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  • A Shelf of One's Own:A Queer Production Studies Approach to LGBT Film Distribution and Categorization
  • Bryan Wuest (bio)

For a long time gay and lesbian movies were put in an actual category called "special interest"—with the likes of exercise and hunting videos. The gay genre was perceived as too small to be a real category or topic—too small to have its own place or enough consumers interested in it to call it a real genre. Now, gay film really is its own genre. GLBT films now have their own category, just as do those in horror, or adventure.

—Maria Lynn, Former President of Wolfe Video (qtd. in van Maanen)

much was made of the "de-gaying," as it was commonly called, of A Single Man (2009) by its distributor the Weinstein Company. Colin Firth called the original trailers and one-sheets, which featured him and Julianne Moore in bed together, "deceptive. … There's nothing to sanitize. It's a beautiful love story between two men and I see no point in hiding that" (Voss, "Colin Firth"). Moore reported that director Tom Ford was "furious" and rejected this poster, which Moore called "ridiculous" because it made the film resemble a heterosexual romcom (Voss, "Julianne Moore"; "Julianne Moore," BlackBook). When a Vulture writer asked Harvey Weinstein a follow-up question about whether "the poster seemed to play down the gay part," Weinstein quickly ended the conversation, saying, "I'm good. You got enough. Thank you" (qtd. in Vilensky). Stuart Richards also has noted the differences between Tom Ford's trailer (cut for the Toronto International Film Festival) and the Weinstein Company's trailer. The former includes a kiss between Firth and Matthew Goode, a meaningful gaze between Firth and Nicholas Hoult, and "ultimately an equal pairing of Firth interacting with male characters as he does with female, particularly Julianne Moore" (Richards 19). The latter trailer removes Goode's and Hoult's names and the kiss and includes "a conspicuously unsubtle attempt at pushing both Firth and Moore for Academy Awards." Richards describes this as a common strategy by Indiewood distribution to "downplay … queer content to favor the 'quality' characteristics of the films" (19).

A similar case occurred the following year with another film featuring LGBT content, The Kids Are All Right (2010). According to Alice Royer, previously an Outfest staffer and at the time a film screener for the festival, the film did not play at the festival "because it had already been picked up for distribution and [Focus Features] did not want it to be ghettoized as a gay film. And so they wouldn't let it play at Outfest" (qtd. in "The Mediascape Roundtable"). Focus Features apparently disallowed the film's association with one of the country's most visible LGBT film festivals for fear that The Kids Are All Right would become imbued with too much "gayness" and would be irrevocably marked in a way that, presumably, the company expected would limit the film's reach and success. Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin have identified this same strategy as happening decades earlier, when the Los Angeles Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (now Outfest) was unable to book Prick Up Your Ears, Waiting for the Moon, and Maurice in 1987 because the film producers did not want these titles to premiere at an LGBT film [End Page 24] festival and possibly "be labeled as exclusively gay or lesbian" (Queer Images 194).

In both preceding examples, the meaning of a film was deliberately managed—and indeed created—not through the distributor's control of the actual film content but rather through what was done with and around the text, or with its paratexts. Jonathan Gray defines paratexts as "texts that prepare us for other texts," or the materials that prime us to understand a text in a particular way (25). In this case, the distributors' choices about promotion or festival exhibition (itself a form of promotion) were intended to regulate these texts' potential LGBT "identities" for viewers. Here I am applying the dense concept of identity unusually—to a text, not a person—but this move is deliberate and, I hope, helpful. Whether these films are or...


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