Best Friends Do Not Assign Labels Other than that of B.F.F.

This image is from the scene where Tanner and Fawcett are in Fawcett's bedroom discussing fashion preferences amongst other topics (Robinson).
This image is from the scene where Tanner and Fawcett are in Fawcett’s bedroom discussing fashion preferences amongst other topics (Romero).

G.B.F. is a film about a gay high school senior, Tanner, who comes out of the closet and befriends the three queen bees of the school, all of whom want to claim he is their Gay Best Friend, hence the title G.B.F. On the one hand, it is one of the few American films that features an openly gay character, and whose emphasis is on issues pertaining to the LGBTQ+ community. It also represents some of the possible scenarios that can come with being gay, in a high school, where many students see discussing the topic of homosexuality as something taboo, even if they are not homophobic per se. G.B.F. utilizes many stereotypes to shape the behaviors and attitudes of each major character and does not address the challenges of those do not fit the normative identity politics of their preassigned group. This was particularly the case with the two most important characters of color, whose primary roles were to continue upholding the stereotypes pertaining to their identity politics, thereby reproducing them in the viewers’ subconscious, and thus preventing them from being able to think outside a Eurocentric narrative.

One of the most memorable scenes from the film was when Tanner (the main character who had recently come out of the closet) was discussing fashion with Fawcett, the main queen bee who asked him to compare two articles of clothing. When he said he couldn’t answer, she replied “Tanner, I don’t actually think that gays have a heightened sense of fashion. I’m just asking you to look at two options and choose the one you prefer.” After he stated his preference, she said “Thank you! That’s just the kind of bitchy gay insight I’m looking for.”[1] Even if the viewer was convinced that not all gays have a heightened sense of fashion after watching the scene, the fact that he was willing to disclose his preferences shows that the G.B.F.’s role is to subscribe to preconceived notions of what their heterosexual counterpart (in this case Fawcett) believes is their perspective regarding consumer tastes, specifically with that of clothing.

The parents of the main character were supportive of his sexual orientation and had been aware of it for quite some time, even though he only found out that they knew towards the end. This presents the best-case scenario for LGBTQ+ adolescents and young adults. Unfortunately, many are faced with the constant threat of being kicked out of their homes, physically abused, committing suicide, etc. According to one statistic, “LGBTQ+ youth make up at least 40 percent of the youth homeless population in the US, despite being only about 5 to 8 percent of the U.S. youth population.” The same article stated that “73 percent of gay and lesbian and 26 percent of bisexual homeless youth report that they are homeless because of parental disapproval of their sexual orientation” (Robinson). While coming out to peers can bring about challenges, the consequences of coming out to one’s family can potentially have much bigger consequences, and this is something that the film was not forthcoming about. The mother of the main character’s best friend Brent is quite overbearing when supporting her son’s taste for LGBTQ mannerisms, movies, clothing, etc. Had their relationship not been what it was, some viewers of the film may have thought of her as a “fag-hag” because of her tendency to focus on a lifestyle that would appeal to gay men.

Implicit racial bias is one of the most obvious factors that prevents the film from leaving the normative realm of ethnic representation that is prevalent in the vast majority of American films. The cast is unfortunately predominantly white with the exception of Caprice and Derek, an Asian American male (which by Hollywood standards fulfills the diversity requirement). There is one scene where her and ‘Shlee, the Mormon queen bee and Caprice, the black queen bee are planning a prom event together and ‘Shlee says to Caprice “I’m so glad we’re friends now, Caprice. I’ve always wanted an S.B.F.” When Caprice asks what the acronym stands for, ‘Shlee replies “Sassy black friend,” which seemed to be a variation of G.B.F. The message of the scene is clear in that it is not socially acceptable to use any objectifying labels on individuals of a certain racial group, therefore it is unethical to use them on people of a certain sexual orientation. However, the film could have gone even further by featuring a scene where random students are discussing which queen bee is the most attractive and having the majority of the characters reach a consensus that they are not attracted to black girls. While I completely understand the producers’ potential fears of coming off as offensive, including that dialogue would have made the film a lot more honest about some of the implicit biases that many have because of internalized notions about what beauty means.

