Based on the novel by James Ivory, Call Me By Your Name was one of 2017’s award show darlings. Collecting a nomination for best lead actor, best music, best picture, and best adapted screenplay (which it won) at the Oscars alone, the buzz that was spreading online translated into mainstream media. It seemed like there was a lot to celebrate about its success, being that it was a small-budget picture featuring a gay love story that was finding widespread support at the box office. But me? I was pissed.
I want desperately for there to be more representation in films. More films that tell the stories of non-cisgender people, Black people, poor people, LGBTQ+ people. When films telling these experiences get made, they reach a demographic that has long been ignored by major studios. What we see in media is what we expect from the real world— movies and film are how we learn about what society deems important. So, as more and more movies are being produced that tell the stories about minorities, the outside world is encouraged to pay attention. Slowly, these stories become integral to everyday culture, much like the stories of white and straight people that have always saturated western media.
But there is good, authentic, positive representation and there is bad, exploitative, negative representation. Gay people have been used in popular media for decades, but as a punch-line, a commodity, a strawman. Stereotypes of the gay best friend, the slutty bisexual, or just-for-college lesbian may not have the intent to be malicious, but when those are the only characters being presented to the public, these are the images people begin to associate with real-life individuals.
Call Me By Your Name recounts the coming of age of 17 year old Elio, played by Timothee Chalamet, as he spends a summer in Italy with his father, a professor. When Elio’s father takes 24 year old Oliver, a doctoral student, as his assisstant, a relationship between the two young men begins to bloom. They become romantically and sexually involved— a coupling that is casually accepted by Elio’s parents. There is enough problematic about the age gap between minor Elio and seven-years-older Oliver, but it becomes a major disturbance when the casting is considered. Timothee, playing Elio, while being 22 in reality, appears no older than 16 in the film. He is costumed and styled in a juvenile way, making an already small-framed Chalamet appear like he’s barely made it through puberty. Armie Hammer, in great contrast, who plays Oliver, could easily pass for 28 with his muscle mass probably weighing more than Chalamet’s whole body.
Elio is a young, closeted boy who ultimately ends up completely destroyed when three days into their fling, Oliver abandons him. Throughout their relationship, Oliver plays with Elio– making fun of him while he’s drunk, making him uncomfortable by rubbing his shoulders– and Elio pays the price for it. There’s nothing endearing about the way Elio is obviously enamored with Oliver, and Oliver basks in the attention. Even if the age-gap is “only seven years,” the power imbalance is blatant and emphasizes the insecurity in Elio that makes him so vulnerable.
It’s disturbing and hard to watch. It masquerades a predatory relationship as dreamy and romantic. It perpetuates the idea that all gay men are pedophiles. And to add insult to injury, both actors are straight. The reason this movie garnered such an online following was because it featured two conventionally attractive white males portraying a gay relationship that the young, majority female audience could fetishize, while still maintaining a separate sexual fantasy of the actors. That behavior dips into the problematic nature of some fan-girl culture, which is another topic for another day. There’s absolutely no reason not to cast gay people in gay roles, and it baffles me that productions continue to chose actors that don’t relate to the core plot of a film.
Even looking past the storyline (**in my opinion**), the writing is unbearably unrealistic and cringy, the acting is mediocre at best, and the movie’s only strong point is it’s location (which… it’s hard to make Italy look ugly).
In short: Blindly supporting LGBTQ+ films does not make you a good ally.
Blindly supporting LGBTQ+ films that perpetuate harmful stereotypes against the gay community makes you ignorant and lazy (@ the academy).
An incredibly well-written that also explores the dynamic of Elio and Oliver’s relationship:
And an incredibly Hot Take that relates to the issue of it’s hype: