Exploring ‘Queerbaiting' and Negative Lesbian Representation in the Pitch Perfect Franchise
The Pitch Perfect franchise is a solid example of how producers completely disregard fans by continuous Queerbaiting and poorly writing characters which fans had grown to love. Within the Pitch Perfect trilogy, there is only one openly lesbian character, who is negatively portrayed throughout the entirety of the franchise. I will explore all three of the films and explore the use of queerbaiting. However, I will also be evaluating the use of queerbaiting in their advertising campaign for the third instalment of the franchise and how it is harmful to young gay women.
Pitch Perfect 1 (2012) Dir. Jason Moore
Pitch Perfect follows Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick) arriving at her new University and reluctantly joining a collegiate acapella group named the Barden Bellas. Thrust in among different types of girls, Beca finds that the only thing in common is how well they sing together. She takes the group out of their comfort zone of traditional arrangements and into the world of harmonic combinations in a fight of college music competitions.
Since the first film was released in 2012, fans have been rooting for Bechloe, a combined couple name of characters Beca Mitchell and Chloe Beale (Brittany Snow). The filmmakers took notice, placing the duo in a series of queer-coded moments, without ever allowing them to develop an open romantic bond.
Bechloe became a big part of the franchise, with considerable amounts of hype every time a new film came out. There are thousands of fan-written stories, video edits and drawings of the pairing, which shows the significance and magnitude of Bechloe.
This brings me to discuss the term Queerbaiting.
The term Queerbaiting has always come with negative correlations and been used to describe what is considered to be negative and unwanted behaviour. With the unstable definitions it is important to closely discuss how it could be used and how I intend to use it. In 1981, Lawrence Goldyn wrote his article ‘Gratuitous Language in Appellate Cases Involving Gay People: ‘Queerbaiting' from the bench on how homosexual individuals were addressed in US courts. Goldyn uses the word queerbaiting as a description of verbal abuse and the homophobic and discriminating rhetoric that was used in these cases to justify punishments. This is just an example and the term queerbaiting has then not only clear definition. However, I will be using the term with this definition: Queerbaiting is when a piece of entertainment purportedly teases the possibility of non-heterosexual relationships between characters without the intention of ever developing it into an actual element in the story.
Sometimes Queerbaiting happens in media for purposes of “plausible deniability” so that creators can keep LGBTQ characters while ensuring the continued life of their creation. For example, in the Nickelodeon animated series, Legend of Korra (2012-2014), the main character is a bisexual woman (Korra). At the end of the series she enters a relationship with another woman (Asami), all of which rendered entirely through suggestion and post-airing confirmation by the creator.
According to GLAAD's (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Where We Are on TV Report, in the 2017-2018 TV season, there were 901 main characters on broadcast scripted primetime programming, and 58 (6.4 percent) were identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and/or queer. Like queer characters, queer viewers are a minority and it's thought that Queerbaiting is a way of appealing to them without alienating their main audience, who may be uncomfortable with openly queer characters, or who may not care about them. So, via Queerbaiting, writers and/or creators are able to appeal to the LGBTQ market, while avoiding any backlash. The lack of representation of LGBTQ people could be the reason why so many young and impressionable fans coin these ‘ships' like Bechloe together.
In their book Practices of Looking Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright discuss the creation of meaning in the images, pointing out that no image has a meaning in itself but that meaning is created through a complicated web of social context “(1) how viewers interpret or experience the image and (2) the context of which the image is seen”. Regarding a producer's intended meaning, Sturken and Cartwright state that there is almost always a preferred meaning harboured by the producer. However, they do not consider it very useful to analyse the producers' preferred meaning, since it can be difficult to find out and may not concede with the audiences. Furthermore, the audience's meaning depends on the contact, such as time and viewers, which creates different meaning for different audiences, all to be considered equally valid according to Sturken and Cartwright.
