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How labeling movies can hurt

Should a singular interpretation be accepted as fact?

As I was writing my recent piece on non traditional Christmas movies, I came across an interesting tweet. It stated that Batman Returns was a Christmas movie. I definitely can see that. The person then proceeded to state it is a queer horror movie. I guess I was not the only person who had questions as someone had already asked the obvious question. How?

The answer: “Because that is how I read it.”

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And there lies the problem. Before I go any further, I want to get something out of the way. I firmly believe any movie, music, writing, or painting can be interpreted however an individual wants. That is the true beauty of art. Each of us will see it a different way making the best works timeless. There is no right or wrong; it is simply one person’s opinion. (A novel theory in today’s world.)

That being said, if you are going to throw your interpretation out as fact, expect someone who truly does not understand to ask you to further explain your position. (This is not to say you need to explain yourself, but it is a reasonable expectation.) In today’s gotcha society, it is easy to get defensive, but in some cases people are genuinely curious. I have never heard Batman Returns described as queer horror and was interested to see how it is one.

When the answer came back, I accepted it, but I was more than a little disappointed. I really wanted to see the movie from a standpoint I would have missed as a cisgendered heterosexual. Instead, I just got someone’s opinion. That is all well and good, but it is also something that I cannot go back and further educate myself on.

How labeling movies can hurt

In the end, none of that really matters since it is all about me. But there is a much greater problem with randomly assigning labels to movies. There is an obvious representation problem in Hollywood. If everything is called queer horror (or female empowerment or Black pride) it lessens the effects of films that truly are in that genre.

Let the Right One In is a great example. The Swedish film is one of the most acclaimed horror movies of all time. The movie focuses on the relationship between 12 year old Oskar and his neighbor Eli. It is a tragic, heartwarming story about acceptance and finding love. More than just a vampire love story, it is a queer vampire love story.

When someone is trying to learn about queer horror, what movie will they go to? The vampire movie from Sweden or the Batman movie starring Michael Keaton and directed by Tim Burton? And what will be the end result if they do not see the movie the same way? Confusion? Anger? Frustration? Indifference? If everything is queer horror, then all queer horror is less significant.

How labeling movies can hurt

There is a fundamental difference in an interpretation of a movie and what it is actually trying to accomplish. I may interpret Stand by Me as a story about coming out, but it was written as a coming of age story about friendship. This does not make my interpretation wrong, but by pushing my narrative, I water down the importance of movies like Moonlight.

There absolutely should be more movies that open eyes to what underrepresented people deal with in their lives. The answer should not be going back to older movies and rebranding them as trailblazing or progressive. The correct thing to do is to recognize true LGBTQ positive movies like Go Fish instead of lilywhite franchises that have nothing to do with representation.

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