A Dangerous Girl: Queer Sexuality and Femininity in ‘The Neon Demon’

A Dangerous Girl: Queer Sexuality and Femininity in ‘The Neon Demon’

[The following contains spoilers for The Neon Demon, and descriptions of violence.]

Nicholas Winding Refn may be one of the most singular and bullheadedly determined directors currently working, for better and for worse. His past three films have all been garishly-lit grotty portraits of the underbellies of seemingly glamorous lifestyles in major cities, with most of the variations being minor deviations in framing and storytelling rather than aesthetics. He’s hellbent on chasing his every single thought down the neon-soaked rabbit hole of his camera lens whether people like it (as most seemed to with Drive) or not (Only God Forgives has mostly been rejected, somewhat unfairly).

With that in mind, The Neon Demon has both a lot going for it and against it. Refn’s previous films illustrate that he’s very good indeed at what he does, but The Neon Demons shift in direction is towards a feminine perspective (specifically in relation to the cutthroat world of female models in Los Angeles fashion), which Refn has mostly omitted from his prior work. Instead, he’s opted for a hyper-stylized, fetishized view of masculinity that reads very easily as queer. So, how does the traditional Refn gaze work when applied to a story that’s inseparably about women and femininity? Well, the results are nothing if not interesting, particularly as applied to the character of makeup designer Ruby (played by Jena Malone).

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It Doesn’t Get Better: ‘The Boys in the Band,’ “The Broken Hearts Club’ and Gay Self-Loathing

It Doesn’t Get Better: ‘The Boys in the Band,’ “The Broken Hearts Club’ and Gay Self-Loathing

[Warning: the following contains quoted homophobic and racist slurs from the films in question.]

It’s Pride Month, which means it’s time to celebrate the progress the movement for LGBTQIA+ rights has made, and plan for the massive strides our country still needs to make. As such, you can probably expect to see a lot of press from the It Gets Better Project, which is dedicated to helping LGBT+ youth through showing them that happiness and success are not as elusive as they may think.

It Gets Better could be considered a real-world application of many queer activists’ desires to see more positive, happy portrayals of LGBTQIA+ people in media, which has been a concern for much longer than the current age of internet campaigns over fridging queer characters on TV shows. This desire originates from queer writers’ reactions to the censoring of books that contained same-sex relationships that were not depicted as immoral, ending in death, or “fixable.” For instance, Patricia Highsmith’s lesbian novel The Price of Salt (later adapted to film as Carol) was incredibly controversial and unusual for its happy ending, while pulp novels where women had lesbian affairs but “repented” by re-discovering heterosexuality (which were often written by queer writers as a way of circumventing moral codes to achieve the slightest amount of representation) thrived and practically formed their own industry, albeit a niche one not granted much literary merit.

Eventually, the narrative of gay characters meeting tragic fates was co-opted by straight writers, usually for the purpose of educating other straight people about homophobia, and instead of being regarded as “trashy” or “pulp,” was elevated to the realm of prestige pieces. Naturally, gay writers weren’t pleased with this development, and started creating their own works in response to this trend, two of which I’ll examine here: the 1970 film version of the play The Boys in the Band (written by Mart Crowley) and the 2000 film The Broken Hearts Club (written and directed by Greg Berlanti).

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