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Film East: Queer Projections anthology

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

First, they tuned into the music, then they devoured the food. Now Film East is coming for the queers! In their third award-winning anthology, 16 original essays explore the representation of queerness on screen. Featuring philosophical, humourous and personal takes on some of the most contemporary media out there, Queer Projections offers an accessible and entertaining route into film criticism. Are you a Swifty? Ever seen Stranger Things? How about Harry Styles' questionable performance in My Policeman?





Illustration, black line art with shading on a  white background. Floral shapes fill the background, with a hand holding a video camera in the centre of the image. In the top right corner there is a speech bubble with an exclamation mark inside. In the bottom right there is an eye with long eyelashes looking through a camera lens.
Image credit: Ella McDonald

Sophie S


Film East’s previous anthology must have really stirred up an appetite (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) in me because the moment I was presented with the opportunity to review their current one, I could not send that email fast enough. Eating the Screen was an absolutely delicious exploration into film that I hadn’t realised I was desperately hungering for until I read it. So of course I am ready to devour this year’s anthology which combines my two favourite things – queer theory and film theory!


To begin with, the differing lenses and aspects offered up in each article means that, as a reader, you are truly spoilt for choice. Some of the essays explore already established queer film theory in their own manner, and some provide a completely new aspect one may not have considered before. Even noting their variability, it must be said that each one provides a unique, detailed and well thought out analysis that opens your eyes and really puts representation in film into perspective.


An article that stood out to me (what with me being what one may call a Swiftie) was ‘“ME!” By Gaylor Swift: Queer Iconography in Taylor Swift’s Music Videos’ written by Film East editor Shelby Cooke. I really enjoyed reading Shelby’s essays in Eating the Screen, and she continued to entertain and educate while taking me on a journey through the gay ‘semiotics’ in the Taylor-Verse. The piece was really well-informed in both Swift lore, and the academics of semiotics and artistic nuance, introducing me to the possibility of separating the art from the artist when it comes to pop stars. I hadn’t really thought of that aspect before, of perceiving taylor swift differently to Taylor Swift, the character she portrays. I found it incredibly captivating throughout.


A slightly more conventional discussion of queer representation is proposed in Jessica Ann Evangelista’s ‘Stranger [Things] than Fiction: Queer Characters as Devices for Heterosexuality’. She introduces classic issues with queer representation that are still relevant within our mainstream media. While there is a level of celebration in normalising openly queer characters on our screens, it doesn’t really count when they aren’t given the same attention as their heterosexual counterparts. Jessica Ann reminds us that queer people shouldn’t have to be satisfied only with mediocre media representation. Queer people deserve to see (and be seen as) successful, complex and loved queer people on our screens, even when they’re only side characters or stories. It was a truly welcome reminder that the bare minimum in representation is still not enough.


Other interesting reads worth a go include Rebecca Grenham’s essay on ‘The Older Queer Woman: Subverting Female Queerness in Modern TV’, an eye-opening discussion on aging queer people exploring their lost youths through all manner of ways. ‘Holmgang and Homoeroticism: Sexuality in Robert Eggers’ The Northman’ by Billy White was also an enjoyable read on the hidden homoeroticism and feminist themes woven throughout the film.

Film East once again puts forth a varied and well put together anthology on the multitude of aspects that can be considered in the conversation surrounding queer representations and I will absolutely be reading the next anthology cover to cover. I am yet to be disappointed.




A still image from Taylor Swift's music video for Lavender Haze, one of her hit songs. Taylor is in a pool of purple water with long blonde hair wet down her neck and shoulders. There are floating petals around her. Her blue eyes star directly at the camera, red lips smiling slightly.
Just your typical Monday night bubble bath

Callum Anderson


As a part-time queer film fanatic, and full-time queer person, I was excited to get into this new anthology from Film East. With 16 articles covering queer representations and narratives, plus an additional 18 single-page reviews, no stone is left unturned in the search for great queer stories.


The contents page alludes to a mix of films and series, some that I had seen, and others that are on my ever-expanding to be watched list, so I knew I was in it for the long hall - time to sit down with a cuppa and devour!


