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From Pittnews.com

Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Pitt hosts film, talk about homosexuality

By Nick Keppler

Tuesday 23 September 2003, by Webmaster

The Women’s Studies Department kicked off its fall speaker series Friday with a showing of the documentary, "The Celluloid Closet," followed by a discussion that scrutinized homosexual stereotypes in today’s entertainment fields. It may seem odd that the Women’s Studies Department began its speaker series with a film - especially one that examines portrayals of homosexuals of both genders in cinema.

But Allen Larson, a professor of communications at Pitt, gave a scholarly introduction to the film and led a discussion afterward.

"In terms of women’s studies and gender studies, sexuality and sexual orientation have always been at the heart of the discussions we have," Carol Stabile, director of the Women’s Studies Department, said.

"Over the last year, this has been a hot topic nationally, with a big discussion about gay marriage. Locally, a topic of big discussion is that Pitt continues to refuse to extend benefits to same sex partners," she added. "We really wanted to stage a discussion on campus that would give people a place to talk about some of these issues."

"The Celluloid Closet," a 1996 HBO documentary, recounts the history of homosexual characters and homosexual undertones in American cinema, from two men dancing cheek-to-cheek in an 1895 Thomas Edison reel to Tom Hanks’ Oscar-winning performance in the movie "Philadelphia."

In between those films were the comedic "sissies" of the 1930s; the self-destructive gays and lesbians of gritty, 1960s films like "Children’s Hour" and "The Detective"; and the homosexual predators of the 1980s’ "Cruising" and "The Fan."

The post-film discussion quickly turned to current portrayals of gays and lesbians in the entertainment industry. Many in the audience expressed their distaste for the stereotypical gays of sitcoms like "Will and Grace" and reality shows like "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."

Larson pointed out that such mainstream shows are produced by heterosexuals and meant for a heterosexual audience, most of which is more comfortable with caricatures than three-dimensional gay characters.

"I don’t think there is any reason to think that the representation won’t be on the terms and in the interests of the articulators, and that is almost never us," he said.

Many audience members said they prefer programs that simply happen to be about homosexuals, rather than ones themed around homosexuality.

Samuel Buelow mentioned an episode of Animal Planet’s "Pet Story" that documented a lesbian couple’s adoption of a pet.

"The main story was about a guide dog who happens to be fostered by a lesbian couple," he said. "It was really interesting to see a portrayal of queer people in an arena where the fact that they were queer really wasn’t an issue."

Stabile brought up Tara and Willow, supporting characters on the horror drama "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" who shared a lesbian relationship.

"It was dealt with in the same way you would deal with any emerging heterosexual relationship," Stabile remarked. "Every other time you see that, it’s either mythologized or it’s centralized or it’s fetish-ized, and this was just a little love story that happened the way love stories happen. That’s the kind of thing we need more of."