Cultural series spotlights sexuality

Amanda Betts – Staff Writer

CLARION, Pa.- The 2017 Mary L. Seifert Cultural Series kicked off this year’s United States of Gender events with a  Feb. 7 showing of The Celluloid Closet, a film based on Vito Russo’s book about the portrayal of homosexuality in Hollywood.

This film and subsequent discussion  took place at the Clarion University Suites on Main North Movie Theater.

Narrated by actress and singer Lily Tomlin, this film focused on how the portrayal of homosexual characters has evolved over the last century.  According to the Sony Classics website, The Celluloid Closet featured “clips from over 100 Hollywood movies,” as well as interviews with famous artists  including Tom Hanks, Whoopi Goldberg, and Harvey Fierstein.

Although there has been homosexual representation in Hollywood movies since the time of silent film, the portrayals have not been entirely accurate or representative of the gay population.  Gay characters were consistently used for either comedic relief or solely to be pitied by the audience.

Although some form of representation was present, it became difficult for homosexual people to find characters within Hollywood with whom they could relate.

“Hollywood, that great maker of myths, taught straight people what to think about gays and gay people what to think about themselves,” narrator Lily Tomlin explained.

In the early 1930s, the Motion Picture Production Code (otherwise known as Hays code, after its creator Will Hays) was applied to films released by Hollywood.  According to this code, motion pictures were required to follow a certain set of guidelines about what was and was not acceptable to show the public.

Liz Pelesko / The Clarion Call
Dr. Kevan Yenerall hosts a discussion centered on the film, The Celluloid Closet, as part of the Mary L. Seifert Cultural Series.

This made it even more difficult for there to be accurate representation of members of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) community, making it so homosexuality had to be “hinted” in film rather than shown outright.

From that time period, representation has increased significantly.  There are more diverse characters and storylines, but according to one student, there is much room for improvement.

As a homosexual man, Quincy Nolan still feels as though his particular sexuality and gender expression are not being represented as well as they could be.  “I still find myself latching on to any little glimpse of myself that I see in these characters,” he said.

Following the film, there was a group discussion led by Corey Negley and Emily Burkett, the organizers of Tuesday’s event.  One audience member expressed her feelings that even though we have made significant progress as a nation, we still have a long way to go before we are where we should be.

Burkett discussed the generational gap that may also be making a difference in the changes being made to Hollywood and mainstream media in the recent years.  The importance of this event and those like it is not lost on students of Clarion University.

“I like to look at it as a sense of building a community,” Nolan added. “I really feel like the value of that is unmatched by anything else.”

This was the first of many events scheduled for this series this semester.  The next installment will be Brothers, a film based around the lives of four trans-masculine friends, following their daily endeavors.  The event will take place on Monday, Feb. 13 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

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