Bisexuals on Screen: 2012 Year in Review

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In March 2012, June Thomas wrote an article in Slate titled ‘Why Bisexual Women Are TV’s Hot New Thing’. She named Kalinda Sharma (played by Archie Panjabi on CBS show ‘The Good Wife’), Bo (played by Anna Silk on Syfy channel’s ‘Lost Girl’), and April (played by Megalyn Echikunwoke on Showtime’s ‘House of Lies’) as the hot new things. Are they hot because these characters are played by incredibly attractive women? Are they hot because they engage in dreamily photographed sex scenes meant as titillation for straight men who find two women kissing ‘hot’? Are we to feel somehow grateful for these networks (mis)leading us to believe that these are complex, multi-layered characters? Let’s see. April is a stripper and a cop killer. Bo isn’t even real. And Kalinda would sleep with a snake if it led to an important clue in an investigation she was conducting. The character of Kalinda, especially, is so shrouded in mystery that we have no earthly idea what it means for her to be bisexual or how her bisexuality may have shaped her inner life or whether that drives her closed off demeanor in the uber conservative – and mostly straight – environment of Stern, Lockhart & Gardner law firm.

And are there any bisexual men sizzling up the TV screen as hot new things? Chuck Bass (played by Ed Westwick on CW channel’s ‘Gossip Girl’) is indeed hot but he’s mostly a womanizer who claims to have kissed guys. He is also hedonistic and manipulative. Nolan Ross (played by Gabriel Mann on ABC’s pulpy Sunday night series ‘Revenge’) is basically a sidekick to the Emily Thorpe character. The show’s only in its second season so, it remains to be seen how his character develops. Stewie on Fox’s ‘The Family Guy’ doesn’t really count; his sexuality remains ambiguous and, besides, he’s a cartoon! Starz channel’s ‘Torchwood’ imagines a world where we have all got over our neo-Victorian sex phobia and people are free to have a relationship with whomever they like. And in America’s continued obsession with vampires, their sexual deviance and blood-lust, HBO’s tedious series ‘True Blood’ isn’t exactly a shining example of positive, sympathetic, or relatable bisexual characters.

Let’s face it: most bisexual characters on television are just experimenting with someone of the same sex; or their bisexuality is merely a libidinous choice to bed one gender or the other; or their bisexuality is only casually mentioned but otherwise they are a neutered person, there to support the straight leads in moving the story along; or s/he is a morally bankrupt bad guy or gal hot new thing. The straightness of straight characters is never in question, they are always the central characters around whom everybody else revolves, and they are depicted with positive and negative traits, having a rich physical, sexual, and emotional intimacy. So why the smoke and mirrors about – or outright misrepresentation of – bisexual characters?

In film, we had the tortured Robert Frobisher (played by Ben Whishaw) in ‘Cloud Atlas’ who shoots himself in the end. His story takes place in the 1930s so, we are supposed to condone his demise as just the sign of the times.

Also in 2012, I attended three ‘lesbian and gay’ film festivals in major cities on the US west coast. Bisexual themed films of any depth and significance came from Australia, Cuba, France, and Sweden. The US entry was some biography about James Dean claiming he was bisexual. Who cares? The guy is dead. Let his soul rest in peace.

And that, my friends, is the State of the Bisexual Union in films and television of 2012.

A Glimmer of HOPE in the Golden Globe Nominations:

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced its Golden Globe award nominations last month. There are a few surprises (great to see the nomination for Rachel Weisz in the Best Actress Drama category for ‘The Deep Blue Sea’; major nominations for ‘Salmon Fishing in Yemen’) but, mostly, the list is predictable and some nominations should have term limits (Jon Hamm? Alec Baldwin? YAWN!).

The biggest surprise is the nomination for Meryl Streep in Best Actress Comedy or Musical category for ‘Hope Springs’. Nobody saw this movie, really. (I saw it on a sunny afternoon while vacationing in Vancouver, BC. There were three other people in the theater.) Instead, we were all busy escaping into comic book characters (‘The Avengers’, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, not one but two Snow White movies) or fictional heroes (‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Skyfall’, ‘The Hobbit’) or stone-faced bad actors in the never-ending vampire series ‘The Twilight Saga’.

‘Hope Springs’ had all the A-list credentials: Meryl Streep had just won her third Oscar; Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carrell were in it; David Frankel directed it. Yep, he’s the guy who gave us the terrifying Miranda Priestley (Meryl Streep in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’) and some memorable lines for gay men to quote at parties. But ‘Hope Springs’ was a blip on the radar. Okay, so it grossed more than ‘The Iron Lady’, but what went wrong?

For some crazy reason the studios decided to market ‘Hope Springs’ as a comedy. We all saw those previews showing Meryl Streep sitting in the bathroom doing questionable things with a banana. Steve Carrell as a therapist, oh yeah, that’s funny. Ha, ha, we laughed. And ‘Hope Springs’ turned out to be anything but funny. It’s a brilliant and gut-wrenching portrait of a marriage, right up there with films like Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Scenes from a Marriage’, John Cassavetes’ ‘A Woman Under The Influence’, and Mike Nichols’ ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ It’s a bold, honest, and intimate portrayal of the reasons that lead to a soul-numbing deadness in a relationship. The script, by Vanessa Taylor, is exquisite and incisive.

And this is indeed one of the best performances by Meryl Streep. Her Kay is not the iron-willed Margaret Thatcher or the smooth tongued Eleanor Shaw (in the remake of ‘The Manchurian Candidate’) or even the rabble rousing Karen Silkwood. Kay is insecure, gets frustrated when she can’t find the right words to express her feelings, and often all she can do is literally run away from her husband Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones). It’s heart breaking to watch Kay finally find the strength to tell Arnold how many times and in what ways he has hurt her.

Jones is magnificent as Arnold. This is the role for which he should be acknowledged and rewarded, not for ‘Lincoln’. In many ways he has the tougher role here because he has to listen and react to Kay’s allegations. He too is sometimes unable to find the right words to respond and it is in these scenes it is satisfying to watch Jones’ face speak volumes.

‘Hope Springs’ is out on DVD. Rent it, watch it, and weep. And pray that you don’t end up like Kay or Arnold.

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About Author

Anil Vora

Anil Vora is based in Seattle, Washington and is a regular contributor to Bi Magazine. As a result of his series of articles about bisexuality in India, written exclusively for Bi Magazine, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs included bisexual content in their development of a global charter on LGBT rights. He has been a queer activist for more than three decades starting with HIV prevention, treatment, and advocacy issues and is now focusing on the health and wellness of LGBTQ elders.

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