WGS.181 | Fall 2017 | Undergraduate

Queer Cinema and Visual Culture


Critical Response / Review Essay

This critical response paper will be a short assignment of 3–4 pages in which you write a critical review of a film required for the course. This assignment is aimed at giving you the opportunity to practice film criticism and learn how to write about visual content. 

The essay is due during Session 6 and is worth 20% of the final grade.

For further detail, see the Critical Response / Review Essay section.

Final Essay

The final essay will consist of one of two options: either an essay response to a set of prompt questions distributed in the last weeks of class, or an independent research paper exploring a particular cinematic text through the application of course concepts in your analysis. The final will demonstrate your proficiency in applying concepts relevant to queer representation we have been studying over the course of the term.

The essay is due during Session 13 and is worth 30% of the final grade.

For further detail, see the Final Essay section.

This critical response paper will be a short assignment of 3–4 pages in which you write a critical review of a film required for the course. This assignment is aimed at giving you the opportunity to practice film criticism and learn how to write about visual content.

Choose a film to review from those we have watched so far in the course (I suggest either The Danish Girl or Carol as strong possiblilities); you may wish to make some comparisons between these two films as historical representations of sexuality, or between your chosen film and others we have watched this term (Screaming Queens, Celluloid Closet, Rope, The Children’s Hour). You should focus your review on a particular question specifically relevant to LGBT film, though what you choose to address is up to you. You may choose to respond to other reviews you have read; if so, please quote directly from them. Because we are writing these in an academic context, it may also be helpful to contextualize your criticism with a reference to one or more of our scholarly texts as well. In any case, for full credit, use at least one scholarly or popular source beyond the film itself.

Some possible angles/critical questions to pursue: 

  • Censorship, self-censorship, and/or representation of sexual minorities
  • The problem of history and representing sexual/gender difference in the past to a contemporary audience
  • Cinematography and the use of the camera: lighting, angles, focus, color, etc. (if you include this sort of criticism, please choose one or two scenes of particular interest and describe what you see)
  • Casting - what choices were made and what are their implications for identity politics?
  • Embodiment - to what degree is the body shown, and to what end?
  • Visibility - how are gender and sexuality rendered visible in this film? Does the film reinforce or reference normative behavior in its portrayal of sexual/gender deviance?
  • Audience - is this intended for a queer or heteronormative audience? Is there a possibility of resistant reading?
  • Endings - what is the “message” given in the film?

The above questions reflect themes we have discussed that are specific to films with LGBT themes or content. Remember that ultimately a review is an opinion piece, in which you consider what was attempted by the director of the film (its purpose), its strengths and weaknesses, and to what extent it succeeds or fails as a representation or work of art.

It will be necessary to do some description for your reader - a brief synopsis of a scene or basic plot is fine, but beware of excessive plot summary at the expense of providing analysis! Do include the film title, names of characters and actors, director, and the year in which the film was made. You can look to published film reviews in major newspapers for a format to follow in incorporating these elements.

During this course we have discussed many different aspects of the cinematic representation of the LGBTQ community throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries. These have included unique key concepts suggested by the terms in the following questions, such as: camp, intersectionality, archive, visibility, community, stereotype, censorship, role model.

You may either write a single paper of 8–10 pages in length in response to ONE of these topics,


write two shorter answers of 4–5 pages in response to TWO of these topics;

Answer using examples from a literary texts, film or films of your choice. Be sure to cite a minimum of 3 course texts in answering the question, and be specific in your description of examples or scenes from the films you are using.

  1. Ruby Rich has posed the question, “What is a good gay film?” Explain her concerns about queer aesthetics and apply them to a queer text or film(s) of your choice - in what ways is it “good,” and how does it resist or succumb to stereotype and/or common tropes associated with queer representations? Is visibility enough?
  2. Explain the queer aesthetic of “camp,” shade, and/or queer humor and the role it has played in a film of your choice. In what way can camp be seen as political, and in what ways does it resist or deny dominant tropes of heteronormativity? In answering this question, include some discussion of audience and for whom you think your example is intended.
  3. Define “intersectionality” and demonstrate how it works to reinforce or defeat stereotypes surrounding race/class/gender/sexuality in a text or film of your choice. How is our understanding of sexuality dependent on the reading of gender, race, and/or class in your example? If we apply intersectional analysis to the film or character in question, what do we conclude about the film’s contribution to the broader category of queer cinema?
  4. What is meant by “archive” in relationship to LGBTQ cinematic history, and why is this difficult to recover or even nonexistent for certain identity groups? What has been the strategy of filmmakers in (and since) New Queer Cinema to counteract this problem? How will this change in the future? Use examples from historical films or docu/mocku-mentaries.
  5. Locate some examples of “confession” in one or more films or queer texts and examine these speech acts in light of Sedgwick’s epistemology of the closet. How has coming out defined queer film and literature? What have contemporary writers/filmmakers done to subvert the standard narrative and complicate queer identity? What role does audience play in understanding these as queer speech?
  6. Design your own independent research project on a film or series of your choice, tracing a particular theme, trope, or representation of an identity. Develop a specific research question you think can be successfully addressed in your reading of this film, applying one or more concepts we have developed in the class this semester.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2017