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Homophobe Much? What’s With All The Effeminate, Fey (And Often Blonde) Villains In Hollywood?

Features
by The Playlist Staff
November 8, 2012 12:01 PM
48 Comments
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Gay Villains feature

Effeminate, campy, queenish villains in Hollywood aren't exactly a new thing. Examples go as far back as say, Claude Rains' bad guy in "The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938), Peter Lorre as the delicate Mr. Cairo in “The Maltese Falcon” (his business cards are gardenia-scented for crying out loud), Conrad Veidt as the SS villain in “Casablanca,” Charles Laughton in “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935), and these types can be found in plenty of eras (Vernon Wells as the leathery, Pillsbury Doughboy-esque villain in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s "Commando" is sort of known as the plump Freddie Mercury of action movie villains).

But as of late, this trend, the fey, not-so-ambiguously gay villain (often with bleached blonde hair for some reason) seems to be coming back with a vengeance in modern cinema. While we're not completely omg offended per se -- we're not so politically correct to assume we can tell storytellers how they should write their characters -- we are starting to tire of this recent trend and lazy way of conceiving villains: the swishy, bleached-blonde villain with nefarious plans who comes with a dollop of (suggestively or outright) gay on top.

Worse, a lot of the characters appear to be conceived by the actors and not on the page. Both Guy Pearce in "Lawless" and Javier Bardem in "Skyfall" have openly discussed how they "fleshed out" their characters much more than what was in the screenplay initially (in our recent interviewSkyfall” director Sam Mendes told us he essentially let Bardem do whatever he wanted with the character). As such, it's somewhat alarming that "run wild and free with the bad guy" for some actors immediately means: makes this character not so subtly flaming.

With "Skyfall" in theaters this week, and Javier Bardem's villain being the latest offender of this new stereotype, we thought we'd chronicle five recent villains that fit this mold of the not-so-ambiguously gay villain.

Javier Bardem, Skyfll
1. Javier Bardem - “Skyfall”
“Mommy was very, very bad," Javier Bardem's Silva character says in the latest Bond, with pronounced theatricality. His near-ridiculous villain character, dressed as a dandy in a tan blazer and cravat in "Skyfall," seems to be earning great reviews, and we're not so sure why. It's just another madman character who's soooo crazy and off-the-rails, and well, of course he's got to have dyed-blonde hair (the new signifier for dangerous and queenish apparently), possess a lispy mannerism and maintain a well-coiffed sartorial style. And there’s almost nothing closeted about the character despite Sam Mendes and Bardem’s interview talk of the character’s sexuality being “ambiguous.” When he spreads Daniel Craig’s legs, gets on his knees between them and says “there’s nothing in the rulebook about how to prepare for this” as he’s slowly and gently moving his finger around his captor’s neck, there’s lots of hunter/prey connotations swirling about. More troubling is how the scene, and our introduction to Silva, essentially evinces him to be repugnant and vile. While Bond does shoot back well, disarming him with the, “How do you know this is my first time?” line in their sexual tête-à-tête, it’s still rather unfortunate that Bardem’s Silva amounts to a good boy who disobeyed, didn’t follow the rules, was tortured, became unhinged psychologically and then turned bad.

Tom Hollander, Hannah
2. Tom Hollander - “Hanna”
There's almost nothing subtle about Tom Hollander's eyeliner-wearing, aging-clubber character Isaacs in Joe Wright's coming-of-age action drama "Hanna." Doubly disconcerting is how "Hanna" is built on fairy tale archetypes. Cate Blanchett's character is essentially the evil queen, Saoirse Ronan is like an innocent Snow White, and Eric Bana is like a Huntsman figure, but Tom Hollander's character is what exactly? The Cheshire Cat? It’s very unclear where his character fits in these molds, and worse, on top of being uber-swishy, Hollander's character is annoying, sniveling and weasely in his one-colored tracksuit, peroxided hair, and designer sunglasses (worse: he’s based on a childhood friend of Wright’s who used to beat him up as a child). Hollander's imp character is, to put it bluntly, supposed to be a little bitch that might as well lustfully lick blood off a dagger. It's like the character is built to be so hyper-poncy that you can't wait for him to die, and that's disconcerting. The character certainly mars what is otherwise a pretty fresh and interesting take on both the coming-of-age story and the action thriller.