In general, queerness exists mostly as a punchline in the Pitch Perfect films. In all three films, there is only one out and proud gay character, which is Cynthia Rose. In the first film, her character is almost disturbing. During a scene at the “aca-initiation”, Cynthia Rose makes unwanted sexual advances towards Stacie, who is a character known for enjoying sex. In her little screen time, she is often seen groping her teammates without consent, which viewers are expected to find humorous.
CYNTHIA ROSE SCENES/TROPES
LINK IN WITH BECHLOE SHOWER SCENE. CHLOE DOESN'T CARE FOR PERSONAL SPACE. QUIRKY BISEXUAL – DIRECTORS COMMENTARY
Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) Dir. Elizabeth Banks
Three years after winning the previous competition, the Barden Bellas are now led by senior Beca Mitchell (Anna Kendrick) and super senior Chloe Beale (Brittany Snow). After a humiliating performance at The Kennedy Centre, the Barden Bellas enter an international competition that no American group has ever won in order to regain their status and right to perform.
There is a number of problems of with the Pitch Perfect franchise such as casual racism, slut shaming, misogyny, ableism and celebrated fatphobia. There is a strong use of anti-queerphobic humour.
Throughout Pitch Perfect 2, Beca often finds herself speechless and enthralled by the leader from the rival acapella group, Das Sound Machine, who is a woman (Kommissar). Throughout the film, Beca makes numerous remarks about how beautiful she is and even goes as far to say she is questioning her sexuality. Consistently throughout the film, Beca becomes inarticulate whenever she is faced with Kommissar. She tries to demoralise and humiliate her opponent but instead compliments her profusely. She says things such as: “Your sweat smells like cinnamon,”, “Okay, just because you are making me sexually confused does not mean that you are intimidating,”, “You wish you gorgeous specimen,” and “You are physically flawless, but it doesn't mean I like you.”
This might be harmless, but it is annoying. The issue is that Beca never really confronts being confused about her sexuality whatsoever throughout the film, despite there being a clear discomfort and tension. These comments and compliments are added purely for comedic effect. It is comedic because she is a straight woman and being a lesbian or bisexual is something obviously so outrageous.
However, one could argue that Beca's sexuality isn't an integral part of the film as the film but there is a pattern throughout the first and second film with making anti-queer jokes. From Chloe barging into Beca's shower to Fat Amy making jokes when Cynthia Rose tells the group she has a girlfriend. Making these jokes is harmful to LGBTQ people and as the target audience is young women, it can be harmful to their identity & growth. ADD EXAMPLES FROM BOOKS
Since the first film's release, cast and crew caught on that Bechloe was a big thing which drew in considerable amounts of attention and therefore small queer-coded Bechloe moments were added. In one particular part of the film, the Barden Bellas go to a boot camp to bond & find their voices. During this sequence, all the women must share a tent between them. Beca and Chloe have been placed together
In the Director's commentary, Director Elizabeth Banks says: “There's an important moment coming up for a certain subset of our fans involving those two ladies. I was in the original Spider-Man series, and I was inspired by Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson's upside-down kiss for the Bechloe moment that comes up in the middle of this scene. Bec-Chloe for people who don't know is the Beca-Chloe relationship theory. They've been together all along, they're really in love. So that is my upside-down, Spider-Man kiss moment.”
This is Queerbaiting. They have used this relationship to
The female gaze is a feminist film theoretical term representing a woman's gaze. It is a response to feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey's term, “The Male Gaze”, which represents not only the gaze of the male viewer but also the gaze of the male character and the male creator of the film. In contemporary usage, the female gaze has been used to refer to the perspective a female filmmaker brings to a film what would be different from a male view of the subject.
