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SDG

Gratuitously queer villains

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SDG   

Compared to the thread I started for gratuitously religious villains, this topic has been written about far more, and perhaps it is a far more common motif. 

I don't know when I first became aware of this trope, but I think I first wrote about it in 2002 just a couple of years into my Decent Films work, reviewing Gore Verbinski's The Mexican. Of James Gandolfini's character, I asked, "Was the film helped by making Gandolfini’s character a homosexual, and by making such a big deal about his homosexuality? …are even gay moviegoers likely to appreciate yet another gay character who’s also a cold-blooded killer (and worse)?" 

"Yet another" suggests I was aware of this as a trope, and one that might be a sensitive topic for gay viewers, though I'm not sure I had read any queer criticism at that point. 

I bring it up in connection with the religious-villains thread for two reasons: First, it occurred to me that one film I mentioned, the 2007 version of 3:10 to Yuma, has one villain of each sort: Russell Crowe's villain is gratuitously religious (if semi-ironically so), but there's also his devoted sidekick Charlie Prince (played by Ben Foster), who is "pointedly referred to in his first scene as 'Princess' by a defiant victim." (My comment at the time: "Another 'gay "cowboy"'; also, another gay psycho killer.")

And that brings me to the other reason for exploring the two themes in tandem. The intuitive religious take on the gratuitously religious killer trope would be, of course, that it's Hollywood anti-religious bias. And probably that's a real factor. On the other hand, the people likeliest to assume anti-religious bias in Hollywood also assume that Hollywood is dominated by a pro-gay agenda.

So I thought it might be interesting to examine the case for anti-religious bias side by side with evidence that whatever pro-gay agenda may exist in Hollywood does not seem to prevent the negative stereotyping of villains as gratuitously gay as well as gratuitously religious (usually separate characters, though there may be overlaps that haven't occurred to me yet!). 

To play fair, though, I would want to focus on queer villains whose queerness / villainy is pejoratively portrayed. Javier Bardem's character in Skyfall is probably not a good example. Like Crowe's character in 3:10 to Yuma, Bardem's villain is so larger than life that, so far from being cross-examined himself, he is the one who cross-examines others; Wade's religiosity is not an indictment of his own hypocrisy but that of his captors, and likewise Bardem's character's gayness is a creative instrument for cross-examining Bond's heterosexuality. 

Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs is often cited in this regard, although his queerness, though pejorative, isn't exactly gratuitous. The same goes for cross-dressing Anthony Perkins in Psycho

Interestingly given the association for many Christian critics of Hollywood of Disney with the pro-gay agenda, Disney villains have been indicted over the queer-villain trope. Obviously, as with Disney's pro-gay themes, we're reading between the lines here, but most of the male villains from the Disney Renaissance — Jafar, Scar, Hades, Pocahontas's Governor Ratcliffe — have been found to be on the mincing, less-than-virile side. (Wreck-it Ralph's King Kandy is another example.) 

Of course, like Christians looking for persecution — and perhaps like optimistic queer activists looking for positive winks and nudges — some of this may be a matter of seeing what you expect to see, or interpreting in accord with one's favored narratives. 

So, um. Thoughts? Examples? Counter-examples? More thoughts? 

Edited by SDG

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NBooth   

The Maltese Falcon has three of them: Joel Cairo, Wilmer the gunsel ("gunsel" being, apparently, originally a term for "gay"), and Gutman. Check out Cairo's walking-stick action here:

TVTropes has two entries that might be helpful here:

Depraved Homosexual

Depraved Bisexual

Not everything on those pages will count, really; I have a hard time thinking, for instance, that the villain in Cruising is--whatever one thinks of the movie's sexual politics--gratuitously queer; Nightmare on Elm Street 2 might be closer, but since that movie is--intentionally or not--pretty darn queer on just about every level, I don't know that the villainous coach himself really adds a note of gratuity. 

The second list reminds me of an arguably gratuitous moment in Spartacus:

 

Also notable--again, from the first link--are the assassins in Diamonds are Forever.

Edited by NBooth

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Evan C   

The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but that whole thing is gratuitous.

Maybe Black Swan, depending on how you interpret Portman's and Kunis' characters.

Chris Cooper in American Beauty, but like Rocky Horror, we could argue the whole film is gratuitous.

Maybe the pawnshop owner in Pulp Fiction.

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Rocky HorrorBlack Swan, and American Beauty are interested in sexuality and those revelations are, for better or worse, of a piece with the entirety of the film, and don't really fit with SDG's "pejorative" criterion.

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SDG   

Oh, I think there's a pejorative element in the case of the Cooper character. He's conservative, closeted, and self-loathing. His murderous act is inseparable from his gayness, even though what is indicted is his conservatism rather than his gayness per se. 

Is there any sign of religiosity in the case of his character? That would make him super interesting. 

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His repression and conservatism go hand in hand, but I think he's a categorically different figure than, say, the villains which populate The Maltese Falcon.

Also, it just occurred to me that the ultimate depiction of gratuitous villainous homosexuality for may be Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd from Diamonds Are Forever.

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Evan C   

Not sure how gratuitous it is, but Catherine Zeta-Jones and Rooney Mara in Side Effects are definitely more in The Maltese Falcon James Bond vein. I think they could have had a different reason for working together other than being lesbians, so I would say that probably qualifies.

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I see that two people have already mentioned Diamonds Are Forever (and SDG mentioned Skyfall in his opening post). A number of Bond villains have been "queer" to one extent or another; see also From Russia with Love, where Rosa Klebb seems to have a slightly more than professional interest in her protege. (Pussy Galore was lesbian too, and working for the villains originally, but then Bond "converted" her, on multiple levels.)

I don't know how "gratuitous" Edward II's homosexuality in Braveheart is. I mean, aside from the fact that the *historical* Edward II is widely believed to have been gay, there is also the fact that Braveheart's central theme is "If you f--- our women, we'll f--- yours," and *within* that narrative arc, it is somewhat essential that Edward II's bride be sexually frustrated with him and turn to William Wallace instead, thereby allowing her to taunt Edward I with the knowledge that it is Wallace's seed, rather than Edward's, that will govern England from here on.

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This came up while the board was down, but apparently the Christoph Waltz character in The Legend of Tarzan who inspired SDG's threads had a "queer" aspect *as well as* a religious aspect at one point. The director has talked about how one of the deleted scenes from the film showed Waltz kissing Tarzan while Tarzan was unconscious. Put that together with Jane's insinuation that Waltz might have been molested by his priest when he was a boy, and it plays into certain stereotypes.

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