Should art be separated from the artist is a question that divides people sharply and often turns the spotlight of moral scrutiny on the audience. It, usually, calls the morality of the artist into question. In this piece, I would like to discuss one film where not separating the art from the artist is essential to appreciate the essence of the art and understand its relevance.
The 2020 Netflix film, The Boys in the Band, which is based on the 1968 play of the same name is the movie in question. The film set in 1968 is about a few friends, all of them gay, coming together to celebrate a birthday. Some of the characters (the vain Harold; the conflicted, hurtful Michael; the depressed, self-pitying Donald and the probably closeted Alan) and developments of the plot are not compatible with the current discourse around queer cinema. People are fed up with seeing tragic deaths of gay characters, inevitable unhappiness and bloody fights as a love language. Today’s queer cinema celebrates queer life and is invested in all aspects of the characters and not just their sexuality. In this context, a movie about a birthday party that descends into chaos and ends up emotionally hurting everyone present because of a conflicted, Catholic, self-loathing gay man seems of another era. But, The Boys in the Band is undoubtedly a queer cinema landmark. Why?
The answer lies in the cast. In a brilliant casting decision, all the main characters are portrayed by highly successful and openly gay actors (Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Charlie Carver, Robin de Jesús, Brian Hutchison, Michael Benjamin Washington and Tuc Watkins) with a commendable body of work and who are not typecasted or defined by their sexual orientation. Anyone referring to Jim Parsons as “that gay actor” would undoubtedly follow it up with a “buzzinga”. The contrast between the reality of the characters and the reality of the actors portraying them shows how far we have come. It is a cinematic representation of the leaps the queer community has made over the years, the fights they have fought and won. This makes the ending — where the supremely talented and much beloved Jim Parsons as Michael wishes to hate himself a lit bit less — one of the finest cinematic homages to the progress we have made as a society and a triumph of queer cinema.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.