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Aids: Keeping New Queer Cinema Alive

3814 words - 15 pages

AIDS: Keeping New Queer Cinema Alive
“Queer Cinema is Back” – headlines the front page of the 2005 issue of the Advocate, signifying to a new flood of movies making way into theatres. Five years prior to this news release B. Ruby Rich, who coined the art as New Queer Cinema almost a decade earlier, declared that the cinema had co-opted into “just another niche market” dominated by popular culture (Morrison 135 & Rich 24). What had seemed to be a movement, turned out to be only a moment in the brief years between the late 1980s and early 1990s when the energies of queer theory, the furies of AIDS activism, the legacies of independent and avant-garde filmmaking, and the schisms of postmodern identity politics came together in a bluster of cultural production to form a cinema of its own (Morrison 136). In many ways Rich’s criticism of the cinema is correct, the queer aspect that so brightly shone in films like Poison, Swoon, Paris Is Burning, Tongues Untied, The Living End and Head On, was shifting as the new millennium was approaching and making more difficult for queer films to stay queer against the forces of Hollywood. However, Rich lacks in her analysis on New Queer Cinema because she does not consider the breadth to which queer operates as a concept within the cinema. For Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin, the editors of Queer Cinema, queer is an umbrella term encompassing dissident sexualities through history and, indeed, nominating them more productively than they were ever named in their own time (Morrison 137). For Michele Aaron, queer is a specific product of exigencies of social activism of the late 1980s and early 1990s, “with AIDS accelerating its urgency” and New Queer Cinema arising as an “art-full manifestation” of its practices (6). It is in this understanding it can be argued that AIDS is why there was New Queer Cinema and AIDS is what has kept the Queer Cinema alive (Pearl).
By analyzing recent films about the early years of the AIDS epidemic and AIDS activism, this essay argues that New Queer Cinema is still a movement because the art is not just a history of AIDS in the past, but a self-reflection on AIDS in the present. AIDS cinema has always been characterized by certain themes that represent the history of the venereal disease to reveal sexual attitudes, political constructs, and social values that symbolizes societies relationship with the epidemic. These themes of fear, homophobia, stigmatization, mourning, shame and ignorance have pertained to AIDS activist films since the early years of the epidemic and continue to be displayed in the recent years by independent and activist video makers (Sendziuk 430). While mainstream Hollywood has done its best to appeal to a wider audience on these issues, it continues to display a representation that falls short of those activists and independent filmmakers who capture the real life portrayal of different marginalized groups living and dealing with not only AIDS, but the...

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