Another aspect of this bias is its embodiment of minority characters within a privilege narrative. Derek and Caprice, despite being privileged, are still marginalized, enough to make it noticeable, but the film fails to explore that a bit further. The main objectification of the black queen bee is when ‘Shlee says that despite the fact that she’s black “she does not talk like one.” Despite its stance on the immorality of using titles to objectify people of a certain group, the film fails in that it does not explore the cultural assignation of if and what the label of sassy is a code for (if at all). It seems as though being sassy is a prerequisite for being a queen bee, at least to a certain extent. There is a scene where ‘Shlee refers to Derek as a “gayasian” (a derogatory term that is used to uphold the notion that Asian men are less masculine and more sexually submissive than their counterparts of any other ethnic group) and indicates that she wants to have intercourse with him. Rather than acting offended by the use of this term, he pretended to be gay in order to be able to have heterosexual intercourse.

Another aspect of privilege was that the main character did not have any physical or mental challenges. Had the former been an issue, his chances of being a G.B.F. would have been completely eliminated and his ability to defend himself would have been reduced, both of which are significant risk factors for the scenarios listed above. Why stop there? The main character had a slim physique, straight brown hair, no freckles, a symmetrical face, and was just under average height (but not short enough to be noticeably short). He also had a fairly subordinate personality throughout the film when interacting with those who treasured him as well as with those who bullied him, with few exceptions.

Gender and sexual orientation fluidity were almost never touched upon with the exception of one short phrase “ladies and gentlemen and everything in between.” The movie never specified what gender orientation Tanner and Brent were, which indicates that they were assumed to be cisgender. With regard to the latter, one memorable quote from Sophie, one of Tanner’s friends stated “What offends me the most is the hypocrisy and sexism of it all. If I were to come out as a lesbian, would I be the frontrunner for prom queen? I think not.” While the scene does speak against the homonormative element of the G.B.F. in that it is centered around a relationship between a gay cis-male and a heterosexual cis-woman, the film’s ending seems to forget this criticism completely because it features Tanner and Fawcett winning prom royalty. Even if the producers had insisted that the movie must endorse prom royalty, it could have changed the victors. Instead of having the most normative queen bee and the main character win the title, it could have provided a scenario where Caprice had won it with Sophie. The audience’s awkward reaction could have been used to emphasize people’s discomfort with the idea that the winners of prom royalty can be of the same gender. However, I do see the satire in showing the most predictable scenario as an indication that people are generally more inclined to choose the trendiest option, and in this case it was having the most popular queen bee and a G.B.F. be prom king and queen.

The two fundamental issues I had with the film is that one, it did not allow the audience to fully question their own preconceived notions of identity politics and two, that symbolic aspects of identity regarding sexual orientation were prioritized over the material consequences. Whoever wrote the script perhaps presented stereotypes humorously because they wanted the film to be accessible and enjoyable to as many people as possible rather than it be more thought provoking at the expense of it being entertaining. The fact that it was centered on LGBTQ issues means that already it likely alienated a large portion of film viewers, and therefore the producers could not afford to lose any more if they wanted the project to be profitable. It is ironic to note that despite the film taking place in a high school setting, and despite that high schoolers are the target audience, it was given an R rating “For sexual references, while not having a single F-bomb, hint of nudity or violence” (Busis). The director stated that the rating was given likely because of romantic scenes between homosexual characters. There are many films that reference sexual intercourse between people of the opposite gender that get a PG-13 rating (examples include Forrest Gump and Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn Part 1). This indicates that the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) regards homosexual romance as something much more taboo. A likely consequence of this decision is that the film generated a lower box office and perhaps even a lower profit margin, than it would have, had it been rated PG-13.

 

 

Works Cited

Busis, Hillary. “‘G.B.F.’ Director Blames ‘R’ Rating on MPAA’s Gay Double-standard.”

Entertainment Weekly’s EW.com, N.p., 20 Dec. 2013.

<http://www.ew.com/article/2013/12/20/gbf-mpaa-r-rating-gay>  Web. 08 Sept. 2016.

Robinson, Brandon Andrew. “Beyond Family Rejection: Poverty And Instability In The Lives

Of LGBTQ Homeless Youth.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 01 Sept.

  1. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brandon-andrew-robinson/beyond-family-

rejection-p_b_11785292.html> Web. 08 Sept. 2016.

Romero, Kate. Tanner and Fawcett discuss fashion preferences. Digital

image.Www.ew.com. N.p., 20 Dec. 2013.

<http://www.ew.com/sites/default/files/styles/tout_image_612x380/public/i/2013/12

/20/GBF_612x380_0.jpg?itok=UNpaz0RM>. Web. 17 Sept. 2016.

[1] Please note that all of the content in quotations is from lines of the film unless specified otherwise.