What Queerbaiting is and What it Does
On April 30th, 1997, the sitcom Ellen staring Ellen DeGeneres, released the Puppy episode, in which Ellen’s character came out of the closet and reflected on Ellen coming out herself. Ellen then appeared on the cover of Time, with the caption “yep, I’m gay”.
Two years ago, Ellen held the 20th anniversary of that episode, in which she celebrated how far we have come in terms of recognizing LGBTQ people. Although this article mentions how harmful queerbaiting is, it also recognizes the significant strides we have made towards LGBTQ+ equality. However, many large production studios have not progressed in terms of representation as much as they should.
In 2016, the trailer for Finding Dory, coincidentally starring Ellen, was released, which subtly featured two women in a relationship in the background of a scene. The Wrap, Vox, The Guardian, and many other publications all wrote their own articles highlighting this step towards promoting LGBTQ rights, despite the actual scene being blink and you miss it. This, in essence, is what queerbaiting is: teasing LGBTQ representation to sell more tickets and please members of that community. Because of this, these movies are still able to screen in countries that do not support LGBTQ rights, because they never explicitly confirmed any romantic or sexual interest.
Not only do studios worry about places like China, one of the largest box office contributors in general, being opposed to showing movies that portray LGBTQ love, but in recent years some states in “middle America” have refused to air anything suggesting a non-heterosexual relationship. These states have justified this ban as stopping “propaganda”. In a more egregious example, an Alabama theater refused to air Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast, as side-character Lefou was seen dancing with a man in a more familial and less romantic way. While this is a more extreme example, the fact of the matter is that these large studios are businesses first and foremost, and that catering to the largest and most popular mindsets is not questioned at all by these companies if it means more profits.
In a bit of a running joke, J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, infamously announced that Dumbledore was gay after finishing her final book. The problem with this, in the eyes of many fans, is that she is able to say that she has a major character representing the community without having to garner any of the controversy that would come with having such a representation in such a largely read series.
Additionally, when the decision to make a Fantastic Beasts series was made, a prequel to the Harry Potter stories, it became clear that Dumbledore would have to play some sort of role in the movies. Depicted by Jude Law, Dumbledore had some intense moments with another man, but in a scene that went out of its way to show how non-sexual the nature of this relationship was. This unethical practice of queerbaiting is an exploitation of the market, found everywhere from Poe and Finn in Star Wars to popular characters throughout dramas such as Riverdale and Killing Eve, provides more harm than good. This is because it takes a potential platform to spread awareness but instead chickens out with the desire to conform and turn a better profit.