I’m Selina, Awards Circuit’s queer Girl Friday for everything LGBTQIA+ on film and TV! The Oscar nominees are here, and the race for gold is officially on. But how are the Oscar nominees impacting LGBTQIA+ storytelling? Each week I’ll be taking a closer look at the Oscar nominees and the LGBTQIA+ representation in them: the good, the bad, and what it means for mainstream LGBTQIA+ visibility. First up is Yorgos Lanthimos’ “The Favourite,” that period drama about royal lesbians currently up for 10 Oscars.
The Pros: “The Favourite” Delightfully Queers English History
If you never made it to the theater for “The Favourite,” here’s the gist. Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), a sickly 18th century British queen of childlike temperament, is ruled by her own “favourite,” Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz), an unsentimental, longtime lover who’s used her position in the queen’s heart to rule England herself. But when Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Emma Stone) comes to the palace, the trio find themselves in a dangerous love triangle, with the queen’s lovers fighting for her hand and control of the country.
“The Favourite” could easily have been a long, plodding drama, Oscar-bait that wows critics but can’t hold an audience’s attention. But it isn’t. Abruptly funny, with dynamic cinematography and actors skipping from comedic bits to making disturbingly dark choices, the film breaks the usual mould of historical queer dramas. There’s no queer-bashing or traumatic scenes that would disturb a queer audience, and nobody buries their gays. in fact, the issue of Queen Anne’s lovers being women is a non-event, hearkening back to a time before people labelled themselves as gay or straight.
These kinds of queer stories, where historical figures become real people with desires and vices, opens up viewers (gay or straight) to new ideas about the world we think we know. The film reminds its audience that people across time have been or could have been queer, including stuffy old English monarchs, and it was often the fifth most important thing about them. “The Favourite” is a great film because of this love triangle, dysfunctional and fickle as it is, which gives us a new story we haven’t seen in some time. It’s all about women, queer women at that, in power-plays that remind of us how cutthroat royal courts actually were. This story is beautifully, complexly told queer fiction that stays away from stereotypes and portrays queer people as we truly are: as funny, mean, and deep as straight people.
The Cons: Is It Okay For Straight Actors To Tell Queer Stories?
But then there’s the elephant in the room…the lack of LGBTQIA+ people involved in the making of “The Favourite.” To my knowledge, all three main stars (Colman, Weisz and Stone) are straight or not publicly out. Is it a strike against good LGBTQIA+ representation to have straight people telling an inherently queer story?
In my eyes, it depends on the story. For “The Favourite,” a story firmly on the side of historical fiction, its impact is enhanced, not impeded, by its stars. Colman, Weisz and Stone portray the complexities of Queen Anne and her favourites with aplomb, and their previous critical acclaim enticed audiences who might not have been interested in a period film about lesbians. Star power does move the needle in a big way for indie films, and “The Favourite’s” success is due in no small part to their inclusion.
Sure, queer actors might’ve added another layer of personal connection, but judging by the stacks of accolades and box office dollars, Colman, Weisz and Stone were the right ones to play these characters. And after all, Queen Anne, Sarah Churchill and Abigail Hill aren’t well-known queer icons, whose memory might feel straight-washed by their a straight actor’s portrayal (be honest, you had to google all three after watching the film). The casting of Colman, Weisz, and Stone, in my eyes, doesn’t set LGBTQIA+ storytelling back in any concrete way.
It should also be noted that no one should ever be required to reveal their sexual orientation, no matter what characters they play. If Colman, Weisz or Stone are attracted to women, they don’t owe “The Favorite’s” audience their coming out stories. Yes, equality for LGBTQIA+ folx in Hollywood is important, but trying to force people into coming out so you can personally approve of their work is wrong, fullstop.
What “The Favourite” Means For LGBTQIA+ Representation
In this instance, I don’t think the lack of LGBTQIA+ people involved in the making of this film changes its positive impact for queer storytelling: more period lesbian dramas, like “Ammonite,” have already been greenlit in the wake of “The Favourite’s” success. At the very least, we’ll be seeing many more gay or lesbian love stories onscreen, and “The Favourite” has played a significant part in that. Still, continued discussions about how and who portrays LGBTQIA+ folx in film and TV keep us on a path towards better LGBTQIA+ representation, and perhaps I might be missing something. What did you think of “The Favourite,” and is it a good example of LGBTQIA+ representation?