Queering the Camera Eye: Is There a Queer Film Aesthetic? (For SCMS April 2020)

deadline for submissions: 
August 15, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Elizabeth Finnegan, Associate Professor, D'Youville College
contact email: 

Seeking papers for a panel for Society of Cinema and Media Studies conference in April 2020


While Queer film theory and criticism has steadily expanded and diversified in scope, especially in recent years, the focus has remained, for the most part, on exploring narrative content, characters, and representations of stereotypes, tropes, and cultural myths of queerness. Mainstream studio films with queer storylines—even when written and/or directed by queer filmmakers—continue to be so rare that we often tend to overlook the problems inherent in representing these storylines within the same hegemonic patriarchal, heteronormative cinematic language that Hollywood has established as the norm. Queer content is typically domesticated and normalized not only by “universalizing” themes designed to put straight audiences at ease, but also by cliched visual tropes.


Film and media scholars have long recognized the power of Hollywood’s cinematic conventions to shape and influence audience perceptions, emotions, and attitudes. Laura Mulvey’s analysis of the male gaze in Hollywood cinema is only one of many examples that illuminate how our hegemonic practices and assumptions (in particular, with regard to patriarchy, white supremacy, heteronormativity, Christianity, and capitalism) are reinforced and perpetuated by Hollywood film—very often even ostensibly “liberal,” “feminist,” “anti-racist,” or “LGBTQ-positive” films.


Many queer filmmakers working outside of that system, however, have been producing work that not only offers more nuanced, complex characters and stories, but that also often looks completely different, as though these stories simply could not be told, nor these characters represented, in the visual language of Hollywood. This becomes even more evident—and more urgent—for queer filmmakers of color. Instead, filmmakers like Cheryl Dunye, Marlon Riggs, Sadie Benning, Pedro Almodóvar, Dee Rees, Barry Jenkins, and others seem to have been inventing a new visual language with camera, mise-en-scene, and editing. This language is richly inventive, fresh, fearless, and often defies convention. Is this language also somehow intrinsically queer?


This panel seeks a range of papers offering a variety of perspectives and approaches to questions such as (but not limited to):


Is there/could there be such a thing as a “Queer” visual style (using the term loosely to include cinematography, mise-en-scene, and editing)? If so, what does/might that look like?


Where or how might race, gender, and/or sexual identities intersect (in particular filmmakers or films) in ways that could be read through their visual style?


Taking into account the arguments for broadening our understanding of what we mean by “queerness” beyond sexual orientation and gender identity, what (or who) would you consider including in the category of “Queer” in a discussion about Queer film or a Queer film aesthetic?


What films or filmmakers might be examples of a queer visual style? What makes these films queer in style and not just in content?


Considering the power of Hollywood film language to shape and influence audience perceptions and emotions, could it likewise be possible for a queer film, using the power of a queer aesthetic, to (even just a little bit) shape and influence the perceptions and emotions of its audience? That is, can a queer film, in some way, queer an audience?

Final panel title and description will be revised to reflect the papers chosen. Please send: 1) a paper abstract (2500 character max) on a topic of your choice that includes a statement about how your discussion or approach could contribute to the panel;2) a short bio, and 3) a 3-5 entry bibliography of materials (of any type) you would likely be incorporating in your paper to ehfinnegan@gmail.com by August 15. Notifications will go out August 20. Thanks!

My Bio: I am a filmmaker, painter, and interdisciplinary scholar. As an Associate Professor of English and Director of the Art, Media & Performance Program at D’Youville College, I teach and write about film studies, media studies, gender and queer studies, social justice activism,  American literature, and ordinary language philosophy. My research focuses primarily on investigating epistemological questions within film and literature, in particular the literature of the American South, using some of the approaches and strategies of the later Wittgenstein.