Ketchup Cut: The Birdcage being a game-changer for queer characters in films

Smrithi Mohan
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The Birdcage

For today's Ketchup Cut we discuss one movie that changed the narrative for queer characters on screen, The Birdcage.

For any conversation to sound as normal as anything else and less revolutionary it has to be brought up often and talked about openly. And movies have always been one major platform that enabled people to be informed and started conversations around major issues. With Pride being the major theme of the month and us finding ways to talk about queer struggles and more, discussing movies and their representation on screen is important. If there is one movie that was able to change the already existing stereotypical narrative of queer characters onscreen, especially in the 90s was the 1996 movie, The Birdcage.

About the movie:

Directed by – Mike Nichols

Adapted by – Elaine May

Cast – Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Nathan Lane, Dianne Wiest, Dan Futterman, Calista Flockhart, Hank Azaria, and Christine Baranski

Where to watch – Hulu

The film revolves around Armand (Robin Williams) and Albert Goldman (Nathan Lane) a gay couple and the owners of a vibrant Florida drag nightclub, whose son wants to marry the daughter of a conservative Ohio Senator Kevin Keeley (Gene Hackman). And about a dinner party that went wrong.

Ketchup Cut:

Talk about a movie that gave a bunch of queer people a happy and exciting representation to look up to and The Birdcage takes the cake. With Pride month being celebrated in full pomp, it is hard to not mention this movie when talking about positive LGBTQIA+ representation onscreen. Showing us a happy couple and parents in a proper commercial movie, living a life they love without any shame, fear or denial was rarer than finding a peacock spider in the 90s. But Mike Nichols and Elaine May were able to do just that by adding another gem to the list of iconic movies to watch.

The movie is a US remake of a French film released in 1978 called La Cage aux Folles about an ill-fated dinner party. It was released at a time when the only gay or queer representation that the audience had was in movies like Fire, Bound, My Own Private Idaho, and Philadelphia, to name a few. These movies dealt with more serious and profound issues of the LGBTQIA+ community. The only light-hearted representation of the community was a comic side character who was added to be made fun of. This film made it to the theatres as a very mainstream comedy making it a universal favorite. Breaking all pre-notions attached to a movie with queer characters, this movie was able to earn close to $200 million at the international box office. It gave the audiences something that we still wish and pray for, which is movies where we get more fun stories without making a big deal about having a queer person narrative in it.

The movie talks about more than just the confusing blunder that is, the dinner party. Touching on homophobia and the idea of masculinity makes this movie what the people would call 'groundbreaking.' The Birdcage was released at a time when movies about homosexuals were either considered feature films that only screened at film festivals or that talked about serious issues like AIDS or these characters being killed or murdered.

But this movie celebrated a gay couple living together, raising a son, and having problems as any other couple will have regarding their child. The movie did it beautifully and also gave us our favorite characters. The fact that it was released commercially and was a success shows us the impact it might have had on the queer community in the 90s. To see them being represented in the happiest, most vibrant manner giving out all of the queer energy that people needed.

We find moments from the movie that is both amusing and teachable at the same time. We couldn't help but love it when Albert is all historical before going onto the stage giving us a glimpse of the bickering that the couple might have every now and then. It's hard not to fall in love with Albert's 'I was adorable once, young and full of hope. And now, look at me. I’m this short, fat, insecure, middle-aged thing!'. Although the actor who played Agador felt like he overplayed the part it is impossible for people to not fall in love with him, even though they may hate his soup. But hey, 'F*ck the shrimps,' right?

Another teachable moment is when Armand teaches Albert how to be a man, we see them trying to perfect all the mannerisms that are or were expected of a straight hetero man. But the favorite one has to be when Armand confronts his son and tells him that he doesn't want to change him because it took a long time for him to accept who he has always been. To be honest, this was also that moment when as an audience I hated Val.

It is true that the movie might seem a tad bit stereotyped when it comes to certain characters, including Agador, who also happens to be one of the most liked characters in the movie. The characters we see today are not just represented for their sake, but hold a meaty role in the plot. Having queer characters on board is not considered to be a 'bold' move, but one that is part of the movie and makes sense to have too. But it is hard to not ignore the same and enjoy all the 2 hours of this movie laughing, giggling, and doing the Madonna!

If you are looking for a binge on this weekend and bask in the glory of Pride month, do check this movie out.

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