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Is Rocketman Really the First Time Sex Between Two Men Has Been Shown in a Major Studio Film?

And is this cause for celebration or a reflection on how far we still have to go?

The Hollywood Reporter boasted an interesting headline yesterday: “Rocketman Blazes Trail as First Major Studio Film to Depict Gay Male Sex.” My first reaction was shock. It’s 2019—is this really the first time a major studio has released an R-rated film with a sex scene between two men in it?

There have been other major, Academy Award-nominated releases, like Brokeback Mountain and Call Me By Your Name, that depict sex between two men, but both films were released by smaller studios, while Rocketman is released from mega studio Paramount. In the 1980s, United Artists had films featuring gay couples, but nothing quite as prolific as Rocketman.

The Hollywood Reporter, in their piece on the film, says that previous films that featured gay male sex were not “ever aimed at broad audiences like Rocketman.” They also write that the film “tackles its subject’s sexual awakening without flinching” and  “What’s more noteworthy is that it comes at a time when there are only five major studios left, standing in the wake of Disney acquiring Fox (Warner Bros., Universal and Sony also remain).”

I know we should celebrate this milestone, but part of me wonders how we got to 2019 before a major studio was willing to depict this when we’ve gotten plenty of aggressively heterosexual sex scenes in film. More importantly, why is consensual and loving gay male sex seen as more taboo than a rape scene or scenes of sexual violence?

I understand the financial mindset of certain studios; as THR pointed out, including a gay love scene disqualifies the film from release in China, and studios are therefore more hesitant to greenlight projects that feature LGBTQ+ love stories. We can acknowledge that reality while still asking why it’s taken this long for two men to be intimate when studios are so willing to include scenes of sexual violence.

A quick Google of Paramount’s films that it has either produced or distributed shows that it doesn’t shy away from violence (including onscreen child death), sexual assault, and heterosexuality. It’s not like this is a studio that has never produced an R-rated film before. I’m sure that if you went through the films produced by other major studios—Disney, Warner Bros, Sony, and Universal—that you would find similar facts, with the exception of Disney, before Fox, possibly not even tackling an R-rated film.

I want to be happy that we’re breaking ground; I truly do, but when scenes of women being sexually harassed and attacked are less taboo than two men having consensual sex, I’m disheartened. We need all kinds of LGBTQ+ stories told, from family-friendly tales to adult dramas that do feature sex. While there is a harmful myth that LGBTQ+ stories are inherently sexual, there also isn’t necessarily a reason not to depict LGBTQ+ love stories that do involve sex.

It’s worth noting that last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody, which famously featured bisexual Freddie Mercury, not only took out all “gay” content for release in China, but also avoided the subject in general, to the point where LGBTQ+ critics raised serious questions about the film

I’m glad Rocketman is depicting Elton John’s sexuality frankly, but at some point, we need to recognize that the process for inclusion in film is moving a little too slowly. Studios need to understand that LGBTQ+ stories of all varieties sell, and hopefully Rocketman‘s box office will prove that. If not, maybe it’ll be another decade or so before we continue to get LGBTQ+ content from the mainstream studios.

(via The Hollywood Reporter, image: Paramount)

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Kate (she/her) says sorry a lot for someone who is not sorry about the amount of strongly held opinions she has. Raised on a steady diet of The West Wing and classic film, she is now a cosplayer who will fight you over issues of inclusion in media while also writing coffee shop AU fanfic for her favorite rare pairs.