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'Hollywood Pride' author says there's still 'a long way to go' when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation

'Hollywood Pride' author says there's still 'a long way to go' when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation
'Hollywood Pride' author says there's still 'a long way to go' when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation


interview with Alonso Duralde


It was once called the love that dares not speak its name.

It may be difficult for some heterosexuals to imagine this silence today. The gay community is represented in politics, literature, music and theater. Films with gay and trans themes appear regularly in cinemas; some even win Oscars. (Recent winners such as Poor Things, The Whale, and Everything Everywhere All at Once all featured queer themes or characters.)

But how far has Hollywood really come? And how much further should we go?

Alonso Duralde's terrific new book, Hollywood Pride: A Celebration of LGBTQ+ Representation and Perseverance in Film (TCM/Running Press, 336 pp., $40) provides some answers. And while its author tells me he finds signs of hope on screen, the real-life struggles continue. And, cinematically speaking, there's a long way to go to tell the stories we need to tell, to explore the stories we need to examine, from our point of view.

For this year's Pride Month, here are some of his other thoughts, condensed from a recent conversation.

Q: Let's talk about an era that many casual moviegoers may not be aware of – the silent film era and the early '30s, where LGBTQ+ characters and relationships were actually seen on screen. Was there more acceptance back then?

A: Not really. The dawn of cinema coincided with Oscar Wilde's verdict (for gross indecency), so films operated from the start under the shadow of systemic homophobia. We actually saw more gay characters at this time than later, but in American films, it was still almost a joke. In Europe, we sometimes saw films that tried to portray gay life in a more compassionate way, such as Mdchen in Uniform. But then the Nazis came and suppressed that too. Although I think the Nazis' concern with Mdchen was more its overall depiction of disobedience to authority than its lesbian schoolgirls.

The cover of the book “Hollywood Pride” by Alonso Duralde.

Q: That era ended with the start of the Hollywood Production Code in 1934. Suddenly it was all subtext, and when gay characters appeared, it was either in the form of sissies comedic, or in the form of self-effacing villains. How do you see these actors and these films now? Are these just gay minstrel shows, or do they have value?

A: These portrayals are definitely divisive, but I've always felt that when the official position is that we don't exist, I will support any way to make us appear on screen. Even a character that we may view today as a negative representation, at least it's still a representation. I want to stop this erasure of history for LGBTQ+ characters, actors, and people behind the scenes, and really recognize them. There's this pressure among a lot of Make American Great Again people to portray our community as this dark, nefarious thing seeking to destroy American life as we know it. Well, we have contributed a lot to American life as we know it. To American films as we know them.

Q: The funny thing is that this '50s fantasy that many people have about the perfect America is based on movies starring people like Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter.

A: Exactly!

Q: What still bothers some fans of classic films is when you suggest that their favorite stars weren't 100% heterosexual. I remember my own mother relying on euphemisms like confirmed single. What are the ethics of going out? When is it important to talk about Claudette Colbert's close relationships with other women and when is it just gossip?

A: I don't think knowing more about people is negative. You know, some people will say, “Where are all these gays coming from all of a sudden?” Well, we've always been there. We simply had to remain silent because the law, the Church and our work demanded it. It's good that we can talk about it now.

I have to hand it to TCM, because they presented me with the idea for this book and I was like, “Do you know what you guys are getting into here? But they were great. We agreed early on what we were doing and what we would consider reliable sources: published interviews or people who knew them. I don't see any negative side to spreading this information. And, as a fan, if you can no longer like Claudette Colbert's films because of this… well, that's something you need to think about. And maybe talk about it with your therapist.

Q: Yet coming out remains a difficult decision for many working actors. Is what Rupert Everett said years ago still valid? That you can't build a career as a young actor once people know you're gay?

A: I cannot ignore his experience. He knows firsthand what coming out means to him. And there's still this absolutely strange assumption in Hollywood that you can be openly gay and a character actor, but you can't be a romantic lead. However, I think times are changing. We constantly see evidence to the contrary. I mean, Neil Patrick Harris played a womanizer on TV's How I Met Your Mother for years and the fact that he was openly gay and married to a man didn't stop that in any way. I think the public is much more sophisticated than the company gives us credit for.

Q: Things started to change in the '60s, but I don't think the new stereotypes were better: there were cross-dressing psychopaths and lesbians who hated themselves and committed suicide. In your book, you even title this section Maybe Invisible Was Better.

A. At the time, the production code had ended, but even though queer characters and lives could now be depicted, films were still primarily made by straight white men. So we were visible, but only as villains or laughingstocks. The clichés have changed, but they're still there, like the sassy gay best friend in the rom-com, who has nothing better to do than spend all his time cheering up the lonely straight girl. It’s changing, but like everything else in society, it’s changing slowly. Once there are more gay and trans filmmakers, I think you'll see a bigger difference, just like when more black filmmakers got involved, we saw a difference in representation. I'm very excited to see this new wave of trans filmmakers, for example, and films like The Peoples Joker and I Saw the TV Glow.

But so far, the real progress has been made in independent cinema. Studios are always worried: can we play this film in Asia? Will the censors cause us trouble? Or they're like Marvel, then bragging about this gay character they managed to include in a big group scene. Oh, haven't you noticed? You had to blink.

Q: Speaking of representation, how is the representation of trans characters changing? And who can play them? I love John Lithgow in Garp's World, but he probably would never play that role today.

A: And I think it's a good thing to move past that. As trans activists have said, much more eloquently than I, having a well-known cis actor playing a trans character somehow reinforces the misconception that gender identity is just a charade, that it's something you can put on or take off, like a costume. Additionally, we now have a lot of great trans performers, many of whom aren't cast as cis characters. So if you're not going to present them as cis characters, you're better off presenting them as trans characters.

Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz in “The Mummy”.

Q: You explain why films that are not specifically queer, in terms of the sexuality of their cast or the subject of their story, nevertheless become community references like The Wizard of Oz or All About Eve. But what surprised me was the affection you say bisexuals have for the 1999 version of The Mummy.

A: It was a revelation for me too! I went on social media and basically said: Hey, bisexuals, what's a bi-cult movie? And the vast majority of responses were The Mummy. I'm not bisexual, so I didn't suspect it, but it seems like for a lot of people, going to this movie and seeing Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz hit home for them. Go figure! Ask a bisexual, maybe they can explain!

But that's the problem with movies; there is the film that people make and the film that we see. And even if the filmmakers thought they were making one thing, once they put it out to the audience, it's ours.

Alonso Duralde will be a guest programmer on TCM on June 21, presenting Sylvia Scarlett and Gay USA; and June 28, presenting Caged and Happy Together. Visit

To learn more about “Hollywood Pride: A Celebration of LGBTQ+ Representation and Perseverance in Film,” visit


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