| CLAYTON WALTER
IN MAY, I left behind the chaotic Ohio weather for sunnier California skies. The sunshine is constant, as is the traffic, and my dreams remain unscathed in the midst of a harsh, exclusive industry. I moved here to pursue a career in screenwriting, as do so many others. While I try to figure out what to do with the scripts I have finished and continue to tinker away on a slew of others, I find myself struggling with a question that lacks an easy answer.
On one hand, queer filmmakers have the opportunity to tell stories of sexual minorities with an insight that straight, cisgender filmmakers cannot possess. That’s not to say that those filmmakers can’t make insightful queer films. The opposite is repeatedly proven true. For instance, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain is a pinnacle in gay film, however tortured the characters’ sexuality might be. It’s often an artist’s prerogative to explore new territory, to try new things, to tackle unfamiliar ideas. I’m grateful that straight filmmakers take on queer material and often do so with grace and poignancy.
Queer filmmakers who produce content about straight characters don’t always receive the same praise. I’ve been asked by friends why the script that I’m most proud of writing – and most determined to see produced – doesn’t have a queer character in it. And sometimes, I feel guilty about it. But I shouldn’t.
There’s something in the human brain that makes us eager to categorize. The world is easier to understand if we can divide it up into smaller, more easily digestible boxes. We look for similarities and differences so that we can make sense of what’s around us and so that we can activate the cynicism and criticism that often result from such pastimes. In the writing of this article, I started thinking about queer films by queer filmmakers, straight films by queer filmmakers, and so on, trying to find patterns in order to make broad, sweeping statements about what creative artists should be doing.
Great art is universal. It transcends the dividing lines, blurring the differences between us by making us realize deeper truths. Art has the unique power to connect us, and none more so than film, the most commercial of all art forms (though queer films don’t always pack much box office punch). A film like Hong Khaou’s Lilting – about a man helping his late boyfriend’s mother find love at an assisted living center--paints a picture of love being love, regardless of differences in culture, language, orientation and race. A great movie is a powerful thing.
I dream of a Hollywood where what a filmmaker is pales in comparison to who he or she is. A great film is a great film, regardless of who makes it, or why, or for what intended audience. Queer stories should be told by anyone who wants to tell them, just as straight stories should, and we should celebrate the diversity of visions, the breadth of ideas, the riches of the arthouse theater.
Yes, queer filmmakers making queer movies are worthy of celebration – Andrew Haigh and Stewart Thorndike and PJ Raval have made masterful work, perhaps because of their personal connection to their material – but so are straight filmmakers making straight films, or straight filmmakers making queer films. Any good story told well has the power to affect change, to inspire, to make us cry. That’s one of the reasons I love movies, and want to make them.