respond to her description of the film as a “porno” (a word with societally “impure” connotations) every sensual scene in the film was framed and cinematographed in ways to resemble beautiful medieval paintings.
After hitting “send”, I typed up another message apologizing for the lengthy explanation by mentioning that I could never resist a chance to discuss cinema. As proof of this statement, I couldn’t resist the urge to suggest to her the film Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017), which I thought appeared to be an extraordinary masculine counterpart to the feminine Blue Is the Warmest Colour, and matching in terms of emotional dimensions. I recommended it strongly and decided to write no further.
A few minutes later, I had my response. It looked exactly like this:
“Yeah don’t get me wrong I’m not complaining ahahaha I really liked the movie. It had this raw, genuine feeling to it
Haven’t seen call me by your name yet but I’ve seen every single interview about it ahahaha
Love simon is going to release on torrents soon too so I can’t wait to watch that!!
And then, of course, Hayley kiyoko’s album comes out in a week so I’m stoked”
And finally, the gem of this conversation: “Sorry I’m a huge consumer of any gay content ahahahah”.
A genuine consumer of gay content would have been more empathic and attentive to the film’s details and nuances. Or, they would have displayed more robust justifications of their opinions. But I didn’t say that. Instead, as a closing statement, I typed the following: “I’m so grateful to have lived in a generation where the arts have been sensitive and expressive of such a cause, and where I’ve got to experience such incredible films and literature on the subject. I’ve seen pictures of you at the pride marches, I hope you can continue this work in this community way into the future!”
Hence, my conversation with Shelly had been very queer – both in subject matter as well as in its nature. If we’re willing to participate in this conversation, we have to do better.
Film is a complicated area as is literature and history – its discussions require intense research and insight. However, when combined with a controversial, emotionally ridden topic like the LGBTQIA+ community and gay culture, simply being supportive is an act of condescension. It demands a sense of involvement – to look closer and to think deeper, and to mostly read in between the lines.
This movement has been a complex one, so why shouldn’t the depth of its presence in cultural appreciation be that way too?