Condescending Gold Star Award: Love Is All You Need

Last night I watched a short film called “Love Is All You Need?”. That link will take you to the film if you feel like spending 20 minutes acquainting yourself, but this needs to run with a massive trigger warning: the film is full of slurs and shows graphic images of bullying, violence, and suicide. If those might trigger you, I think it’s better to sit this one out than to have a seriously day-ruining experience because of a mediocre movie.

The basic premise of the film is to flip the societal script. Our current world is heteronormative and full of homophobia. The world of the film is homonormative (I guess? Is that a word?) and full of heterophobia. In the film, heterosexual individuals are the targets of hatred and bullying which emerge from society’s systematic othering. The film is attempting to show hetero people how it feels to live with the kind of violence that is inflicted on queer people every day. It’s been received positively and has won lots of awards. Unfortunately, this movie is a problematic disaster hiding under a façade of good intentions. Congratulations, “Love Is All You Need?”, you’ve just been awarded a Condescending Gold Star!

You Tried Gold Star

First and most glaringly, this film features a blatant erasure of identity.  The film gives no space, voice, visibility, or even acknowledgement of anyone other than cisgender gay people and cisgender straight people. The entire community of trans* folks, as well as people who identify as bi, pan, or asexual are completely absent. This erasure of identity is a form of violence, and is extremely problematic in a film that is allegedly advocating for social justice. On top of all of that, there are no people of color in this film. (Help! I’m drowning in a sea of white people!) Oh, wait! There is one person of color… a black man who beats up a white girl. Your star is being amended.

No You Didn't Star

One of Ashley’s moms is aggressive and disinterested while the other is passive and compassionate. These obvious male/female role assignments are clearly a heteronormative representation. I don’t know what the filmmakers were trying to do there but it was disappointing to see queer parenting presented in such a heteronormative manner. Emphasizing our sameness is not equivalent to celebrating our difference. Just like the idea of being colorblind, this approach ignores very real struggles. It results in more identity erasure.

This was further emphasized by another of the film’s galling missteps: the bizarre portrayal of gender role reversal. In the film’s world, acting is for boys and playing football is for girls. Of course I support boys in the arts and girls in sports, but the film showed a reversal not a mingling. That is completely inappropriate in a film about sexual orientation. It seems like these filmmakers don’t understand that sexual orientation and gender identity operate independently of each other. This film effectively reinforced the harmful and idiotic stereotype that all lesbian women are butch and all gay men are femme. The film’s website argues “this film is not about ‘genderizing’ or ‘stereotyping’ but I really can’t see how perpetuating the masculinization of lesbian women and the feminization of gay men is helpful in any way.

In fact, very little in this film is helpful. It speaks to a group of hetero folks who probably already vaguely identify as allies. These hetero ‘allies’ should be learning about microaggressions and legal inequities, and how they can use their privilege to change those things. I have a feeling that were a violent homophobe to watch this film, they would leave feeling more justified in their hatred. Because homophobic individuals are already operating in an illogical framework, they’re going to use the film as a justification for eradicating homosexuality in order to prevent the perceived end result of the gay rights movement- heterophobia. I can already hear the deranged chorus, “If we don’t stop the gays, look at what they’ll do to us!”

The real kicker comes at the very end of the film when a slide appears saying, “This film is dedicated to every child who has ever felt such darkness due to others’ hatred and misunderstanding. Always know that love is meant to be within and you should never feel wrong or alone by being who you are…Unique” which is a seriously minimalizing and hurtful message. They may as well have said, “Oh, you precious gay kids. Sure, you live in a violent world where people literally try to kill you because of who you are, but it doesn’t even matter if you just love yourself!!”

Tried and Failed Star

“Love Is All You Need?” is an unfortunate example of the problematic ally relationship. Too often, allies come into a movement and silence the group they’re allegedly advocating for. I don’t agree with the rhetorical approach of this film; I think it’s a blatant straight appropriation of a queer movement. Straight people should not gain sympathy or decide to become an activist as a result of the issues being made all about them. Everything is already about straight people!

I do think this film could work. But it needs to be made by queer folks. If we’re really going to be allies, we need to stop taking control of movements that are not ours. We need to have more public discussions, and I appreciate this film’s attempt to do that. I think the filmmakers’ hearts were in the right place… but there reaches a point when love is not all you need. As allies, what we need to do is to shut up and stop trying to take control of movements that do not belong to us.

9 thoughts on “Condescending Gold Star Award: Love Is All You Need

  1. Ugh, I HATE oppression-reversal movies. “I can’t empathize with the struggles of women/gay people/people of color unless they’re like ME!” Fantastic review, though!

    • Right?! I can almost understand how privilege can make people so blind and selfish that they can’t appreciate an issue until it’s made about them, but… it’s so absurd.

  2. I’m so glad I saw this! I watched the movie and thought it was sad, but the whole time I was wondering if I was the only thinking there was some blatant gender stereotyping going on, and that it didn’t really do much to further the cause (a child being pushed to suicide is just as devastating a message if it is because of homophobia or the made-up “heterophobia”). The parents really got me, because, as you mentioned, when I watched it I thought, “oh, look, I can tell exactly who is supposed to be the mom and who is supposed to be the dad in this relationship.”

