Community screenings and discussing bi-visibility in cinema

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Credit:Alessio Bolzoni

Rosie Beattie
Film & TV Columnist

Screening of Call Me by Your Name sparks important discussion at the GFT

To mark bi-visibility day on Sunday 23 September, the Glasgow Film Theatre was host to a special showing of Luca Guadagnino’s screen success, Call Me by Your Name. Unsurprisingly, the cinema was packed of what I suspect was mostly student-types, amongst whom the film has amassed an early cult popularity. The film, which follows the summer romance of teenager Elio and doctoral student Oliver, has already had several cinematic re-runs since its release last year. This screening added something new to it by holding a panel discussion and Q&A relating to the representation of bisexuality in the media. The choice of film was interesting considering the word “bisexual” is never actually used in the film. However, there are clearly few other films to choose from that might have attracted such a large an audience.

The discussion after the screening took the matter of bisexual representation further than the tame white male-focused depiction in Call Me by Your Name. In the media, bisexual characters are treated with a general apathy, lacking the readily marketable sexual appeal of straight or gay counterparts. We see straight characters being sexualised for the gaze of straight audiences and gay characterised sexualised for gay audiences. But, there has been little attempt to shift beyond this unimaginative take on the reality of an audience’s sexuality and visual desires. Progress in this area is still incredibly slow, if not nonexistent!

What do we mean by bisexual? Are the confused sexual experiences of teenage years how it should be defined? What are some common misconceptions that bisexual people are faced with? Debates came from the film itself, such as the decision to not use bisexual as a label for the characters Elio and Oliver. To some, labels are empowering and mark visibility. On the other hand, the absence of labels is just as valid to others. It suggests reaching a point where sexuality isn’t something that defines a person. Perhaps then, Desiree Akhavan’s recent film, The Miseducation of Cameron Post would be a better choice for this discussion. Certainly, the protagonist refuses to be defined by her sexuality. When going through conversion therapy she says, “I don’t think of myself as a homosexual. I don’t really think of myself as anything”.

Beyond the blissful Italian escapism of Call Me by Your Name, it is refreshing to see the film used to discuss sexuality and representation on screen. Whilst for some going to the cinema is a means to escape and be entertained, it has almost always also been a way to get new perspectives on current socio-political debates. By having this discussion in relation to film, the event highlighted the central role cinema plays in some of our most current and important public issues.

This screening, and others like it, are worthwhile because they give a platform to otherwise marginalized groups. Bisexuality is often invalidated in the media, society, and even within the LGBTQ+ community. Bringing this discussion to a physical community space is both empowering and educational. Representation in the media is a clear issue for many social groups and screenings such as this one push forward the slow but steady change we are beginning to see. The screening managed to alternate from more mainstream cinematic practices by directly celebrating bisexual identity through one of the most well-appraised queer films from recent years.

If you are looking for some resources on bisexuality, then bisexual.org is a useful website to check out.