GenderSexuality and Gender


In the early decades of cinema, LGBTQ+ identities and experiences were often invisible or stereotyped. Over the years, the representation of sexual diversity in contemporary cinema has evolved significantly. Below, we examine some of the challenges and advances in this area, as well as some case studies and analyses of specific films that have marked a milestone in the representation of sexual diversity in cinema.

History of LGBTQ+ Representation in Cinema

For much of the 20th century, the depiction of sexual diversity in cinema has been limited and often stereotyped due to a series of codes and norms that restricted the expression of sexuality and gender identity on screen.

These codes, such as the Hays Code in the United States and the British Board of Film Censors in the United Kingdom, prohibited the display of any form of ‘sexual perversion’, including homosexuality, transvestism, and gender change. As a result, LGBTQ+ characters were scarce, ambiguous, or negative and were often assigned secondary, comedic, or tragic roles.

From the 1960s and 1970s onwards, with the emergence of sexual liberation and civil rights movements, cinema began to explore sexuality and gender identity with greater freedom and diversity. However, this exploration mainly occurred in independent, experimental, or art cinema with limited reach and a reduced audience.

Commercial and Hollywood cinema remained predominantly heteronormative and cisgender, and when LGBTQ+ characters or storylines were included, they were often depicted in a superficial, sensationalist, or stigmatising manner.

It wasn’t until the 1990s and 2000s that cinema began to more frequently and visibly incorporate sexual diversity into its productions. This change was partly due to the success of some films that innovatively and successively addressed LGBTQ+ themes, such as “Philadelphia” (1993), “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (1994), “Boys Don’t Cry” (1999), and “Brokeback Mountain” (2005).

These films managed to break barriers and taboos, raising awareness and empathy about the realities and challenges of the LGBTQ+ community. Likewise, the change was due to increased demand for diverse and inclusive content from the audience, especially from younger generations who identified with LGBTQ+ stories and characters.

Recently, films like “Call Me By Your Name” (2017), “Moonlight” (2016), and “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (2019) have addressed sexual diversity authentically and respectfully. These films have significantly contributed to LGBTQ+ narrative and representation in cinema by offering complex, profound, and human stories that transcend clichés and stereotypes, reflecting the diversity and richness of LGBTQ+ experiences and identities.

Sexual Diversity – Contemporary Cinema: Analysis of Inclusive Contemporary Films

Standing out for its delicacy, sensuality, and beauty, “Call Me By Your Name” is a film directed by Luca Guadagnino, based on the novel of the same name by André Aciman, which tells the summer romance between Elio (Timothee Chalamet), an Italian teenager, and Oliver (Armie Hammer), an American student, in northern Italy in the 1980s.

The coming-of-age film captures the intensity and fragility of first love, avoiding melodrama or voyeurism. The characters, who express themselves with naturalness and freedom without being defined by labels or facing external conflicts, immediately captivated the audience after the film’s release. After a long time of the stigmatisation of LGBTQ+ characters in Hollywood, the film stands out for its treatment of the sexuality and identity of the protagonists.

Sexual Diversity - Call me by your name

Moonlight” is another critically acclaimed film directed by Barry Jenkins, based on the play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” by Tarell Alvin McCraney, which tells the story of Chiron (Ashton Sanders), a young African-American gay man, in three stages of his life: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

The film explores the challenges and struggles that Chiron faces as he tries to find his place in the world while dealing with poverty, violence, drug abuse, homophobia, and racism. Moonlight has been praised for its realistic, sensitive, and poetic portrayal of Chiron’s life and identity and its cinematography, music, and performances. 

It also stands out for its representation of the intersection between race, class, and sexuality and its dismissal of POC and queer masculinity. This last one refers to how the film challenges the stereotypes and expectations that are imposed on people of colour (POC) and queer people, especially men, by the dominant culture.

