While there are plenty of excellent cases of positive portrayals of LGBT characters on film, those within these marginalized communities have long been depicted on screen in stereotypically comic roles or, worse, as villainous creatures existing on the cusp of decent society. From murderous transsexuals and gay best friends to sexual predators and fair-weather lesbians, here are a handful of characters who reinforced stereotypes and propagated harmful cliches about the LGBT community.
The erotic thriller that introduced America to Sharon Stone’s crotch also relied on depicting bisexuals and lesbians as angry, violent sociopaths.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
Sure, Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert’s pseudo-parody of Jacqueline Susann’s novel (and the subsequent film adaptation) featured a loving lesbian relationship (probably because it offered the opportunity of showing two pairs of breasts in one tight shot). But then there’s the reveal that the megalomaniac Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell is a drug-crazed and murderous transsexual.
Nothing is less charming that the concept of a straight man pretending to be a gay guy in order to woo a woman, but that’s probably the least offensive thing about this embarrassing comedy built solely around stereotypes and the straight man’s fear of homosexuality.
Provocateur Sacha Baron Cohen takes on the gays and the people who hate them with his over-the-top, offensively stereotypical Brüno character, presented as a German fashion expert.
The baby-voiced lesbian played by Joey Lauren Adams is offered up for the sexual fantasies of the tread-upon comic-book artist played by Ben Affleck in Kevin Smith’s ode to broad generalizations about the fluidity of female sexuality (his thesis: no woman can turn down a penis).
When Cher Horowitz realizes that her crush, Christian, is “a disco-dancing, Oscar Wilde-reading, Streisand ticket-holding friend of Dorothy,” his station in life immediately changes from sex object to the old, reliable gay best friend.
William Friedkin’s look at the dark underbelly of the S&M / leather scene in New York seemingly depicted gay men as aggressively sexualized beings with a penchant for violent activities rather than recognizing the fetishized world as a subculture. (Its controversial subject matter also makes it essential viewing.)
While universally panned and torn apart, this Bennifer bomb starring Ben Affleck as a wannabe mobster and his then-girlfriend Jennifer Lopez as his lesbian conquest relied on the familiar trope: lesbians just need the right guy to fix them and get them back to having sex with dudes.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
What’s more embarrassingly offensive than straight actors playing gay characters by relying on the usual stereotypes? Having straight actors playing straight characters pretending to be gay by relying on the usual stereotypes.
In & Out
Speaking of stereotypes, this little comedy relied on the notion that one’s level of femininity presupposed one’s sexuality, and, of course, it incorporated the long, unsettling kiss between Kevin Kline and Tom Selleck for awkward laughs.
Putting aside the awful scene in which star Monica Bellucci’s character is brutally raped by a gay man (named “le Tenia,” or “the Tapeworm”) for an incredibly uncomfortable eight minutes, there’s also the opening scene in which the victim’s boyfriend goes on a violent rampage in a Parisian gay club called The Rectum resulting in the death of at least one innocent patron.
Looking for Mr. Goodbar
The controversial film in which the bar-hopping Diane Keaton is murdered by a random hookup predated the term “slut-shaming,” but it did incorporate the closeted gay man (played by Tom Berenger) whose shame and self-loathing leads to the protagonist’s rape and murder.
Meryl Streep plays the lesbian ex-wife of Woody Allen’s protagonist, who is threatening to destroy his reputation by publishing a memoir of their marriage. It’s worth noting that Allen’s character is dating a 17-year-old, so maybe he deserves the man-hating lesbian’s vengeance.
David Lynch’s wild ride through the subconscious would be perfect if not for the uncomfortable notion that one lesbian’s jealousy-fueled masturbatory fantasies result in so much violence.
Gore Vidal’s satirical novel got the big-screen treatment and caused a mess of controversy over its sexually explicit nature, which included a scene in which the titular pre-op transsexual protagonist played by Raquel Welch rapes a man with a dildo.
Lee Daniels’ Southern trash epic took a awkward detour from its central plot — about a pair of newspaper reporters attempting to free a convicted murderer from prison — to depict one of its main characters (played by Matthew McConaughey) in the act of being hog-tied and beaten by unknown men during an act of random gay sex.
Mrs. Danvers is eternally — and sinisterly — devoted to the late titular character in Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller. But don’t worry: like most characters with homoerotic undertones, she gets her punishment when she perishes in the fire that destroys her beloved’s former home.
The Silence of the Lambs
In another example of the supposed violent tendencies employed by the transgender community, here we have the serial killer known as Buffalo Bill who, after being denied a sex-change operation, hunts down and skins plus-size women to create a new female body for himself.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Author Patricia Highsmith seemed obsessed with predatory gay men (she also wrote Strangers on a Train), and Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of her novel intersects the villainous Tom Ripley’s violent actions with his sexual obsessions.