Mainstream movies and television shows featuring lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) characters as protagonists are rare in the United States, besides the rare exception like Will & Grace (1990s) or Brokeback Mountain (2005.) Even Modern Family, the popular sitcom that features a same-sex couple as two of its main characters, hasn’t shown its (married) gay characters showing physical affection until recently – and when they did, it was a short kiss hidden in the scene background. So it’s no surprise that movies with LGBT main characters are condemned to relative obscurity, a ‘gay movie ghetto.’ Attitudes in Great Britain may have progressed enough that even most Conservative Party MPs voted to legalize marriage equality, but American consciousness still has a way to go.
The 2013 film G.B.F. is a case in point. It’s a witty, emotionally stirring piece, a coming of age story about two gay best friends in a small town who become prized commodities when the popular girls’ competing cliques decide that having a gay best friend is de rigeur. G.B.F. is hilarious on the surface, with one-liners and farce traded back and forth between the characters at breakneck speed. But there’s also a deeper theme – alienation. While LGBT characters are usually comic relief, G.B.F. manages to make its gay characters funny without making them the butt of the joke.
Tanner, the main protagonist, is commodified by the school’s Queen Bees, turned into a “sexless fashion accessory” instead of a person. Conservative Mormon characters struggle between their dogmatic intolerance toward “sinful” sexual behavior, their own sexual repression and the fact that they’re beginning to see the gay characters as people instead of fire-and-brimstone sermon topics. Tanner resents the Queen Bees’ stereotyping of him, even if it was well-intentioned; this theme comes to a head in the end, which thankfully averts some well worn teen movie cliches.
G.B.F. is the kind of movie that could have been as big as The Breakfast Club if it hadn’t put gay characters in its lead roles – or if social attitudes were different. But until the LGBT/QIA movement upgrades its perspectives from state by state court cases for marriage rights to national (and international) struggle for social liberation, those social changes are likely to come very slowly, if at all.
(G.B.F. is available on Netflix Instant Streaming.)