In it, Beca (Anna Kendrick) and Chloe (Brittany Snow)—two characters whose will-they-won’t-they-relationship has been drawn out over five years and two feature films—come toward each other as if they’re about to kiss. In an alarmingly porny twist, just before they touch lips, Kendrick turns to the camera and instructs, “Swipe up for more.”
My eyes rolled so far back I thought they might get stuck. In the words of Riverdale’s Cheryl Blossom, “Check your sell-by date, ladies. Faux-lesbian kissing hasn’t been taboo since 1994.”
The ad was pure queerbait, and fans immediately took notice.
Queerbaiting refers to the practise of hinting at a romance or attraction between two characters of the same sex, without ever letting them develop a meaningful relationship. Characters may share longing looks, tender words or even, if they’re conventionally hot women, a passionate kiss—before Hollywood execs yell, “JK, no homo!” and put them into hetero pairings.
Pp3 I have never felt more queerbaited in my life but here I am again… you got me #bechloe
— AnnabelleRose (@fivebyfive94) December 6, 2017
The practice is nothing new in Pitch Perfect films. Since the first movie was released in 2012, fans have been rooting for Bechloe (a combined couple name for Beca and Chloe), and the filmmakers took notice, placing the duo in a series of bizarre queer-coded moments, without ever allowing them to develop an open romantic bond. (See: that highly GIF-ed shower duet scene.) Most of the pair’s interactions are caring, but ultimately platonic. And when scenes do turn queer-ish, they’re mostly for laughs, and involve Chloe awkwardly and insistently coming on to her seemingly uninterested pal. Beca, for her part, doesn’t seem to realize Chloe might be into her. Cue the audience giggles.
In general, queerness exists mostly as a punchline in the Pitch Perfect universe. For a franchise about college a cappella groups, the movies feature surprisingly few LGBTQ+ characters. The one openly gay character, Cynthia Rose, is a lesbian who, in her little screen time, is often seen groping her teammates without consent… which viewers are expected to find hilarious.
Still, as reductive—and occasionally offensive—as the characters’ interactions can be, it’s hard to blame Bechloe diehards for holding out hope. With so little LGBTQ+ representation on both big and small screens, it’s understandable that queer fans would take whatever they can get.
— Little One (@JusLilNana) August 7, 2017
GLAAD’S annual Studio Responsibility Index measures the number of LGBTQ characters who appear in films released by the seven largest Hollywood studios, including Warner Brothers and 20th Century Fox. Their latest report found that in 2016, only 18 percent of the characters who appeared in mainstream movies identified as LGBTQ. That’s far too low.
The vast majority of those characters were, unsurprisingly, gay men. Lesbians were only featured in 35 percent of queer-inclusive movies, and bisexual characters showed up in a lousy 13 percent. While GLAAD flagged 23 mainstream films as queer-inclusive, nearly half of those flicks allotted less than one minute of screen time to their LBGTQ characters.
Queer women didn’t have such a hot year on television, either. Many writing rooms were happy to include lesbian and bisexual characters—as seen in Black Mirror and Empire—and were equally psyched to kill them off. Autostraddle, a website geared toward queer women, tracks the number of lesbian and bisexual women who have died on television since 1976. Since the beginning of 2016, 45 women have been killed off. Today, the entire list has 193 female characters and counting.
At the end of the garbage year that was 2017, which saw LGBTQ hate crimes on the rise in the United States and the United Kingdom, queer and trans folks need opportunities to see positive and nuanced reflections of ourselves on screen. Those depictions help us to feel empowered, uplifted or less alone. To view our lives as something other than sites of struggle and tragedy.
Unfortunately, queer women seem unlikely to get that with Pitch Perfect 3. Recently, at the film’s Australian premiere, cast member Rebel Wilson, patron saint of no f-cks given, mentioned that, while a Bechloe kiss had been filmed—apparently at Kendrick’s insistence—the studio hadn’t wanted to put it into the film. Wilson hoped the scene would make it into the DVD extras, at the very least.
If this turns out to be true, the movie’s ads are a blatant, and insulting, grab for the pink dollar.
This past summer’s box office produced the lowest ticket sales Hollywood had seen in more than a decade. Maybe it’s an indication that viewers are fed up with watching the same largely white, heteronormative and male-centred stories play out over and over again. If big studios want to stay relevant, they’ll need to make moves that are genuinely more diverse. And that means, in part, lettings queer characters have more than ambiguous flirting or a sensationalized one-time kiss.
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