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48 Comments

  • Darren | March 7, 2013 6:57 PMReply

    I agree, skyfall certainly raised alarm bells for me - despite really enjoying the movie. Also I think it's fine to portray gay people in both positive and negative roles, however when the leaning is towards the bad guy - where its subtext is otherness, differnece and femininity being synonymous with evil then I have a bit of a problem with it. I think it is troublesome and I think it's real and ultimately demonstrates the difficulty people have with difference and the homophobia that exists (along with racism, ageism, disablism and sexism) bubbling under in our societies.

    However, with the examples you gave I do think there is a confounding factor both Pierce and Bardem had their big breaks in films where they played gay characters extremely well. So I'd hypothesise if they were given free reign then they would fall into characters they are comfortable with and that have worked well for them. So this might explain these two gay villians.

  • David | November 19, 2012 9:44 AMReply

    I get where you are going with this, but at the same time there is something very wrong with the gay community looking at these films and being offended by an effeminate gay man. As if there is something seriously wrong with that. Very typical of the gay community which idolizes the straight acting hyper masculine stereotype and sneers at the slightest notion of feydom.

  • wimpybottoms | November 12, 2012 4:08 PMReply

    Homophobic fanboys of mainstream film are so lame! Don't worry, they'll be some hobbit bro-mances coming up, I'm sure, for you all to eat up.

  • HollywoodSux | November 12, 2012 4:04 PMReply

    So gays know how blacks, asians, Native Americans, women, Mexicans, etc. feel at their portrayals in cinema. Do they know how gays feel?

  • Rarf | November 12, 2012 3:16 PMReply

    So many queens getting offended, so little fucks to give.

  • GFHYTDE | November 11, 2012 9:28 PMReply

    Great feature. F the haters.

  • Dan | November 11, 2012 5:04 PMReply

    I haven't seen all of these (Lawless didn't play in my area, and I knew better than to sit through Snow White and the Huntsman), and some like Hanna I just don't recall, but I saw Skyfall last night. Silva in no way struck me as homosexual. His seduction of Bond is a psychological ploy; as soon as Bond makes the "first time" quip, Silva stops and tries another tactic. His behavior is effeminate only if you're inclined to see it that way (my friends and I viewed him as being psychologically messed up, and for good reason); and his lisp is explained in the scene where he's talking to M. This article seems to suggest that any well-dressed man with bleach-blond hair is meant to represent the homosexual community, which is a rather narrow-minded viewpoint. And even if some of these characters ARE gay...so what? Gay or straight, a good villain is a good villain. Sexuality shouldn't matter, and while I'm not saying we shouldn't break things down and analyze them, if you do that too often, you end up jumping at shadows.

  • princesspeach | November 12, 2012 4:13 PM

    I guess Bond fanboys don't agree with a too detailed deconstruction of their on-screen fantasies. Yes, I think it's safe to say that any well-dressed man with bleached blonde hair, while not representing the homosexual community per se, probably does evoke an image of effeteness. Guess what? there are many horrible racist steriotypes in our favorite films, too. It doesn't do any good to deny they exist. That is called political correctness in denial.

  • Geoff | November 9, 2012 9:31 PMReply

    "...and walking (at one point he does a little Charlie Chaplin shuffle) suggests a kind of Broadway-style theatricality. And you know who populates Broadway, right? "

    Are you guys serious?

