When ads for Netflix's new LGBTQ+ romantic comedy, Alex Strangelove, dropped I was ecstatic. Here was a movie I had never seen before. While the basic premise of the movie — a tale about a teenage boy who realizes he's not as straight as he once thought — is familiar, Alex Strangelove felt different. Yes, the guy at the center of the movie is a white man just like the white, gay men we've recently seen come out in Call Me By Your Name and Love, Simon, but the Netflix ads suggested that Alex wouldn't be coming out as gay. Instead, he'd come out as bisexual. And that would have been huge for a group of people who rarely see themselves depicted (or depicted in a realistic way, at least) on screen.
But it didn't happen. Instead of telling the nuanced and under-represented story of someone who comes to terms with their attraction to multiple genders, Netflix chose to repeat a plot we've seen many times before. By the end of the movie, Alex Truelove tells his girlfriend that he's gay, kisses the guy he's been crushing on, and lives happily ever after as his authentically gay self.
Some might argue that any movie that shows queer people in a good light is progress, and I totally agree. There's no question that the world needs light-hearted queer movies. For way too long, any movie that centered LGBTQ+ characters ended in tragedy à la Brokeback Mountain. But in the last year, we've already had two "fluffy" queer movies about gay, white men figuring their sexuality out, falling in love, and telling their friends and families that they're queer.
Don't get me wrong, Call Me By Your Name and Love, Simon are both incredible films. The first time I watched Simon's dad tear up as he told his gay son that he'd always love him, I shed a few tears, too (and I'm not someone who cries easily). But, if a queer movie doesn't involve anyone dying from AIDS, being kicked out of their home, getting beat up in a park, being murdered, being sent to a gay conversion camp, or losing everything when they come out, then there's a good chance it's a movie about a gay, white man. Think G.B.F., Geography Club, and Boys. (Don't believe me, just take a look at Pride's list of 11 gay movies that have happy endings). But queer men of color, queer women (of color or not), bisexual men, women, and non-binary folk, and transgender and gender non-conforming people need fluffy rom-coms, too. Where are those movies?
Alex Strangelove could have easily been the rom-com bisexual men are missing, all of the hints were right there in the trailer. Of course, the previews never promised that he'd be bisexual. But even if I read too much into the subtle hints that he would be, I'm not the only one. Many others who watched the film hoping to finally see bisexual representation in a fun, mainstream movie were disappointed. And they took to Twitter to air their frustrations.
frustrating especially because I know it’s a story that needs and deserves to be told, and that many people do experience their own identity discoveries that way, but there are ways to tell the story that don’t so majorly invalidate the experiences of others— Ali Brolin (@alibrolin) June 12, 2018
If these people experienced the movie like I did, then they held out hope for Alex's budding bisexuality for a long time. They were probably thrilled when Alex, staring at two cereal boxes that magically changed into "Heter-Os" and "Gay-Flakes," takes down a third box that morphs into "Bi-Crunchies." He looks up from the cereal boxes in awe. "Bi," he says. "I'm bisexual."
But it takes only seconds for that breakthrough moment to be shattered by Alex's problematic friend, Dell. He immediately tells Alex that he's not bisexual, and is simply panicking about his imminent de-virginization with his girlfriend, Claire. When Alex mentions that there's a guy who has a crush on him, and he's "not repulsed by the idea," Dell pulls out his penis to prove that Alex couldn't possibly be bisexual (because bisexual people should want to have sex with every human that exists?). Alex brushes away his thoughts of bisexuality with Dell's feeble explanation that he simply has a man crush on a gay guy, and that's the last we hear about it. By the end of the movie, Alex is 100% gay.
While it's true that some gay and lesbian people do consider bisexuality before they come out, Alex Strangelove had an opportunity to share a story we haven't seen. And it completely missed the mark.