Moonlight shows that there is no one way to be POC people, gay or masculine and that these identities are fluid and diverse. The film also rejects the idea that POC and queer men are weak, inferior, or unworthy of love and respect and instead celebrates their resilience, strength, and beauty.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire“, directed by Céline Sciamma, tells the love relationship between Marianne, a French painter, and Héloïse, a young aristocrat, in 18th-century Brittany. The film stands out for its aesthetics, elegance, and passion, portraying the desire and collaboration between the protagonists, who rebel against the conventions and restrictions of their time.

It also stands out for its feminist and queer perspective, questioning the role and representation of women in art and history and proposing an alternative and subversive view.

The Socio-Cultural Impact of LGBTQ+ Cinema

Overall, films that include sexual diversity have had a significant impact on society and the public perception of the LGBTQ+ community. Film critics, sociologists, and members of the LGBTQ+ community have highlighted the impact of these films on the visibility and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as on education and awareness about issues related to sexual diversity.

Visibility and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community refer to the recognition and respect for the existence and diversity of LGBTQ+ people, as well as the right and possibility to live and express themselves freely, without discrimination or violence. Education and awareness about issues of sexual diversity involve knowing and understanding concepts, experiences, and challenges associated with sexuality and gender identity. 

Cinema contributes to this aspect by offering positive, varied, and realistic representations of the LGBTQ+ community, challenging prejudices and stigmas, and promoting empathy and dialogue. It also addresses relevant and current issues for the LGBTQ+ community, such as identity, love, sex, family, health, violence, rights, history, and culture, among others.

Cinema also creates spaces for meeting, identification, and celebration for the LGBTQ+ community, which feels represented and valued on screen by raising awareness and reflection on the reality and needs of the LGBTQ+ community and the importance of inclusion and diversity in society.

Challenges and Advances in the Representation of Sexual Diversity

Despite progress, there are still challenges in the representation of sexual diversity in cinema, including the lack of diversity in leadership roles and the persistence of harmful stereotypes. 

One challenge is the lack of diversity in leadership roles, both behind and in front of the camera. According to a study by the University of Southern California, of the top 100 highest-grossing films in 2019, only 3.4% of the lead or co-lead characters were LGBTQ+, and only 1.3% were LGBTQ+ people of colour.

Likewise, only 10.6% of directors, 14.4% of writers, and 18.6% of producers were LGBTQ+. These data reveal that the LGBTQ+ community continues to be underrepresented and marginalised in positions of solid influence and visibility in cinema.

Another type of harmful stereotype that exists in cinema is related to ethnic or cultural minorities. These stereotypes involve attributing negative or exaggerated traits or behaviours to a human group based on their origin or appearance. Some examples include the Chinese as a smoking uncle or brilliant mathematician, the Indian as a savage or warrior, and the African-American as a criminal or dancer.

Still, the film industry is progressing and improving in the representation of sexual diversity. Some advances include the increase in the production and demand for LGBTQ+ films, the recognition and awarding of LGBTQ+ films and actors, and the creation and strengthening of LGBTQ+ film networks and festivals. These advances demonstrate that there is interest and demand from the public and critics to see and support films that reflect the diversity and reality of sexual minorities.

The evolution and current state of the depiction of sexual diversity in contemporary cinema demonstrate a significant change in the film industry. Inclusion and diverse representation in cinema are crucial for society as a whole, as they contribute to the visibility, acceptance, education, and awareness of the LGBTQ+ community and its realities.

Nevertheless, there are still challenges and areas for improvement in the representation of sexual diversity in cinema, especially regarding diversity in leadership roles and the elimination of harmful stereotypes.

Therefore, it is necessary to continue supporting and promoting films that reflect the diversity and reality of sexual minorities, as well as films that question and transform the norms and social structures that limit and oppress the LGBTQ+ community.

We invite you to reflect on cinema’s role in constructing and deconstructing sexual diversity and how we can contribute to greater inclusion and representation of the LGBTQ+ community in cinema and society. Please share your opinions, experiences, and recommendations in the comments or on our social media platforms.