  • Jim Tushinski | November 9, 2012 4:56 PMReply

    Some of the comments here are rather bizarre - obviously folks who have not read or even heard of Vito Russo's The Celluloid Closet (Thanks Jenni!) as well as folks are are OUTRAGED that this discussion is even going on. Some commenters remind me of a lit teacher I had in college who shut down any discussion of sexuality in Melville's Billy Budd by saying that such an interpretation was absurd and pointless to even talk about - and this was in the 1980s when many a gay interpretation of Billy Budd and Melville's writings were all over the lit crit field.

    Hollywood always deals in stereotypes and broad strokes. It makes audiences "get" a character faster or at least that's the theory. The easiest way to make a villain seem "not like us" to most Americans is to make them non-American (depending on the era we're talking about - it's mostly Arabs now, but in the past it was Russians, Asians, Germans, etc) or effeminate. It's a pattern that has a long history in Hollywood, as the authors of this article have pointed out. And yes Virginia, effeminate still means gay to a majority of Americans (gay and straight) and to all of Hollywood. We're not that "post-gay" yet as much as a lot of folks would like to believe. I thought the authors of this article did a great job of laying out the context and giving examples. I'm just surprised at some of the childish, name-calling responses here.

  • Piotr | November 11, 2012 11:09 AM

    "The easiest way to make a villain seem "not like us" to most Americans is to make them non-American or effeminate." Most Americans? Says who?

    Also, the "discussion" (your word, not mine) boils down to: "Look at these queers! We can tell they're queers 'cause of how they talk and walk and dress." Which, if you think counts as a discussion, sure, man, by all means.

  • ESA | November 9, 2012 4:47 PMReply

    You guys should be embarrassed.

  • Corey | November 9, 2012 12:25 PMReply

    I think it's possible to present a villain's sexuality as one dimension of the character and not a reflective signifier of evil. Martin Landau's character in "North by Northwest" comes to mind; even though Leonard is a villain, and the notion of his being jealous of Eve Kendall is directly addressed, the film is so matter-of-fact about his homosexuality that it defuses the power of innuendo. He's a believable antagonist, not just a punching-bag embodiment of homosexual stereotypes.

    I'm more troubled by villains like Prince Edward in "Braveheart" and hysterically murderous lesbian characters in "High Tension" and "Single White Female."

  • Corey | November 9, 2012 12:36 PM

    Also, I think it's important to distinguish between characters whose sexuality is presented as part of what makes them evil, and characters who are closet cases whose hypocrisy and self-loathing play into their villainy. Unfortunately, there are plenty of villains of the latter sort in the real world.

  • ryan | November 9, 2012 9:57 AMReply

    ambiguity is the driving factor here. it's neither good nor bad. of course, there will be generalizations and interpretations on hollywood's portrayal of sexuality. however, i am glad for reason: the discussion is furthered and hopefully progress is made. joseph is right, work needs to be done on both sides. time machine: would dr.no made his move on connery in the '60's hetero-mainstream hollywood?

  • Joseph | November 9, 2012 8:31 AMReply

    I appreciate what you're trying to do here but these characters may appear gay on screen but they do not explicitly acknowledge being gay on screen at any time, that I can recall. In fact, I think Guy Pearce in "Lawless" is even seen in bed with a woman at one point. The fact is that yes, they are flamboyant and expressive, siwshy if you will, performances, but it is the audience, and this article amongst others, that is labelling them as gay through their own associations with what it means to be gay. There is still work to be done on both sides of the screen when it comes to this issue.

  • nothing to see here | November 9, 2012 2:54 AMReply

    the truth is the scene is basically showing Bond ISN'T homophobic with scene, i know plenty of gay people who love the bond films, lol,this blogger is just doing his job... standard fake outrage

  • Jenni Olson | November 8, 2012 11:55 PMReply

    All you dissers of this article should go read The Celluloid Closet. Homophobia in Hollywood is alive and well as reflected by the lazy hateful trope of effeminate villains. And yes there is a parallel iteration of masculine female villains as well. Thx!

  • The Easily Offended Miss The Point | November 9, 2012 6:06 PM

    Indeed.

