Inside the Making of an On-Screen First Queer Kiss
A queer on-screen kiss holds a deep gravity to a film’s plot. Filmmakers at the Outfest Fusion QTBIPOC Film Festival give a glimpse behind the current how they created these magical moments.
By Shahamat Uddin
April 26, 2023
Two Two Spirit people embrace eachother while dancing, faces leaning towards one another. A still from Roberto Fatal’s Chaac and Yum.
Maybe it all starts with a look. Or, perhaps, a touch of the knee. Or, for the bolder types, maybe someone even says something – gutting. Someone takes a deep gulp. A pair of individuals lock eyes, briefly, or maybe way too long for comfort. There are the slow lean ins or the sudden head grabs or a confusing mixture of both, yet, a queer on-screen kiss holds a deep gravity to a film’s plot that often flips an entire film on its own axis.
At this year’s Outfest Fusion QTBIPOC Film festival, filmmakers were no strangers to portraying on-screen queer kisses. From Roberto Fatal’s Chaac and Yum to Shakil Jessa’s Imran and Alykhan to Mishaal Memon’s Shoot Your Shot, festival attendees were able to experience a wide breadth of queer kisses that spanned cultures, ages and genders. Marco De Luca, director of Outfest Fusion films Forever and This Is You understands the power of an on-screen queer kiss like a “coronation.”
He tells Outfest, “I’ve directed plenty of on-screen kisses, but it’s really true that a queer kiss has such a different impact, not just on the story itself, but on the viewer too. It’s almost like a coronation. It’s a way for people to know an aspect of a character that they might not necessarily see from the beginning. It carries so much meaning. A queer kiss introduces a whole world within a story. It makes everything different for everyone involved.”
A white man with short brown hair leaning against a rope talks to to a Black man with short black hair on the side of a boxing arena. A still from Marco De Luca’s This Is You.
De Luca’s film, This Is You, follows two life-long friends, Shane and Jimmy, who discover new romantic feelings for each other at the height of a COVID-19 struck London, England. The film eclipses in a tender kiss at Shane’s boxing gym where he practices regularly.
“From the beginning of the film, Shane is closed off. He’s very guarded. He loves boxing, but it’s a solo sport.” De Luca says. “When he kisses Jimmy, there’s such an unforgettable gentleness to it. In the way that he tenderly leans forward, he’s so gentle. It shows you Shane’s inner world more than any other dialogue in the story.”
For De Luca, his on-screen kiss had impact beyond just the four walls of a movie theater. While interviewing De Luca, he stopped to mention that he was actually looking out his window onto a bus stop where he filmed scenes of the short. He recounted that while writing this film, he once saw two individuals share an unforgettable embrace right at that stop – a rare rather occurrence in De Luca’s British neighborhood. The public closeness inspired the tension he sought to build between Shane and Jimmy in This Is You.
When preparing to film the kiss, De Luca’s producer scouted a local gym and told the owner they’d be making a short film about a young boxer, but what the gym owner didn’t know was that De Luca was filming a queer love story. De Luca recounts the owner’s “eyes getting bigger and bigger” as he watched the two actors kiss on the floor of his gym. But afterwards, the gym owner reached out to De Luca to share how incredibly proud he was that this story was shot at his gym.
An older Indian women with sholder length Black hair looks lovingly at a younger Indian woman with sholder length black hair. A still from Arun Fulara’s My Mother’s Girlfriend.
For Arun Fulara, director of Outfest Fusion short My Mother’s Girlfriend, the queer kiss in his film held a similarly strong gravity, but for completely different characters. In My Mother’s Girlfriend, Renuka, an Indian woman in her 60s enjoys a day out with her girlfriend, Sadiya, a significantly younger working class Indian woman. The film eclipses in a kiss the two share together, but is abridged when Renuka’s son, Mangesh witnesses the embrace.
“Even before I had written the film, the kiss was always going to be the apex of the story. That’s what the film was always going to be building towards,” Fulara tells Outfest.
While making this film, Fulara was hyper-focused on creating the perfect kiss between Sadiya and Renuka. Unlike the characters in This Is You, Sadiya and Renuka were romantic from the start of the film, but the audience doesn’t get to see them kiss until more than halfway through. Fulara relied on musical score to build and break tension for the on-screen kiss. He knew that this embrace would have a significant shock factor, but that was part of his motivation towards creating it.
“I knew the film would shock the major audiences that I wanted to see it. The film is from the perspective of the mother’s son and that’s who I imagined would be watching it,” Fulara said.
Two women sit together leaning against a wall, the one covering the others mouth. A man in background looks onward towards them just out of view. A still from Marco De Luca’s Forever.
Fulara portrayed a queer on-screen kiss audiences rarely get to see – one between non-Western older and younger queer women. After the film made its way through the festival circuit, Fulara said audiences repeatedly shared their joy in seeing a new aspect of queer representation, especially one that humanizes queer intimacy for elders.
De Luca’s other feature short at Outfest Fusion Forever also features a queer kiss, but under completely different circumstances. In Forever, the two titular vampire characters share a kiss at the end of their lives, embracing each other after being chased into sunshine that assuredly will kill them. De Luca says that the kiss in Forever is the ultimate goodbye whereas in This Is You, the kiss is almost the ultimate beginning. In just two subject shorts, De Luca shows the wide interpretation, possibility and meaning a queer kiss can hold for not only two characters, but also the entire plot of the film.
In the making of an on-screen queer kiss, filmmakers are tasked with the onerous task of joining two characters into a whole new world of cultural meaning and relational intimacy. Yet, filmmakers also have the power to create something everlasting – a moment that “apexes” a film and a moment that can actually bring a movie into an entirely separate category of filmmaking: queer cinema. Just in the lock of two lips alone, filmmakers can connect to queer audiences everywhere and create an unfathomably wide world that tells queer stories in new and inventive ways.
Shahamat Uddin (he/him) is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn, NY. He regularly covers social issues surrounding South Asian, Queer and American South topics. His work can be found in VOGUE India, Teen Vogue, Vulture, Refinery29, them, The Nation and more. Follow him on Instagram or LinkedIn to find more of his work.
Uddin is one of the eight 2023 Outfest Inclusive Press Initiative Fellows for the Outfest Fusion QTBIPOC Film Festival. You can learn more about them and the program here.
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