I would like to be afforded the same rights as Mike Myers and Dana Carvey were when they starred in Wayne’s World.
Nobody would, for even a second, accuse Wayne’s World of being political or of trying to change the world. It is not revolutionary. It’s just a movie.
What rights did Mike Myers and Dana Carvey have exactly? The right to just be funny. They starred in a movie and when it was released, people talked about it. They loved it or they hated it. Some people thought it was funny, some people didn’t, but none of that was tied to the identities of its creators.
If Wayne’s World had two female stars I think the reactions would have been very different. There are people who believe women aren’t funny and would have dismissed it on that account. There are other people who would have lauded it as a feminist film.
When straight, white, cis, men make a movie, it’s just a movie. Since their identity is seen as the default, their movies are seen as the default. When a gay woman makes a movie, like Chantal Akerman, Jamie Babbit or Patricia Rozema, it’s deemed “a lesbian movie” even if the subject matter doesn’t fit with that label.
I think labelling every aspect of the art we create is reductive and it puts a bigger focus on the identity of the creator than on the creation itself.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t praise marginalized creators when they find success, but it needs to stop being the only thing we focus on.
I remember when Moonlight was up for an Oscar, all anyone could talk about was how it was a film that dealt with black, gay male sexuality. That was absolutely an important part of that film and it deserves praise in that regard — but that wasn’t the only part that was deserving of recognition. When we focus solely on identity we miss conversations about the cinematography, the quality of the screenplay and so on.
As a drama major, I am required to see a lot of plays for my classes. I have seen some pretty bad plays in my time, plays with bad acting, that are poorly lit, have sub-par writing and I have seen all of that excused because they addressed “the issues.” What are the issues? I wish I knew. Is there a list I don’t know about?
In theatre, at least, mentioning mental health or having a gay character is like a get out of jail free card. Even if the portrayal is offensive. It’s all anyone talks about after the production. It could be the worst play anyone’s ever seen but because it’s an “issues piece” it’s basically immune to harsh criticism. It’s also important to point out that it’s almost always audience members coming from positions of privilege who talk this way.
Why are these things treated as special? This is not to say that representation is not important. Quite the opposite, I think for marginalized people to see themselves in film and on the stage is vital. It makes work stronger, more realistic and it is worth pointing out. However, it is not the only thing that makes art good. We should be working towards normalizing the things that we have, in the past, deemed abnormal. I want gay characters in plays that aren’t about coming out or queer pain. Disabled action heroes, buddy cop movies featuring women of colour. I want to see the intersections of these identities without that being the sole focus.
In my own experience, I have had professors skip over conversations about writing, production value, staging and so on, just to talk about the identities of the individuals on stage. This has been after presentations that have had nothing to do with identity. This is a disservice, as it perpetuates the idea that there is something strange about those identities. Something worth pointing out as different.
It’s exhausting to be different all the time. Sometimes I want to have my own Wayne’s World. I want to try and I want to fail. I want to be given permission to be remarkable and mediocre. I want to be the one to decide when my identity is important to a conversation. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.