In 1997, Hollywood bravely released an LGBTQ film about coming out. How does it hold up?

It might seem perfectly normal today, but releasing a gay mainstream film in 1997 was bold and brave.

In 2018, critics and audiences alike raved about "Love, Simon" which told the story of a young man struggling to come out and accept his sexuality. But 21 years ago, another film helped pave the way for films like it, and found a surprisingly warm reception at a time when LGBTQ positive films were still incredibly rare.

Director Frank Oz says he was inspired to make "In & Out" after watching Tom Hanks accept the Best Actor Oscar for 1993's "Philadelphia." But instead of replicating that film's dramatic arc, he wanted to use the power of comedy to tell a meaningful story that would help build compassion and understanding for those facing the very real challenges of coming out.


In the film, everyone knows that their beloved high school English teacher Howard Brackett (played by actor Kevin Kline) is gay, except for Howard himself. When one of his former students wins an Oscar, he accidentally outs Howard in front of millions.

At the time, the movie received a lot of attention for its pioneering 12-second kiss between co-stars Kline and Tom Selleck, but what holds up most today is the story of one person struggling to come to terms with their own identity and how it affects those around them.

Over the course of the film, a number of characters, straight and queer, help him come out, eventually finding acceptance both with himself, and from those who know him best.

Despite the potential for controversy, the movie was a hit at the box office and earned an Academy Award nomination for co-star Joan Cusack.

In fact, Oz says that from the early stages of production through the film's release he only ever faced one complaint from an anonymous reviewer at a preview screening.

"I don't think about my movies very much after I make them," Oz said, "but I'm very proud of that movie."

It's also funny, which helped build a bridge to straight audiences.

Groundbreaking films like "Philadelphia," "Angels in America," and "My Own Private Idaho" made audiences think and feel about serious issues facing the LGBTQ community. While Oz says he was moved by them, he knew he needed to do something different with his own attempt to address the often painful, and sometimes tragic, stories of coming out.

"It's very delicate to do a movie on a subject like that," he said. "Comedy is a very effective way to get verboten ideas across."

When Howard and Peter Malloy (played by Tom Selleck) share that big on-screen kiss, it's awkward and silly but also brings the audience in emotionally as Howard first starts to seriously come to terms with his sexuality.

Photo by Movieclips/YouTube.

Not everything in "In & Out" has aged perfectly, but it was an important piece of inclusive art that paved the way for future LGBTQ work.

After all, the film ends somewhat awkwardly with a dance number set to YMCA's "Macho Man," which speaks as much to the time it was released as to the place of LGBTQ culture in America in 1997. Though even moments like that won some praise at the time for not just "tolerating" gay culture, but actually celebrating it.

A large part of that authenticity is owed to the inclusion of gay men in the creative process, including the screenwriter Paul Rudnick and its producer Scott Rudin.

"It was my film in the sense that I directed it," Oz said. "But they had a tremendous responsibility to their community. And I felt responsible to that community and to them."That's a lesson Hollywood is still learning.

"In & Out" isn't a perfect movie, but it was perfectly brave and bold in ways we can still learn from.

More
via Twitter / Soraya

There is a strange right-wing logic that suggests when minorities fight for equal rights it's somehow a threat to the rights already held by those in the majority or who hold power.

Like when the Black Lives Matter movement started, many on the right claimed that fighting for black people to be treated equally somehow meant that other people's lives were not as valuable, leading to the short-lived All Lives Matter movement.

This same "oppressed majority" logic is behind the new Straight Pride movement which made headlines in August after its march through the streets of Boston.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

For most of us, the hypothetical question of whether we would stick with a boyfriend or girlfriend through the trials of cancer and the treatments is just that – a hypothetical question. We would like to think we would do the right thing, but when Max Allegretti got the chance to put his money where mouth is, he didn't hesitate for a second.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
via bfmamatalk / facebook

Where did we go wrong as a society to make women feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public?

No one should feel they have the right to tell a woman when, where, and how she can breastfeed. The stigma should be placed on those who have the nerve to tell a woman feeding her child to "Cover up" or to ask "Where's your modesty?"

Breasts were made to feed babies. Yes, they also have a sexual function but anyone who has the maturity of a sixth grader knows the difference between a sexual act and feeding a child.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Instagram / JLo

The Me Too movement has shed light on just how many actresses have been placed in positions that make them feel uncomfortable. Abuse of power has been all too commonplace. Some actresses have been coerced into doing something that made them uncomfortable because they felt they couldn't say no to the director. And it's not always as flagrant as Louis C.K. masturbating in front of an up-and-coming comedian, or Harvey Weinstein forcing himself on actresses in hotel rooms.

But it's important to remember that you can always firmly put your foot down and say no. While speaking at The Hollywood Reporter's annual Actress Roundtable, Jennifer Lopez opened up about her experiences with a director who behaved inappropriately. Laura Dern, Awkwafina, Scarlett Johansson, Lupita Nyong'o, and Renee Zellweger were also at the roundtable.

Keep Reading Show less
popular