Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 3 hours / session


There are no prerequisites for this course.

Course Description

In this course, students will be introduced to LGBTQ film in a wide range of historical and cultural contexts, with the aim of investigating relationships between queer representation across different genres, and at different political moments in history. We will examine documentary, Hollywood films of the 20th and 21st century, New Queer Cinema, and other visual texts, “reading” these works as cultural texts that shed light on the ongoing historical struggles over gender identity and appropriate sexual behaviors. The course traces the history of LGBTQ / queer identity as expressed through film from the 20th century to the present, examining the effect of the Hollywood Production Code and censorship of sexual themes and content in Hollywood film, and the ensuing subversion of queer cultural production in embedded codes and metaphors.

Queer Cinema and Visual Culture considers queer representation in historical context, asking how literature and popular film participated in the construction and reflection of stereotypes, tropes, and cultural perception of non-normative sexual and gender identities. In addition, we will consider the significance of these cultural texts as artifacts and examples of various aspects of queer theory, including but not limited to confession and the repressive hypothesis (Foucault), performativity of gender (Butler), epistemology of the closet (Sedgwick), queer spectatorship, and the oppositional gaze (hooks).

What does it mean to be a reader of a queer text, and what makes a text count as queer? The evolution of queer literature and cinema from early negative representations of sexual and gender deviance as monstrosity to the emergence of camp and New Queer Cinema raises provocative questions about the politics of representation, the use of irony and humor as resistance, and the power and the pitfalls of queer art forms as a tool of liberation and social justice.

Required Text

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Mariner Books, 2007. ISBN: 9780618871711. [Preview with Google Books]

Recommended Texts

Highsmith, Patricia. The Price of Salt (aka Carol). Dover Publications, 2015. ISBN: 9780486800295. [Preview with Google Books]

Hilderbrand, Lucas. Paris Is Burning. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2014. ISBN: 9781551525198. [Preview with Google Books]

For additional readings, see the Readings section.


The Celluloid Closet. Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Color and Black and White, 104 min. 1996.

Before Stonewall. Directed by Greta Schiller and Robert Rosenberg. Color and Black and White, 87 min. 1985.

Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria. Directed by Victor Silverman and Susan Stryker. Color, 57 min. 2005.

I Am Not Your Negro. Directed by Raoul Peck. Color and Black and White, 93 min. 2017.

Rope. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Color, 80 min. 1948.

The Children’s Hour. Directed by William Wyler. Black and White, 108 min. 1961.

The Danish Girl. Directed by Tom Hooper. Color, 119 min. 2016.

Carol. Directed by Todd Haynes. Color, 118 min. 2016.

Philadelphia. Directed by Jonathan Demme. Color, 125 min. 1994.

Tongues Untied. Directed by Marlon Riggs. Color, 55 min. 1989.

The Watermelon Woman. Directed by Cheryl Dunye. Color, 90 min. 1997.

Paris Is Burning. Directed by Jennie Livingston. Color, 71 min. 1991.

Free CeCe! Directed by Jacqueline Gares. Color, 100 min. 2018.

Sense8. Color, 60 min. episodes. 2015–2018.


Attendance and participation 10%
Class presentation / discussion leader 20%
Facebook blog 20%
Critical response  / review essay 20%
Final essay 30%

Attendance and Participation

Attendance and participation are critical to your success in this course. Each class session will focus on one or more topics and be accompanied by appropriate readings. Please be sure to read all assignments in advance, come to class on time and be prepared to discuss your reactions and ideas. Failure to attend will adversely affect your grade. Missing more than two weeks of class will cause you to fail the course. Active participation in discussion in class is necessary to receive full credit.

Class Presentation / Discussion Leader

Each student will have the responsibility of preparing and leading class discussion once this semester, either alone or working with another student (depending on class size). You are encouraged to prepare a brief introduction to the main film or literary text for the week (perhaps including biographical information or a summary of published review responses, no more than 5–10 min). Use key points and questions raised by classmates in our Facebook discussion group (see below) to generate discussion of the text. For films, identifying a clip to show in class can be helpful; for texts, a key passage of interest.

Facebook Group Discussion

As we meet only once a week, we will be using a class Facebook page (set as a secret group for privacy) as a shared blog space. Each student is required to post a response to an assigned reading or film at least once a week no later than the Sunday preceding each class. This response must include:

  • a short paragraph of substantive critical thought about the reading (or film) you have chosen
  • a discussion question to pose to the class

You may also choose (but are not required) to include:

  • an image
  • a link
  • a video clip

Before class, each student will also be responsible for reading the discussion questions posed by classmates and responding in a comment to at least one other student.

The discussion question on the assigned weekly readings should be designed to invite discussion, not to address issues of comprehension of the readings (e.g. NOT: “I did not understand what the author meant by …” or “What is…?”). These types of clarification questions can be verbally posed during our discussion of the readings, but your typed discussion questions for credit should formulate a question that can only be answered by thoroughly engaging and interpreting the text and the author’s intentions. TIP: If anyone could answer your question without having read the text, it probably is not a good, text-specific question.

Before posing your question, provide a context (1–2 sentences) for your inquiry. Ask yourself what the common thread and / or what the wider framework of the readings is. If we are addressing more than one author for the week, ask yourself what the authors’ shared concerns are (even if they are arguing different things). This will help you articulate the context within which you will pose your question.

With your question you should attempt to address more than one reading assigned for that session. You can either pose a question in terms of comparing / contrasting points made by the authors (e.g. “Author A defines gender or sexual identity in this way, while author B defines it as that. How are these definitions different from each other and how do you evaluate their usefulness for your thinking about LGBTQ representation?”), or base it on shared arguments in the texts (e.g. “Both author A and B define sexual/gender identity this way. Considering that both ignore factor X in this debate, how sustainable is their definition?”).

The question will be graded based on the following criteria:

  • Is a context provided?
  • Is a course reading or film addressed? Is the author / title named?
  • Complexity of the question
  • Consistency of participation and quality of response to other students

Critical Response / Review Essay

This critical response paper will be a short assignment of 3–4 pages in which you write a critical review of a film required for the course. This assignment is aimed at giving you the opportunity to practice film criticism and learn how to write about visual content.

Final Essay

The final paper will consist of one of two options: either an essay response to a set of prompt questions distributed in the last weeks of class, or an independent research paper exploring a particular cinematic text through the application of course concepts in your analysis. The final will demonstrate your proficiency in applying concepts relevant to queer representation we have been studying over the course of the term.

For details on the critical response and final essays, see the Assignments section.