Movies, like television, literature and music, reflect a society’s standards, values, trends, and anxieties. The wave of alien invasion movies of the 1950s (Attack of the Flying Saucers, The Atomic Submarine, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and more) revealed the American psychological paranoia of the Cold War, just as numerous movies of the late 1970s/1980s that dwelt on Vietnam (Apocalypse Now, Coming Home, The Deer Hunter, etc.) demonstrated a collective attempt to come to psychological grips with the loss of that war. As standards shift movies can become embarrassing reminders of past social norms that make contemporary viewers justifiably uneasy: Witness Kate Smith singing “Pickaninny Heaven” to children of color in the 1933 movie Hello, Everybody! Contrast this with a movie produced decades later like Crash (2005), which attempts to address racism in 21st century America. As American society changes, movies are the lenses through which we see our altered values. Movies give us the opportunity to see ourselves as we were, as we are, and in some cases as we would like to be, but always through the prism of the values existing at the time the movie is made. In the Hollywood mirror LGBT people have been depicted as something to be laughed at (Wanderer of the West, a parody of a western in which the “sissy” was the joke), or pitied (The Children’s Hour), or feared (Cruising)(Russo, 1989). Only recently have mainstream movies begun to depict LGBT people as simply people (ex. Silkwood’s character of Dolly Pellicker as played by Cher). When we consider two landmark movies that depict gay men, 1970’s Boys in the Band and 2005’s Brokeback Mountain, we can see evidence of how American society has progressed – to a degree - in acceptance of LGBT people. To quote a deplorable cigarette company ad, “You’ve come a long way baby,” but our culture still has a long way to go.
Bruns, Todd, "Boys and Brokeback: American Attitudes towards Gays" (2012). Faculty Research & Creative Activity. 13.