The more articles I read, however, the deeper my forehead furrowed. I just had this nagging feeling that something was missing from the first few articles; they didn’t really live up to the eye-catching titles the contents page promised. It was as though the writer had just got to the juicy parts of the piece when it abruptly wrapped up. Many articles relied on ‘broad brush strokes’ without ever getting into the nitty gritty of the analysis which left me wanting more, but not in a good way.


There were of course some really strong arguments, including Shelby Cooke’s ‘Re-assimilating the Other: Zombies, Mental Illness and Homosexuality in BBC3’s In the Flesh’, which took me back to 2013. She was able to describe and put into words all the thoughts and feelings I had when watching it ten years ago in a rural town not dissimilar to In the Flesh’s Kieran’s home of Roarton. Her analysis of the allegories between coming out as queer and ‘partially deceased’ was nuanced and made for an enjoyable read.


For me, the strongest part of the anthology was the final section. Titled ‘Proud: Identity & Sexuality on Screen’, this section contained 18 single-page reviews of film and TV. The writing highlighted a range of identities and focused on ‘happy, flourishing, living…and, most importantly, proud’ stories as an antidote to the ubiquity of hurt and pain often covered by queer narratives.


These reviews certainly did what they set out to do in capturing the joy in queer storytelling. Some were reminders to me of films and series that I enjoyed (looking at you Sex Education and Paris is Burning) while revealing others I can’t wait to explore.


If I am being brutally honest, I felt that this anthology was confused by its identity. Part review, part academic-ish journal, I found that more often than not the articles relied on sweeping statements. Many of these statements I agreed with, but it felt as though they were trying to pack too much into each article and not allowing for a depth that I was so desperately seeking.


On the whole, I think that this anthology is one that I will come back to when I need reminding of something I haven’t watched yet, and if you’re not a queer film buff, this is a great start to your queer film education.




A photograph of four members of the Film East team at the BBC Radio Norfolk Make a Difference Awards. They look glamourous, big smiles on their face. Their award is being held up proudly. The editor in chief, Shelby Cooke, has been included in the photo via a facetime call.
The Film East team at the BBC Make a Difference Awards

Sabrina


Fresh from experiencing The Eras Tour concert film, I knew I had to start with Shelby Cooke’s ‘ME! By Gaylor Swift: Queer Iconography in Taylor Swift’s Music Videos’. Cooke introduces how Swift’s fans create queer readings of her art and sometimes Taylor as an individual. This article was fascinating, so I will just get the one niggle I have out of the way first.


I have recently grown increasingly uncomfortable with speculation about public figures who have not ‘declared’ for one camp or another with regards to their sexuality. The article’s introduction, which writes that “the woman, Taylor Alison Swift, is probably straight…we can confidently assume that she leans more towards heterosexuality than anything else”, made me wince slightly. My reaction is perhaps amplified because this reminds me of how I (a queer girl) must have looked to everyone (including myself) for most of my life, with my “slurry” of crushes on boys. I still enjoyed the article though, and I happily took the excuse to revisit Taylor’s music videos.


Queer readings of Taylor’s songs are not new to me - I vividly remember the social media explosion when a sapphic storyline could be drawn between cardigan, august and betty from Swift’s folklore album. Cooke’s reading of the Lavender Haze music video was particularly intriguing, with Cooke suggesting that the “lavender haze” comes from Taylor fully accepting her sexuality.


This prompted me to view the lyrics under a different lens: “They're bringin' up my history”, reminiscent of bringing up somebody’s ‘straight-passing’ history to invalidate their queerness or simply undeclared identity – for example what social media did to Becky Albertalli, author of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. I also noticed: “All they keep askin' me/Is if I'm gonna be your bride/The only kind of girl they see/Is a one-night or a wife”. I hear this as a poetic way to express the lack of nuance that societal expectations allow oppressed individuals: you must be a tick in a box, and no ‘Other: please explain’.


