Abstract: This article traces the historical development of protests of LGBT representation in US commercial cinema from 1969 to 1974 by members of the broadly defined gay liberation movement. Drawing on coverage in both the LGBT and the trade press, I explore the evolving means by which gay and lesbian liberation activists sought to challenge stereotypical characterizations perpetuated by Hollywood. In doing so, I seek to nuance our understanding of how diverse types of activism--from on-the-street demonstrations to meetings with industrial leaders--both advanced gay liberationist aims and underscored complex internal conversations regarding the efficacy and merit of differing protest strategies.
As scholars of American queer history have noted, the gay and lesbian liberation movement of the 1970s had a particular investment in combating the perceived misrepresentation of LGBT experience in popular media. (1) Marc Stein, for instance, writes that "activists held [the mass media and popular culture] responsible for promoting negative stereotypes about homosexuality and erasing, marginalizing, and pathologizing the voices, values, and viewpoints of gays and lesbians." (2) These misconceptions regarding the lives and identities of LGBT people had been present in popular culture for decades. (3) Gay men and lesbians had previously organized to make their displeasure with such representations known. (4) The flowering of the gay and lesbian liberation movement in the wake of the Stonewall riots that began on June 28, 1969, in New York City, however, led to an increasingly targeted and vocal effort on the part of activists to combat these images and ideas--either through the creation of alternative media representations or by publically protesting their prevalence within film, television, theater, and other forms of popular culture. (5)
The growth of LGBT-specific production in film and video throughout the 1970s would be a crucial development in the history of both queer media representation and activism. (6) Less documented and discussed have been the attempts by gay and lesbian liberation groups to change the images of LGBT people in mainstream cinema. Scholars have tended to mention the criticism of select films in the larger context of liberation groups' protests against mass media and popular culture, without specifying what liberation groups hoped to see specifically changed in filmic representation or how they went about achieving these goals. (7) Besides offering trenchant critiques of many films from the 1970s featuring LGBT characters and plotlines, Vito Russo notes some of the actions and demands of liberation activists in response to the film and television industries generally, as well as to specific tides such as The Laughing Policeman (Stuart Rosenberg, 1973) and Busting (Peter Hyams, 1974), both of which I discuss in detail later. (8) A sustained account of these activities and their development across the decade, however, is not found in his book, which is chiefly concerned with analysis of filmic representation itself. Charles Lyons also provides a brief overview of 1970s-era LGBT activism but primarily uses it to contextualize his more detailed look at protests surrounding later films such as Cruising (William Friedkin, 1980) and Basic Instinct...
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