BY GARY MCGHEE
There have been a lot of dramas made for TV and film in recent times that have Gay love stories at their centre. They raise important issues about the way these kinds of stories are now presented and what they mean in terms of young Gay identities and lives. I’ve focused on those that I think have much to commend them, but also things that are problematic, and worthy of deeper dissection and discussion. All of them are worth watching and I would recommend them. They are:
- HEARTSTOPPER (UK TV series. Netflix.)
- KUNTERGRAU (German Web Series. TV. Amazon Prime.)
- SCHITT’S CREEK (US TV series. Netflix)
- AKRON (US Film. Amazon Prime.)
- FAIR HAVEN (US Film. Amazon Prime.)
- SOFT LAD (UK Film. Amazon Prime.)
Heartstopper is a series for TV on Netflix set in a Grammar school which focuses on a gay relationship between a bisexual rugby player pupil and an out gay pupil who is being bullied by the school’s rich boy homophobe and strung along by another male pupil. The gay boy regularly seeks refuge from this, his inability to ‘mix’ and his shyness, with a black Gay Art teacher. There is also a young black and white lesbian couple and another black girl and anglo-Chinese femboy who is a close friend of the Gay boy. They form a friendship group of sorts. The trials and tribulations of their teen angst results in a charming, intelligently written drama that is touching and heartfelt. However, (you knew that was coming), there are some real problems with it. This is yet another drama series that studiously ticks all the right Woke boxes and is Identity-led, which means that opportunities to deepen the characters and improve the stories are lost. All the characters fit into a box. (The gay boy who has low self-esteem and constantly says ‘sorry’; the ’bisexual’ butch boy (who we never see in a clinch with a girl) who ‘protects’ him; the homophobic bully and his sidekicks who are ciphers and who’s characters don’t develop, because, well, homophobes are just one-dimensionally nasty and nothing more. The lesbian girls who play at identifying as lesbians; The black girl and femboy who nearly get it together but settle instead on the idea that they are both ‘Trans’; The Art Teacher who provides support and sympathy but doesn’t do anything about the homophobic bullying (fer Chrissakes!) You get the picture. There is no real dramatic meat on these bones apart from the central relationship, which is remarkably conventional and wishful thinking in its ‘straight’ boy falls in love with gay boy schtick. I found the whole thing too cutesy, too sanitised, with the butterflies fluttering around their heads and the ‘electricity’ sparks. Nice. Too nice. What did the rich parents living in their party-pad mansion think of their boy being a nasty homophobic bully? We don’t know because they weren’t in it despite there being a big set-piece party sequence set in the mansion. This storyline was not developed at all. The Trans couple were clearly NOT Trans. The rugby boy’s mother was presented initially as being conservative, but then had a remarkably frictionless reaction to her boy ‘coming out’. All too perfect, too… nice. Dare I say, too middle-class. Wokeness dominates the commission of these kind of dramas and is driven by mainly Left/Liberal middle-class, especially women’s, sensibilities, who are pursuing a narrow identity politics agenda.
Perhaps the next series will explore these themes but if it continues down the Woke tick-boxing route I doubt it. Sexual Identity-led dramas lead to dead ends, characters are written as mere ciphers for the pursuance of an ideological agenda. We see this across a whole range of inadequate dramas these days. Particularly laughable and ludicrous are the action films where the slightly built female lead can fend off big tough, hard men with ease. This has reached new hights with ‘Gray Man’. It is impossible for an intelligent person to suspend disbelief in this context, and renders the thing not worth watching, which is why so many of these films/series tank and go broke.
Another highly regarded series on Netflix that explores similar themes is Schitt’s Creek and it suffers from some of the same problems. The central gay relationship again goes down the same ‘straight’ man falls in love with gay man route. The idea is risible that an erstwhile straight man – who has a female fiancé who is swiftly discarded by the way – a whole essay could be written about the misogyny in this, and the way that married men with children ‘come out’, leave them and then get lionised by the gay community and the wife disregarded – suddenly has a lightbulb go off in his head, lit by the wonderful marvellousness of an individual gay man. Yes, it develops out of a business relationship, but that doesn’t make it convincing. That’s not how it works in real life. There must have been homosexual tendencies near to the surface to begin with, it doesn’t come out of the ether. This is tantamount to trivialising the complex reality of homosexuality and gay feelings. Newsflash. Very few straight men fall in love sexually with a gay man no matter how fabulous the gay man is. This is some gay men’s wet dream, an ego trip and in the case of Schitt’s Creek smacks of being the result of the series being a vanity vehicle for the gay creator. There is a deeply insidious implication in this that seeks to elevate the conversion of a straight man as an ultimate prize, (which is mirrored in much Gay porn by the way). Apposite to this is that the gay sex in it is sanitised, i.e, there isn’t any. We see them in bed together virtually fully clothed. How ridiculous and unrealistic is that nowadays? In a young teen drama like Heartstopper this is appropriate, but with men in their mid-20s’ in the 21st Century? Get outta here.
