July 4, 2022

Feminist and queer Christmas films, is it possible?

Cardboard snow, honeyed music, a return to his hometown, well-heeled parents who interfere in the lives of their children, a lonely main character who finds (finally!) Love, the couple like sole purpose: Christmas films are overflowing with sometimes sexist, sometimes heteronormative, always simplistic clichés.

These holiday classics, which nevertheless give us comfort and lightness, could they be feminists and queers? We asked the question to a specialist in the field, the professor of the Department of Art History and Film Studies at the University of Montreal Joëlle Rouleau.

A queer researcher and documentary maker, she is interested in issues of gender and sexuality, feminisms, intersectionality and queer theory. For her, Christmas films are “collective places that create a nostalgic relationship and a feeling of belonging to a given society or culture”.

In this regard, the researcher recalls that references to the shared imagination are very often based on stereotypes. “Christmas movies are no exception, they present a turnkey concept that always tells the same story and, what’s more, very often features a toxic heterosexual relationship,” she adds.

First, rethink the stories

For Joëlle Rouleau, there are several ways to make Christmas movies more queer, starting with a complete overhaul of the mechanics. “From a perspective of collective struggle and according to a queer theoretical and cultural position, we must consider a general culture change, rather than a simple replacement of the usual characters by queer protagonists or belonging to LGBTQ + communities.”

In short, let’s just tell other stories. “Stories that don’t necessarily present monogamous love as the only valid goal; we are offered films in which romantic sorrows are only consoled by other encounters and where the couple – very often heterosexual – becomes an institution, ”believes Joëlle Rouleau.

The professor, however, wishes to clarify that she would not necessarily want to remove heterosexual couples from Christmas films, but to modulate the narrative. Like other themes, she suggests talking about friendships, chosen families – a concept that seeks to recognize the different forms of filiation – or even more socially engaged subjects, such as overconsumption linked to the holiday season.

We could take inspiration from children’s films which often have coded messages and thought-provoking subtext. “Let’s subvert the normative frameworks. Why not a film on degrowth and the climate crisis against a Christmas background? I’m throwing the idea! ” she suggests, laughing.

Review your role as a viewer

Another way to make watching Christmas movies a queer experience is to interact with this culture in a different way, Joëlle Rouleau thinks. “We can have a negotiated relationship with the Christmas cinema. For example, as a feminist and queer person, I like to reclaim cultural products that are not intended for me, like the film. Really love (2003). To me, it’s the worst movie in the universe. But every year, with friends, we listen to it and it becomes a queer activity, since we criticize everything and laugh a lot. You make it queer by taking it out of its context. ”

She uses the same tactics when she watches football games with her father, which she jokingly transforms into a “homoerotic representation of manly masculinity” in her head. For the researcher, it is therefore possible to take an interest in a problematic culture, on condition of questioning it, of not only receiving it passively.

“I think we could put on a few Christmas films the same kind of warning that we now find on some old Ciné-Cadeau films, to warn that subjects have been treated in an inadequate way today. Thus, we are invited to learn while inviting us to be attentive and critical. ”

What if all of that doesn’t work?

Do Christmas movies keep rolling your eyes? Do like Joëlle Rouleau and create your own film traditions for the holiday season. For example, she listens every Christmas Jurassic park (1993), a classic that she loves and that she links to childhood.

Otherwise, if you are looking for a little “anti-Christmas” movies, you could try Eyes wide closed (1999) by Stanley Kubrick, a drama mixing adultery and mystery against a backdrop of the holiday season. Or Carol (2015) by Todd Haynes, a complex love story between two women which is inspired by Hollywood cinema to divert its meaning. A “queer Christmas classic” for Joëlle Rouleau!