New slate of LGBTQ holiday movies sparks joy, criticism over portrayal of queer stories


Along with the holiday season, come the holiday movies. And this year, the onslaught includes something new — an unprecedented wave of flicks focused around LGBTQ-relationships.

While the selection has some industry insiders saying 'it's about time,' critics say Hollywood still has work to do toward shedding tropes often associated with queer stories. 

Film journalist Mary Beth McAndrews says the selection of light-hearted movies featuring gay characters is an important one that signals a "pretty big shift" in Christmas films. 

"A lot of the time in these [holiday-themed] movies, gay characters are side characters," McAndrews said.

"As you realize your sexuality growing up and you think, 'Am I bisexual? Am I gay? Am I a lesbian? I don't see myself represented'… it makes you feel sad that you don't see yourself."

Dan Levy, Ben Lewis join holiday films

But 2020 has brought radical change. U.S.-based holiday flicks such as Dashing in December, The Christmas House and I Hate New Years all cast gay couples in the lead roles. 

Canadians have been getting in on the action as well: Schitt's Creek star Dan Levy plays a supporting role in Hulu's recent Happiest Season, while Lifetime's first ever LGBTQ holiday film — The Christmas Setup, which has its Canadian premiere today at 8 p.m. ET on CTV Drama  — stars Toronto-born Ben Lewis alongside his real-life husband, Blake Lee.

That role, Lewis said, represents a significant cultural shift, one that was highlighted as he was tested for COVID-19 prior to arriving in Ottawa for filming. An older gay man who tested both Lewis and Lee said he was astounded by the progress made in his lifetime, Lewis said. 

"He was very emotional, as he's like swabbing our noses, telling us how much the representation means to him, how it's something he never thought he would see," Lewis said. "And so that was a very early indication ... of the greater cultural significance of of doing the movie."

McAndrews said this change, in holiday films specifically, is important. Whereas films featuring queer stories have seen success, they often deal with heavy, depressing and dour themes.