    • I agree! I understand what the film was trying to do, and I appreciate the attempt. But, wow! The execution was a swing and a miss, miss, miss.

  3. Maybe i’m being a tad forgiving here, but I don’t think this was made for us. It was made for the narrow minded and as such, you can only throw so many things at the narrow minded mindset before it explodes. They went for a narrative that a person still getting used to desegregation could wrap their heads around. If that is indeed the case they made out gangbusters. If i’m wrong, which i’m told is often the case, they deserve your star and then some.

    • I think you’re right about the filmmaker’s goals. However, the approach and execution is so flawed and problematic, I think it creates more harm than good. This film appeals to allies by making the issue about them, which it isn’t. Creating an army of self-centered, mis-informed allies will derail a cause and perpetuate heteronormative violences. I like the idea of creating allies. But we need to listen to the people involved, the people who live this reality daily, rather than taking over and moving a cause in the wrong direction.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your perspective!

  4. I found your criticism of the film interesting but I’m afraid I disagree with you on a number of points.
    For starters you point out the fact that the film has no transgender character-speaking as a trans woman personally a world where gays/lesbians were the majority would probably not change my life in term of the challenges I face being a trans woman, even in our hetero-normative world many L and Gs are trans phobic.

    Similarly in the world the movie presents would life be much different for an Asexual person, I think they would still be considered a ‘prude’ by ignorant people. The point of the film was to show what a straight girl would suffer in a hetero phobic world the same way a gay youth may suffer in this one, including a transgender person or an ace person in that narrative simple for the sake of them being there without exploring the actual issues they face would have been simple tokenism, perhaps we could do with a film that does explore such issues but that would have to be different films with very different story lines and would not be this film.

    Including a bisexual and/or pansexual perspective may have been interesting but again would the issues facing such communities have been different in the world of the film? if a bisexual person in the film fall in love with a person of the other gender they would probably face the same issues Ashley did.

    I agree with your point about race, they could have made goals to be a little more diverse but they do have a wedding scene in the film where one of the grooms is black, seeing an interracial gay marriage is not something we see in everyday media.

    You say you see an unfortunate gender stereotyping in the film with one of Ashley’s moms being ‘dad’ and another being ‘mom’ and with lines such as ‘drama is for boys and sport is for girls’. I disagree again here, rather Ashley’s experience of being pressurized into having more masculine traits is one that myself, other trans women and some gay men have experienced, the film is meant to be a gay/straight flipped world and therefore the stereotypes about many queer folk and straight folk and gender have been flipped along with it. I personally feel that is more effective then leaving the stereotypes out, stereotypes effect all of our lives, this flipping of stereotypes shows straight people how they effect queer people. It’s basically saying to a straight boy ‘what if you were called a breather for liking football’?

    As for Ashley’s moms while yes one is more aggressive, I don’t think she is disinterested or compassionate about her daughter, I think she fails to understand why her daughter is so different from her and is letting her ‘hetero phobia’ hurt her daughter without realizing it, this again is something many Queer people can relate too. Why is this mom ‘considered’ to be dad ?Because she works and is more aggressive, I came from a heterosexual family where my mother works and is just as aggressive as my father is, being aggressive is a human trait. The other mother is just as prejudice against heterosexuals and I don’t think she is anymore understanding of her daughter then her wife is, if she was she would not have called a hetero couple blatant for expressing their feelings.

    While some homophobic people may walk away with the perception of the film you feel they may get, I think there are other homophobic people whom may have their minds changed be such a film. I went to an all male school where many people were homophobic mainly because they had never mate an openly LGBT person and never had the issues we faced raised to them, this type of film could have acted as a real eye opener for them and would have made them question things they never had before.

    Lastly I feel you are misunderstanding the closing message of the film. As person who has experienced the kind of things Ashley is going through I found myself hating me and it was that self loathing that nearly killed me, the final message is not that it doesn’t matter someone is trying to hurt them for who they are but not to let what those people are doing cause them to hate themselves, and hurt themselves like Ashley does and as many queer people have.
    I understand that’s a lot but I felt the need to say it.

    • Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts! I appreciate your perspective, although mine hasn’t changed.

      I still feel that this film is ultimately harmful due its extreme pandering to the ‘ally’ community and erasure of queer voices. A film like this could be powerful and meaningful, but it needs be made by the folks who live these experiences. It’s frustrating when allies, generally people who already have privilege in society, dominate a narrative that doesn’t belong to them. Responses to Macklemore’s “Same Love” and Sarah Bareilles’s “Brave” are good examples of straight-appropriation of queer issues in music.

      I’m glad the film resonated with you. If it helps people, that’s obviously wonderful. I still believe that it does much more harm than good due to its misguided presentation.

  5. I made an error above, I meant to say that I don’t Ashley’s mom is uncompassionate I left out the un sorry about my spelling

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