Andrew Garfield would welcome the idea of a gay Spider-Man. I hope one day I live in the world where this is both possible and not a phenomena that would result in news reports. But we are not there yet. However, it is interesting that a Hollywood star, playing one of the most famous characters in the world, is actively encouraging writers and studio executives to consider the possibility of allowing a lead action-movie character being homosexual.
Although things for gay people have improved immensely in just the past 20 years, there is still a long way to go. In mainstream cinema, gay people don’t get a very good deal. Too many films use gay men as some kind of character-parenthesis, usually the camp confidant of a leading female (which often invites the trotting out of that hideous phrase ‘gay best friend’). If that’s not the case, a man or woman’s ‘coming out’ is staged as a shock reveal to make the audience spit out their over-priced diet coke and shout ‘Oh my god, that guy likes to bang other guys! That’s so weeeeiiirrrrddd!!’. Quite often they are killed or are somehow punished for their homosexuality, or turn out themselves to be vicious killers (usually lesbians). It all falls into the idea of ‘it isn’t safe to be gay’. Or, rather depressingly, they become the punch-lines of the cool, heterosexual-guy’s jokes. Endless comedies (often directed/produced by Todd Philips) delight in making gay people seem ridiculous, disgusting, pathetic, weak and a healthy target for a good laugh.
Even today, in 2013, decent ordinary people use the phrase ‘that’s so gay’ to describe something they believe to be bad or nasty. Quite often, these people don’t realise the pain they cause, the hurt they inflict, and the homophobia they help feed by relating homosexuality to something horrible, undesirable and repulsive.
Earlier this year Amy Pascal, the co-chair of Sony Pictures, the company which funds and distributes the Spider-Man films, made a much-needed statement, imploring writers and filmmakers to think about the way they portray gay people in their movies:
“Now it’s time for all of us to take that step. Not every gay character needs to be defined by his or her sexuality. Can’t being gay just be one stitch in the fabric of someone’s life? Can’t we depict men and women who just so happen to be gay – perhaps a lawyer or soldier or business executive or scientist or engineer… […] How about next time, when any of us are reading a script and it says words like fag, or faggot – homo – dyke – take a pencil and just cross it out. Just don’t do it. We can do better and we will do better. We have to.’
It’s brilliant to hear such clear and wise words come from one of the most powerful people in Hollywood. She’s right, filmmakers do need to do so much better. Just look at Universal Picture’s Fast and Furious 6. In terms of race, the main group is nicely sprinkled with white people, Asian people, black people, Latino people, mixed-race people. In terms of sexuality, gay people go entirely underrepresented. If anyone exhibits a form of sexuality, that sexuality is heterosexuality every time. Would it really hurt to have, say, a gay man who loves fast cars and is just as ‘macho’ (if we are to use such a word) as the other guys?
In 2012, DC Comics did a wonderful thing in re-launching a version of one of their leading heroes, the Green Lantern, as a gay man in a committed and loving relationship. If Warner Bros ever decide to continue their cinematic aspirations in that series (pictured left), it would be great if they rebooted the series with this new dimension included.
Film is a powerful medium and it can be used to send messages, good and bad. Aside for some notable and commendable exceptions (such as 2010’s The Kids Are All Right, which offers a wonderfully refreshing depiction of a same-sex couple with children), the message being sent out to gay people is not very nice. Most Hollywood movies refuse to acknowledge their existence, or if they do, they make fun of them. Or cast them as hair dressers. Andrew Garfield’s suggestion of having a gay Spider-Man would help put a stop to this. It would be a terrific nail in the coffin of the dated stereotypes and homophobic prejudices. It would say to viewers (particularly young male teenagers) that being gay is not weird, or girly, or weak or dangerous. It’s just a normal variant of human sexuality. Although it may not happen this time around (plans for Peter Parker’s love interests seem to be pretty well mapped out for the upcoming instalments), Garfield’s comments suggest a better and brighter future may be within our grasp.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is scheduled for 2014. The 2012 film is currently available in the UK on Blu-ray disc and DVD, Certificate 12.
This article has been edited: Edits made to inaccurate information on the Green Lantern. This has been changed.