Just like the male gaze, the female gaze looks at three different perspectives. These focus purely on females:
• The spectator
• The person filming
• The characters
Woman's films were a genre that focused on female leads, showing the woman as a diegetic story-teller rather than that of a spectacle. Stella Dallas (1937) Dir. King Vidor is a strong example of the traditional narrative being told by the female protagonist. This certain type of film then evolved to what we have today, which are ‘chick-flicks'. Pitch Perfect are “chick flicks” because the films are aimed at young women and told through Beca, who is the female protagonist. The films are meant to represent the desires of female protagonists and, therefore, are to represent the desires of the female audience.
The controversial film Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013) Dir A. Kechiche received considerable critical comment for the dominance of the male gaze and lack of female gaze, with some even calling it a “patriarchal gaze”. The author of the book upon which the film was based was among the harshest critics, saying, “It appears to me this was what was missing on the set: lesbians.”
Pitch Perfect 3 (2017) Dir. Trish Sie
Following their win at the world championship, the now separated Barden Bellas reunite for one last singing competition at an overseas USO tour but now face a group who uses both instruments and voices.
At the film's Australian premiere, cast member Rebel Wilson, mentioned that, while a Bechloe kiss had been filmed, apparently at Anna Kendrick's insistence, Universal hadn't wanted to put it into the film. Wilson hoped the scene would make it into the DVD extras at the very least, but unfortunately it did not. 2017's summer 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 centered stories play out over and over again.
In 2017, Universal Pictures released fourteen films, of which four were included appearances by LGBTQ+ people (Including Pitch Perfect 3), amounting to 29%. Only one of these films passed the Vito Russo Test.
The Vito Russo Test takes inspiration from the “Bechdel Test,” which examines the way female characters are portrayed and situated within a narrative, GLAAD developed its own set of criteria to analyse how LGBTQ characters are included within a film. The “Vito Russo Test” takes its name from GLAAD co-founder Vito Russo. These criteria can help guide filmmakers to create more multidimensional characters, while also providing a barometer for representation on a wide scale. To pass the Vito Russo test, the following must be true:
• The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.
• That character must not be solely or predominately defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity. Which means they are made up of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight characters from one another.
• The LGBTQ character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect. Meaning they are not there to simply provide colourful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or set up a punchline. In other words, the character should matter.
Less than half of the major studio films GLAAD counted LGBTQ characters in managed to pass the Vito Russo Test in 2017. There is evidently space for improvement.
As I have mentioned before, Cynthia Rose is a known ‘out' lesbian. She again returns in this instalment, but her fiancé is nowhere to be seen or heard. As it was announced in Pitch Perfect 2 that she was engaged, it would make sense to have a mention but alas nothing was said. Ultimately, Cynthia Rose is demoted to a side character for most the film and not having her in the film would not make it any different.
The third film also includes Bechloe jokes. There are jokes about Chloe being attracted to Beca and there are references to “that one time” where the women were on top of each other. One joke which got a lot of attention was with Chloe accidentally grabbing Beca's breasts as the two hides from Theo (Guy Burnet). It is disappointing that there were more jokes in this franchise about gay women than actual healthy storylines with them.
Theo was originally introduced to be a love interest for Beca but Anna Kendrick, who was been very vocal about her love for Bechloe, soon firmly ruled it out. She said to Cosmopolitan: “Originally the music executive was supposed to be my romantic interest, but I said no to that, because I thought that would be kind of fucking problematic. And they still wanted to have a version at the end when we kissed, and I still said no.”
FEMALE GAZE – TRIPLE F MOVIE
Marketing and advertising – The almost kiss promo, swipe up for more, universal Australia & uk putting a bechloe advert on their social media although fans know it didn't happen because the film was already out in America.
Example of another film doing this was the live action adaption of Beauty and the Beast (2017). It gave the LGBTQ+ community hope by announcing Lefou as the “first openly gay Disney character, with an “exclusively gay moment”. It didn't live up to expectations and could even be seen as a gag.
Capitalism – art or money? 21st century marketing techniques
Young queer fans exploited?
Cast and crew – What Anna Kendrick said about it at the conference (was it vidcon idk)
Shelley regner, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson.
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