Queer Representation On OTT Platforms: 2020 Was Great For Something At Last!

Queer cinema has been treated outlandish, never mainstream. But it changed in 2020. From miniseries to documentaries to movies, and mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of great streaming content was released on the OTT platforms.

The consumption of cinema has evolved. From the romance of watching the movies on a giant screen to streaming TV series on OTT platforms, we’ve come a long way.

Many creators argue that the freedom that they get by releasing their artworks on the OTT platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc. is promising and liberating, and thus are happy to ditch the glitz and glamor of the traditional releases. It saves money, it is where the audience is, it is impressionable, and all that jazz.

But, here, I am not comparing the traditional and OTT releases, I am interested in the ‘business of understanding’ if we were portrayed correctly, authentically, and honestly.

‘Sublet’ to ‘Your Name Engraved Herein’ it was the year of the non-American directors

Queer cinema has been treated outlandish, never mainstream. But it changed in 2020. From miniseries to documentaries to movies, and mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of great streaming content was released on the OTT platforms.

Headlines like ‘Emmys 2020: Schitt’s Creek Makes Emmy History With Complete Sweep’ were a dream for a queer actor, director, or a producer. But things are changing for better. Most exciting of them all is production of unique, compelling stories outside the Americas.

Israeli queer filmmaker Eytan Fox, the highly acclaimed director of queer war romance, Yossi & Jagger, released Sublet in 2020. In praise of the movie, David Rooney, for The Hollywood Reporter, writes: “Fox keeps the sexual tension understated through much of the film, making the drama more about the effect on both men of their encounter, freeing up parts of them that were in denial or held back by fear.” If there’s one of the movies that you must watch in the new year, make it this one.

A quality that determines the originality, for that’s how, at least for me, it pans out: understated tensions in a world seemingly free enough to let anything pass but cannot for queers is one of the defining factors for assessing a queer film. Sublet captures it perfectly. Another such was the Taiwanese gay drama and romance Your Name Engraved Herein, a surreal representation of honest emotions and conflicts arising in love story of two boys living under a homophobic society. If it were not for a clean sweep at an award function, it did achieve quite a feat: It became the highest-grossing LGBT+ movie in Taiwan.

Apart from that, Feel Good, a British dramedy series had a celebrated release in March 2020. So did the adaptation of 2017 novel Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng in a series, exploring sexuality and motherhood, of the same name, on Hulu. Certainly, such releases made lockdown bearable for the privileged lot.

US releases were good, but I didn’t want to start with them

First, can we give Ryan Murphy a lifetime achievement for creating, producing, and promoting great content when it comes to queer movies, series, and documentaries? Second, Queerty already did, sort of. It named Murphy among the fifty pride honorees, appreciating him for “leading the nation toward equality, acceptance, and dignity for all people.”

I am interested in adaptations. And, in 2020, it seems many directors and producers were concerned and willing to unearth such plays. It led to production of gems of movies. Adapting the 1968-play The Boys in the Band by Mart Crowley, Joe Mantello (director) and Murphy (producer) gave us a treat by presenting a hilarious cast that took our breath away. Aparna Narrain, writing for The Hindu, praised the decision to cast out gay men for the filmization of the play. She wrote that it has made the “story accessible to a far wider audience…and for that reason, is definitely worth a watch.” Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom — adapted from the play by the same name by August Wilson, subtly touched upon the bisexual undertones of Ma Rainey, a famous Blue singer.

However, Murphy’s cocreation, Hollywood, a miniseries was received with mixed reviews. Writing for Variety, Daniel D’Addario points out how the “limited series braids together Murphy’s passionate, camp-inflected interest in the movies and moviemaking culture of yesteryear with another, somewhat conflicting trademark he’s arrived at more recently, the passionately and humorlessly held belief in the rightness of his political stances.” Taking further than Daniel, Kathryn VanArendonk found the series a “dreamland, for better or (mostly) worse.”

Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen, a long overdue documentary of how trans folx and their depictions in mainstream Hollywood movies shaped American culture, was released in June 2020. A Secret Love — a Netflix original — traced the lives of baseball player and her partner, who hid their lesbian relationship from their families. The director Chris Bolan, nephew of Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel, chose to tell this heartfelt story via a documentary. Ryan Murphy produced this documentary, too.

Though it was a great year for queer cinephiles, I wonder when we’ll find sensible and convincing queer-themed movies being released by the directors or producers from the subcontinent. But there’s one thing 2020 has taught us, and I’ll hold on to it: patience.

Until then, have a great 2021!

About the author

Saurabh Sharma

Saurabh is working as a writer in a research and advisory IT consultancy firm. He frequently writes about gender and sexuality, and book reviews on an array of platforms.