Growing up, I don't know if I could've named a positive representation of the LGBT+ community in film. It was as if we were invisible. Either that, or a punchline. And what's worse is that 20 years later, there is no difference. GLAAD recently reported that in 2016 we were still virtually invisible or only in a film to be made fun of. “Zoolander 2” might be the best recent demonstration of us being a punchline.
Sure, television is much better with its representation than film, but it's still not good enough. We often get a storyline only for it to be about someone’s coming out and then they're virtually written off the show. We do have good examples with shows like “How To Get Away With Murder,” “Empire,” “Sense8” (RIP), “The Real O’ Neils” (RIP) and “Dear White People.”
But not everyone understands just how important representation in the media is for underrepresented groups, whether it be people of color, LGBT+, women or Muslims. Instead some people complain that it could cause their kids issues by seeing LGBT people happy on screen. Seeing positive and happy portrayals of people like me would've made coming out and dealing with who I was so much easier.
Movie studios seem to want no part of films that are LGBT+ oriented, no matter how liberal Hollywood claims to be. Independent film does a far better job of representing our community, so if you're looking for an LGBT+ film, that's where you have to look.
Another issue I have is that when we do finally get one of our stories told, it's often done by straight people. For some films, that's fine. But virtually every single one? Straight actors, writers, directors. This is how you end up with the entirely unrealistic sex scene in “Brokeback Mountain.” I love Ang Lee and the movie, but ... really? That tent scene was not okay. “Moonlight,” “Carol,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Call Me By Your Name.” All straight actors. And almost all straight directors.
Most recently I've seen there is a new film in the works about a gay reform camp being written, directed and acted by an entirely straight team. We shouldn't have to fight for the scraps that Hollywood has given us. I do get it, Hollywood films are a numbers game. But look at “Brokeback Mountain,” “Moonlight” and “Carol.” All box office successes. So maybe if Hollywood gave us the chance, we’d show up for our community in films, like women showed up for Wonder Woman.
That is why I want to focus my entire career on giving our community representation in the film industry, and diverse representation at that.
In my final semester at Texas Lutheran University this last spring, I decided I would make my first short film that was really my own. I'd written a lot of screenplays before, but this was only the second produced, and the first with me having final say.
I'd recently watched “Moonlight” and “Certain Women,” both movies with queer characters. They inspired what I wanted to do with the film and the internal struggle that some of these characters faced. I wanted to tell the truth about what it's actually like for many people to come out, with the added layer of playing a sport and trying to be in a relationship.
My most important goal was to show how happy two people can be together, regardless of gender or sexuality. Maybe if people finally saw LGBT people on screen being as they are, which is normal, they'd be less afraid of it. It is so important for kids to see that people can be LGBT and happy or in a happy relationship. It can honestly save lives.
I started with one version of the story and ended with one that was very different. If you notice, most LGBT+ relationships in film are portrayed as entirely sex-obsessed or entirely sexless. There is often not the normal “in-between” that is reality. My professor, Shannon Ivey, helped me find that happy medium with the script to make the relationship grounded and real.
A lot of people are still uncomfortable with seeing physical intimacy between people of the same sex. So I went with a more PG-13 approach than I usually do in my writing, to kind of ease people in, but still have some physical contact. The internal struggle in the main character, Austin, was so important to me and I got so lucky that one of the actors at my school, Daniel Saunders, was both willing and able to pull this role off. His acting and the cinematography by Luke Nelson were key to making it all happen.
I made this film to show people how important representation is for us, how important it is for everyone. I hope that someday Hollywood can represent not just our community, but all communities as much as they love to represent straight white men. But hey, we now live in a world where “Moonlight,” a film about a queer, poor, black kid, can win Best Picture at the Oscars, and another queer film, “Call Me By Your Name,” a Sundance hit this year, is said to be another contender for Best Picture.
Maybe there is hope for us, even if Hollywood doesn’t want to recognize us.
Ryan Beene played tennis at Texas Lutheran University and is now pursuing a career in film. He came out publicly on Outsports in 2014. He is on Instagram and on Twitter @ThatsSoRyannn, and he is also on Facebook.