Jessica Ann Evangelista’s ‘Stranger [Things] Than Fiction: Queer Characters as Devices for Heterosexuality discusses the limited nuance and dimension given to so many queer characters on-screen. Evangelista describes how queerness in Stranger Things seems synonymous with pain and the furthering of straight characters’ storylines, stressing that “[q]ueer characters deserve more plot relevance”. I could not help remembering the recent furore over the cancellation of Netflix’s queer-led First Kill after just one season (yes, I am still bitter).


What hit me hardest, though, was Evangelista stating that “young people watching this programme…get the idea that unreasonable torment will be part of a queer person’s life just because of their sexual preference”. When I was first realising that I might not be straight, I was terrified. Pretty much every representation of a queer character I had seen previously had been soaked in homophobic persecution and/or pain, angst and melancholy, never a full and happy ending. Not something I looked forward to!


I am admittedly more familiar with books than films and TV, and I am thankful that despite the publishing industry’s flaws, at least there has been a noticeable recent diversification in the kinds of queer stories (and nuanced ones at that) accessible from mainstream publishers. I hope that young people who look mainly to film and TV can soon find this proliferation too with queer representation on mainstream screens.


In the meantime, perhaps they should check out the curated selection concluding this anthology. Even a quick glance has already added to my watchlist; as a K-drama fan, XX + XY sounds amazing!



Mike Wheeler and Will Byers from Stranger Things sit on the roof of a dusty car. They're squinting in the sun. Mike is holding a can of 7 up.
Just two dudes chilling in a hot tub...

Tom


I’m relieved Queer Projections got eclectic and bold. Featuring hot topic pieces on My Policeman and Taylor Swift, it’s the devilishly accurate portraits and surprising essays that make this anthology sing.


I had my doubts upon first glance. Various pieces read as surface-level, while others feel unrealised. It might just be me, but being queer myself, I think the world demands loud voices right now – there’s no time to play safe. So, I commend the essays on Stranger Things and Orlando for their VOICES, both leaving me impatient to respond – and I’ll now do just that.

‘Queer Characters as Devices for Heterosexuality’, about that famous Netflix show starring Millie Bobby Brown and David Harbour, Stranger Things, is just the antidote for me and my housemate’s regular chats about Will Byers’ love for Mike.


I applaud Jessica Ann Evangelista for opening with a suggestion that there’s a queer representation checklist (is there? Should there be? Jury’s out!). Her later declaration, “queer is not synonymous with agony,” turns up the volume, thus throwing darts at the questionable heartstring-tugs provoked by Will’s crush for Mike. Kids rooting for these two to get together in season five, I see you. The cryptic plotting of the pair’s friendship has ignited worldwide curiosity about The Duffer Brothers’ intentions – and I can only speculate the riots if dear Will is left on the gay sidelines in the end.


Evangelista’s concern that his coming out props up yet another heterosexual partnership is on the money, sure, but I’ll admit caution to agreeing that the media is “outnumbered” by negative representations of LGBTQ+. At the time I’m reviewing this, late 2023, I see a lot of effort going into queerifying our TV screens (still, this doesn’t translate to the story being over…). I suppose it’s a matter of how many people involved in the creation of the show, in the belly of the Netflix beast, can authentically tell Will’s story and give legitimacy to that perspective.


This need for legitimacy in authorship is also discussed in ‘A Time Traveller’s Gaze’, qualifying it as an outstandingly affecting ode. Elle Short’s view of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando as a male, then a trans woman is, in its frankness, compelling – Orlando being a feminist classic, the story of a poet changing sex and living centuries on.


Short’s resonance with Orlando’s world-watching – as a man it’s ‘an unchecked privilege’, as a trans woman it’s ‘a survival mechanism’ – is societal commentary like nobody’s business, and it leaves me urging you to read both the novel and Short’s extended perspective right this minute. Perhaps like Woolf, here’s a scribe with a knack for making remarks which hold great power – a true win for Queer Perspectives, wholly.


Another of Short’s poetic observations, that they and Orlando are ‘both changed, but unaged’, is truly deserving of nationwide publication. Their contextualisation of Orlando in the sublime is infinitely clever and felt like a refreshing take on the literary technique.


Queer Projections commissioned conversation-starters this time. I can only hope more are on their way.





Edited by Ellie Reeves.

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