Let’s state a few facts of Life. Actual bisexuality is much rarer than homosexuality, which is much rarer than heterosexuality. Genuine Transgenderism is rarer still. Welcome to the real world, not the Woke World of Gender Ideology which promulgates the mythical fantasy that Sex is a fluid, interchangeable entity, and that same- sex attraction and Transgenderism for instance are closely linked, when they in fact have little to do with each other.
A web series that doesn’t suffer from these problems is the German drama Kuntergrau, set in Cologne and Hamburg. It is about a group of gay male friends ranging from 17 to 25 years and the complexities of their relationships with each other, their parents and those who enter, and leave, the fray. It is artfully shot, highly intelligently written and doesn’t pull any punches. The love and sex are real, the issues are raw. It deals superbly well with HIV diagnosis, and as gay men living with HIV my husband and I found it refreshingly authentic, with the HIV doctors being very sympathetically portrayed. It deals starkly with the problems of introducing bondage and S&M into a vanilla relationship, also with the repercussions and psychological degradations of being a rent boy. There is much more of note besides. But just when you thought that despite all this, their world was a little too insular and cosy, as we did, something happens that blows that apart and their world is turned upside down. This is all brilliantly done, well-paced and well-acted and without recourse to Wokeness or box-ticking. Each character is rounded, flawed, lovable, complex, and not remotely cutesy or sanitised. This is character-led drama at its best and one of the best young gay dramas I’ve ever seen on screen.
There are two films that we watched recently which also have much to commend them. Akron is about two gay university students who fall in lust and embark on a seemingly long-term relationship set to become something much more. Then a revelation about an incident that happened in the past involving their mothers and the death of a younger brother blows this apart. A starkly dramatic and seemingly hopeless reality is thrust upon them which jeopardises any future they might have had together. This is a wonderfully well-done drama and quite original. Again, there is no box-ticking or Woke ciphers, this is just a touching and emotionally harrowing story about blossoming love being undermined by the past.
On a different tack is the film Fair Haven about a lad in his late teens who has a gay relationship with a local friend and is packed off to a Christian gay conversion therapy college by his fruit farm owning father. He comes back and tries his best to act and be ‘straight’, but it does not work. This is a very engaging and intelligent piece, which exposes the perniciousness of gay conversion therapy and sympathetically conveys the struggle of his father to come to terms with his son’s homosexuality. Very authentically played by all the main characters, this film is a little gem, and suffice to say the only preaching came from the homophobic college priest.
The other film I saw recently is Soft Lad, set, obviously, in Liverpool, about a young gay dancer, who is tangled up in a secret gay relationship with the man who is married to his sister, and they also have a daughter. The husband is very controlling and likes having his cake and eating it. So far, so very problematic, and unsatisfactory. Then the dancer meets another young man and embarks on a more fulfilling one-to-one relationship, and this leads to an HIV diagnosis that culminates in the situation predictably unravelling. The secret affair is exposed and his relationship with his sister is ruined. What a mess. However, what could’ve been OTT is convincingly played and well-handled, particularly by the wife/sister, who puts them all well and truly in their place. So often in these situations and stories the wife/woman is disregarded, but here she takes full control of the situation that’s been thrust upon her and doesn’t let the men off the hook. There is no hint of an agenda being in play with this, other than a real-life drama story well told.
So, the contrast is apparent I think in these pieces between what can be achieved without the Wokery and the Identity-led agendas and the tedious box-ticking exercises. That is, drama and characters that are free to be developed as they are, with rounded dramatic arcs and warts and all, and not used just as ciphers in a dull game of politicking. The Netflix series have much to commend them but were let down by missed opportunities to make the dramatic situations really bite and the stories go the extra mile. They don’t go places they should have because of the narrow political parameters they were operating in.
Gary McGhee is a semi-retired screenwriter, loving the outdoor life with his partner in the Norfolk countryside. Gary was ‘red-pilled’ before it became fashionable, and believes in liberty, freedom, modernism, and defying herd-mentalities.