'Call Me by Your' Straight Privilege

Media representation of marginalized groups is vital not only in terms of creating diverse stories, but also in order for members of those groups to feel inclusivity. After the success of movies such as Moonlight and Call Me By Your Name during the awards show seasons over the past two years, I felt optimistic about the level of LGBTQ+ representation in modern media. While LGBTQ+ representation has steadily entered more mainstream media channels, like with Good Luck Charlie’s inclusion of a lesbian family on a 2014 episode, at times this representation has felt lacking and superficial.

After much critical acclaim and insistence from my (mostly queer) group of friends, I saw "Call Me By Your Name". To state the obvious, the film was visually stunning. As a lover of cinematography, aesthetics, and European architecture, I fell head over heels for summer love in Italy. I am eternally a hopeless romantic, and as with anything even remotely sappy, I felt swept away by Elio and Oliver’s love affair, touched by the heartwarming scene between Elio and his father, and cried at the bitter heartbreak at the story’s conclusion. However, aesthetics aside, I felt that the film, like most queer stories portrayed by straight actors, lacked authenticity. The story written is undeniably beautiful, but the creative decision to cast straight actors in a queer film was deliberate. "Call Me By Your Name" was a visually stunning film, but felt like a movie made for straight consumers who applaud themselves for their inclusivity.

Writing parts specifically intended for queer actors is just as important as writing queer stories in general. In 2018, making a LGBTQ+ film isn’t revolutionary, but having the courage to tell the story authentically is. Queer stories should be written and played by queer people-- who as a demographic have been incredibly misrepresented in popular media. Personally, I am tired of watching interviews where straight actors are applauded for their courage to play a gay role. Being gay is not radical or revolutionary, and neither is having straight actors play gay characters. According to GLAAD’s annual report, “only 23 of the 125 films counted by the New York-based media advocacy group featured an LGBTQ character last year, accounting for less than 20 percent of films produced by the seven studios GLAAD rated in its report.” When looking at media representation of any marginalized demographic, it is important not just to look for representation in terms of numbers, but to look at the quality of the representation. In other words, does this particular film/tv show/book/etc. show a stereotypical representation of the character in question? Does the media representation promote negative ideas surrounding the identity of the character? In Call Me By Your Name, Elio and Oliver’s respective sexualities aren’t explicitly labelled, but in the novel, both characters are written to be bisexual. Within the LGBTQ+ community, bisexuality is often surrounded by a lot of negative stigma. Bisexuals are often portrayed as overly-promiscuous, greedy (because they aren’t “choosing” one gender preference over another), and are criticized for being with an opposite-sex partner. Keeping this in mind, it is crucial to note that both Elio and Oliver’s storylines both perpetuate negative stereotypes of bisexuals. With Elio, his relationship with Oliver makes him seem like a philanderer, cheating on his girlfriend. Oliver, on the other hand, is shown to be engaged to a woman at the conclusion of the film. For both of them, their romantic and sexual experience with a member of the same sex seems to almost have been a phase; a stereotypical exploratory phase before going back to being with someone of the opposite sex. Call Me By Your Name’s representation of bisexual men serves to further promote the idea that bisexuality is just a stepping stone along the path towards figuring out one’s sexuality.

Luca Guadagnino, the director of the film, made the decision to cut out much of the original novel’s sexual content, stating that “to put our gaze upon their lovemaking would have been a sort of unkind intrusion.”Many critics felt that as an openly gay man, Guadagnino should have realized the importance of showing gay sex in his film. How many milquetoast heterosexual sex scenes have we awkwardly sit through? Straight sex is rarely cut out of films in attempt to appeal to a wider audience, so why should gay sex scenes be cut out in order to appease the straight audience members who will inevitably see them? Sex and intimacy is an integral part of any relationship, be it gay, straight, or anything in between. In a world in which gay relationships tend to be overly sexualized, and essentially reduced to only gay sex, I believe it is important to normalize portrayals of gay sex. While I applaud the increase in gay stories, it is essential to increase the visibility of LGTBQ+ actors.

Cami WeinstockComment