  • Alan | November 8, 2012 9:56 PMReply

    "Doubly disconcerting is how "Hanna" is built on fairy tale archetypes. Cate Blanchett's character is essentially the evil queen, Saoirse Ronan is like an innocent Snow White, and Eric Bana is like a Huntsman figure, but Tom Hollander's character is what exactly? The Cheshire Cat?" This is the problem when people's ideas of Jungian archetypes stem from a Rupert Sanders film. Hey geniuses, Hollander's archetype is the dark tempter: perhaps you would know that if you had read a book about psychology?

  • JD V | November 8, 2012 1:24 PMReply

    "Ted Levine as the drifter in Silence Of the Lambs"....? Do you mean Ted Levine as serial killer Buffalo Bill, who has an entire hidden lair under his house? Decorated with pictures of himself carousing with half-naked prostitutes? Who Hannibal Lector says, "He's not really a transsexual, but he's trying to be"? And now Colonel Landa is gay too? And what's really funny about this absurd article is that you never mentioned the ORIGINAL modern gay villain, Mr. Milo in THE LAST BOY SCOUT. Who is a GREAT character.

  • JD V | November 8, 2012 1:30 PM

    Furthermore, I'd rather see a thousand gay villains then another goddamn rom-com gay best friend character. Bring on the gay bad guys! Iago, fool!

  • Ryan | November 8, 2012 1:01 PMReply

    Contad Veidt was effeminate in Casablanca? What?

    And by modern action standards, pretty much everyone in Adventures of Robin Hood is effeminate. The hero runs around in bright green tights.

  • No, no. | November 8, 2012 12:55 PMReply

    So gay.

  • Scott Mendelson | November 8, 2012 12:42 PMReply

    First of all, it's pretty clear that Sam Mendes set out to create an equivalent of The Joker in the James Bond universe, which explains much of Silva's theatrical behavior. Second of all it's a bit of a stretch to presume that Bardem's 007 baddie was 'turned gay' by betrayal and torture. Consider the subtext, that M becomes a mother-figure to her spies, often choosing orphans who desperately want a parental figure to please. It's just as likely that Silva became a worthwhile recruit because his own family rejected his homosexuality, which in turn made him even more desperate for M's approval, which in turn is why her betrayal so rattled his cage.

    Moreover, Guy Pierce is basically playing a Dick Tracy villain while Sprull basically kicks the plot into gear by attempting to commit heterosexual rape. I'd have no problem with more openly gay villains, as well as (as a Jew) more Jewish villains (the overt Jewishness of Albert Brooks and Ron Perlmans' heavies was my favorite part of Drive), and I'd argue it would be progress if more villains (or heroes of course) were simply presented as gay as a matter of course.

  • rodie | November 8, 2012 12:35 PMReply

    Also, Bardem has said his "coming on to" Bond was not about his physical attraction to him but about him making Bond feel uncomfortable. What better tactic for making the alpha male playboy spy squirm than to threaten his sexuality? That's good writing, not "near-ridiculous" as you say. If Silva wanted to do something physical with/to Bond, he would have. And obviously he was having sex with Severine...Where was it said or s hown that he had a relationship with a man? Nowhere.

  • Keith | November 8, 2012 12:31 PMReply

    This is, hands down, one of the worst, most offensive articles published on the internet.

  • boodieGod | November 12, 2012 4:06 PM

    Awww, did they say somethin bad about your James Bond movie? What? you're not supposed to think about such things, such as the subtext of what your seeing. It's a popcorn flick! Offensive, indeed.

  • sam | November 8, 2012 12:45 PM

    thirded.

  • jason | November 8, 2012 12:35 PM

    seconded.

  • Fuck | November 8, 2012 12:29 PMReply

    I love the Playlist, but goddamn you guys are stupid.

  • Piotr | November 8, 2012 12:28 PMReply

    Guys, you forgot Heath Ledger as The Joker. He wore make-up, a green dress shirt and purple tie, and talked with a funny little accent. HOMO ALERT!

