Beyond Brokeback Mountain: Gay Nudity In Mainstream Film

While we have come a long way from the barely there nude scenes of BrokeBack Mountain, gay love and nudity has a long way to go.

Arts Movies & Television Triston Brewer

This article was published on March 25th, 2021

Nudity in mainstream Hollywood movies has always been met with some trepidation on the parts of studios and actors, but also the producers that produce these multimillion dollar projects. As a result, there are still only a handful of A-list performers that have bared all on screen. And while nudity has come a long way from the earliest years of Tinseltown, gay sex depicted on screen has been nearly nonexistent – particularly among big budget pictures. 

It seems strange to think it now, but there was once a time in Hollywood where there were no gay or lesbian-themed sections in video stores, no queer movie festivals, and certainly no man-on-man sex scenes for full frontal nudity. There was never even the discussion of a film with an expressly gay theme could be nominated for an Academy Award. 

The Golden Age of Cinema – Before & After

During the 80s, considered by many the Golden Age of cinema, the only avenue to consume gay content was primarily through art house and gay film festivals that mainly featured foreign actors. These films typically earned great reviews but little revenue but were noteworthy for covering the politically and socioeconomically charged era of the 80s as the AIDS epidemic spread throughout the LGBTQ+ community.

After the Golden Age, the AIDS epidemic and its impact on gay culture was still pronounced, but the political climate shifted in such a way that only a few major productions featured a gay male protagnist: Longtime Companion in 1990, and Philadelphia (starring Tom Hanks in an Oscar-winning role in 1993.Throughout the 90s, the gay film festival circuit remained the main way for audiences to see films portraying gay male sexuality. 

Then Brokeback Mountain happened.

The Brokeback Effect on the Industry 

Today, it is considered a classic and one of the most important movies in cinematic history, but at the time of its release, Brokeback Mountain was mired in uneasy controversy and raised eyebrows for its subject matter and the fact the notion of Hollywood telling the story using two of the hottest young actors of the moment in Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.

In what is still regarded as one of the best gay sex scenes depicted on film, the two leads show gay male love on screen in a steamy, visceral way that showcased hot sex between two MEN in a raw way for the first time and shaking up Hollywood towards a new trajectory. Insiders in Hollywood touted the film as a game-changer and Ang Lee was credited with changing the way the film industry featured gay themes. The prediction was that there would be lots more movies with men and A-list male actors serving up full frontal nudity. 

The reality has been? Not so much. 

Aside from a few movies here and there over the past decade and a half (and change) since Brokeback Mountain came out, there have only been a handful of movies that put gay love at the forefront. Surely, you remember at least a few of the following: Shortbus, Moonlight, Call Me By Your Name.

But in 2021, audiences are still waiting for the next Shortbus. There are fans eagerly awaiting another movie like Moonlight that features nude black male-on-male love and steamy sex. There is an audience out there for another not-so-quite ‘May-December’ relationship displayed on screen similar to Call Me By Your Name

Where are they? Tinseltown, where’s the (gay) love? Hollywood, where’s the beef? Show us the sex! We are waiting!

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