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A Cinematic Trend Emerges: 'Gays Gone Bad'

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EARLIER THIS YEAR, my film programming colleagues and I at Frameline- the San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival-met to begin the always agonizing process of selecting our favorites from several hundred new films submitted by filmmakers from around the world, the goal being to assemble a representative snapshot of our cinematic moment. There are a few obvious trends that we could spot immediately: strong narratives from Latin America with gay male or transgender protagonists (In the Grayscale, Mariposa, Carmín Tropical, among many others); fascinating stories emerging from areas like the Balkans, which have rarely produced queer work (Sworn Virgin, Love Island, Xenia); and a spate of bracing documentaries about North American athletes, created in the wake of Michael Sam, Jason Collins, and the Sochi Olympics (Game Face, Out to Win, To Russia with Love).

But there's one development that has taken me a bit longer to identify as it isn't as clear-cut. Call it the Year of the Bad Queer. Some of the most memorable North American narrative films of the past year have featured GLBT protagonists-not side characters, but principals-who are deeply, irredeemably flawed. I'm not talking about the traditional flaws of antiheroes-quirks and oddities, suspect motives, disarmingly human failings. I'm talking about polarizing, problematic, occasionally awful people who happen to be gay. Their journey is at the center of the film, so we are asked to care about their fate, but their behavior is offensive; they are morally impoverished, mean, vain, passive-aggressive, violent, immature, or, in more technical language, generally fucked up.

Some examples of the Bad Queer phenomenon would include the following, all quite accomplished films with theatrical distribution deals in place or at least a lot of festival accolades and buzz: § The title character of Justin Kelly's I Am Michael-based on the true story of...