  • andthelessonis | November 12, 2012 4:17 PM

    Straights freak out when you point out the gay subtext of their favorite movies. I thought the hobbits were going to start boinking eachother all throughout lotr, pretty sure it wasn't just me, either.

  • Piotr | November 8, 2012 12:57 PM

    And Bilbo Baggins. Who goes on a long "trip" with his "dwarf friends" and has an obvious affinity for shiny jewelry. Shame on you, Hollywood. It's your fault.

  • sam | November 8, 2012 12:46 PM

    HOMOS !!

  • Chris | November 8, 2012 12:26 PMReply

    Aside from the absurd presumptions pointed out by other people in the comments already, isn't it actually a good thing that a gay (or presumptively gay, or effeminate, or whatever) character isn't just being relegated to the gay sidekick/afterthought/degenerate category, and can actually be a badass villain in an action movie? Also, it was suggested that Hollander's character in "Hanna" was bisexual, not gay. Also, in some cases you seem to be mistaking androgyny for effeminateness - notably with Sheen's TRON character, which certainly has the Ziggy Stardust flavor you mentioned (note: Ziggy Stardust was also more androgynous than gay), but is seemingly just as influenced by Alex DeLarge from Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange." The scene at that club is reminiscent both of the Korova milkbar AND the orgy from "Eyes Wide Shut."

  • Piotr | November 8, 2012 12:31 PM

    Everything Chris said.

  • ren | November 8, 2012 12:21 PMReply

    Okay so reading through the comments I'm not the only one who was offended by this article and some of the language used

  • rodie | November 8, 2012 12:21 PMReply

    Well, this *may* be a small blip or minor trend, but overwhelming the vast majority of on screen villains are still overtly masculine and very, very "male"--often cartoonishly so. It's actually refreshing to watch something other than that, and it shouldn't be seen as homophobic at all. I really doubt Playlist would ask Bardem or Mendes to their faces if they thought the Silva character was damaging or insensitive to gay people, because it would be a ridiculous question.

  • Piotr | November 8, 2012 12:18 PMReply

    I look forward to your coming article on 'Covert Butch Lesbians In Mainstream Movies.' "HOW COME M AIN'T GOT NO MAN IN HER LIFE? JUST SAYIN'!"

  • JD V | November 8, 2012 1:26 PM

    "Vasquez rocks, huh? Seems to us like Vasquez must get mistaken for a man ALL THE TIME!"

  • Rob | November 8, 2012 12:16 PMReply

    What a terrible, stereotypical article from The Playlist. Yeesh, I can't believe an editor hit publish on this one.

  • Piotr | November 8, 2012 12:16 PMReply

    Sorry, one more. Michael Caine's character in Dressed to Kill is transgender, and he's struggling with it, hence the murdering. Homosexuality and transgender are two different things, guys. Google it before you noodle on it!

  • Piotr | November 8, 2012 12:14 PMReply

    Seriously, how do you know any of these characters are gay? Unless they sit down and enjoy a nice romantic dinner with another man, there's literally no way of knowing any of these characters are gay. But thanks for the list of stereotypes I should be on the lookout for, RP, Drew Taylor, and Kevin Jagernauth. Guys, take a good long look at one another. If one of you is tidy and/or enjoys club music, he probably has naughty thoughts about you. You should write an article outing him.

  • Frank | November 8, 2012 12:11 PMReply

    It's definitely a bad stereotype. I've noticed this trend too.

  • Matt lynch | November 8, 2012 12:09 PMReply

    Slow news day was it? Ridiculous article

  • Frank | November 8, 2012 12:34 PM

    There was no new Twilight stills, so they had to post this.

  • Piotr | November 8, 2012 12:07 PMReply

    So the point of this article is... all swishy men are gay. You can tell a gay from their body language. And all blonde men are gay. Thanks, Playlist!

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