Daniel Craig (left) and Javier Bardem star in "Skyfall." (Columbia Pictures )
Gays on TV and film aren't just stereotypical hairdressers and fabulous uncles anymore. They also are the gun-toting bad guys, terrorizing their way through your favorite shows with impeccable style.
That's right: From "Skyfall" to "Breaking Bad," the latest craze sweeping pop culture is a new breed of tough, complex, villainous antagonists—who also happen to be gay.
But should we see this as progress for the LGBT community? Well, yes. And no.
While we've seen LGBT characters integrated into TV and film much more in recent decades, they usually follow a basic trendy stereotype that everyone then tries to emulate. The '80s saw the offensive "gays are AIDS patients" meme, while the '90s embraced the "gays are your fun and flashy best friend" idea of "Will & Grace." The new millennium largely has been about LGBT couples as parents, on "Modern Family" and "The New Normal," or plucky young teens, like on "Glee."
Now Hollywood is giving us complicated, yet truly dastardly, villains who also have a strong case of the G-A-Y. Antagonists such as "Dexter's" murderous mobster, Isaak Sirko, James Bond's nemesis Raoul Silva or "Breaking Bad's" drug kingpin, Gus Fring, all are villainous characters who either hint at a fluid sexuality or later are revealed to be gay or bisexual as plot lines develop.
Here's the twist: Unlike earlier "evil gay" stereotypes in film and TV, these villains' sexuality actually is the redeeming thing about them, not the root of their evilness.
As Tim Molloy pointed out in a recent column for thewrap.com, they are humanized to the viewers using their sexuality, not portrayed as damaged or evil because of it. That's a far cry from the villains of the past, such as the gender-confused, skin-wearing serial killer in "Silence of the Lambs" or the ominously predatory lesbian Mrs. Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock's "Rebecca," whose sexuality and perceived deviance caused their villainy.
These new trendy bad guys also share another interesting stereotype: hyper-masculinity. The pendulum has swung from the predatory, over-the-top gay villains of the past to macho tough guys who viewers know are gay only because they are told. That stereotyping pendulum may be swinging a bit too far as Hollywood tries to correct course after years of being behind on how society views groups of people like the LGBT community.
The hyper-masculinity of these new gay villains shows signs of Hollywood trying far too hard to avoid making characters look "too gay"—you know, devices such as effeminate mannerisms or non-traditional gender roles. And that's OK to an extent. Bad guys have to be tough.
But far too often, society believes equal representation means sanitizing characteristics that simply play into rigid gender roles. In the end, all that does is reinforce the perception that behavior outside of the gender norm still is hilarious and safe to make fun of.
I'd rather see acceptance and representation of a broad swath of the ways gays "act," because the LGBT community really is that diverse. For all its progress, Hollywood still is stuck in rigid ideas that "effeminate" gays can be comedic punch lines on sitcoms and "real men" gays get to be tough, dramatic villains.
In the end, Hollywood is taking a step in the right direction. It is refreshing that villains' same-sex relationships are used to make them more relatable, human and complex to viewers. Dropping the "ick factor" for gay characters and relationships always is a good thing. That's one cinematic meme I'm happy to see these new gay villains put 6 feet under.
Waymon Hudson is a RedEye special contributor.
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