Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


James Wilson

Subject Categories

American Film Studies | Film and Media Studies | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies


queer film


Film’s ability to present and inspire desire, and to realize alternate worlds, render it a uniquely potent medium for expressing queerness. Because of this potency, and because films are among the most prominent ways that LGBTQ+ people are represented in society, queer film can feel both deeply personal and highly political for LGBTQ+ identifying audiences. But movies do not merely offer statements about political systems, they are also made within and reflective of those systems.

Scholars have thoroughly investigated films and our relationships to them for productive ways of seeing gender, sexuality, desire, and oppression. But the conversations about how queerness shows up onscreen, while sometimes connected to auteur theory, rarely delve fully into production studies, to explore how LGBTQ+ representation (or lack thereof) in Hollywood impacts what films et made and how. When production studies are performed, it is often in lieu of a more thorough textual reading. Likewise, analyses of spectatorship have rarely ben explored for their interplay with the text and its other contexts.

The 2019 Rhys Ernst-directed independent film Adam is an ideal case study for exploring contemporary U.S. queer film. It offers thought-provoking scenarios that allow viewers to engage with questions of gender, sexuality, perception, and identity; and to ponder how people with any sort privilege becomes motivated to learn anything significant about lives lived on the margins. Some audiences appreciated Adam for its window into a specific time and place in queer culture, yet a vocal group denounced it without seeing it because they perceived it as endorsing the title character’s poor choices and because of reports of poor treatment of some of the many trans people employed on the film. The latter position – that one can critique a film one has not seen – is far removed from the spectatorship practices of mid-20th century (proto-)queer audiences who worked hard to detect and celebrate homoerotic undertones in films without any queer content, but not such a departure from the kinds of expectation deployment that queer audiences began applying to film – more so than to other modes of cultural production – with the dawn of the gay and lesbian rights movement. Adam and its paratexts offer a clear way of seeing fissures, uncertainties, and contradictions in how we understand queerness, gender, and sexuality in the U.S. today.

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