Oscar Wilde once said that “life imitates art.” For six students in Ryerson University’s RTA School of Media, this is true, timely and troubling.
Another Sad Gay Love Story is a short film co-written fourth-year students Quinton Bradshaw and Thomas Goldhar. The short takes place in 1980s Toronto and follows the story of two gay best friends, Jackie and Elliot, and their journey of self-discovery and acceptance.
The film is part of a thesis project conducted by the group, including Rosa Pierri (creative director), Michelle Hanitijo (director of photography), Louisa Lau (technical director) and Kelsey Cueva (audio lead).
The film throwback was intentional. As a queer person, Bradshaw says she wishes there were more narratives while she was in school that showed and supported the different sides of the gay experience.
This film comes at a perfect time. In July 2018, the Progressive Conservative government repealed Ontario’s 2015 sex-ed curriculum. While revisions take place, elementary schools have been instructed to teach from the province’s 1998 model. But that curriculum does not teach about the concepts of gender-identity, consent and sexting — some of the most relevant topics in today’s society.
According to Goldhar, the intention of the film is to increase the positive representation of the LGBTQ community in the media. This is done through creating a film with gay characters from different backgrounds.
“It’s education,” said Goldhar. “It shows more queer representation that isn’t just flat and one sided — that’s three-dimensional, that shows that the gay experience is different for everyone.”
For Bradshaw, it’s quite simple.
“The more aspects you can see, the more it can feel normal and the more people can feel reflected and find something that resonates with them.”
“And a lot of the things you see,” adds Goldhar, “they become a part of your belief system and personality and thought process.”
The article continues after the multimedia.
The directors agree their 1980 film couldn’t be more relevant in today’s Ontario.
The irony is not lost on Ryerson politics and governance professor Neil Thomlinson.
“The people who are opposed to this  curriculum are opposed to one thing — they don’t want to hear about homosexuality.”
Thomlinson recalls his own school experience with sex-ed. According to the Ryerson professor, it has always been an area of controversy.
“What passed for family life education in my days was so innocuous and would’ve been laughed out of town now,” he said.
Vivek Shraya, a Canadian writer and artist, says her sex-ed was disturbing. Identifying as a trans woman, Shraya says the lack of representation in sex-ed curriculum was problematic.
“My feelings of alienness as a queer body and as someone that was, I would say, genderqueer, was just further emphasized with my experience with sex ed.”
Shraya was the Positive Space co-ordinator at George Brown College for a decade, conducting anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia training with staff and faculty. She says, from these workshops, she noticed gender education should start at a younger age.
“Children are so much more receptive to these conversations than adults are,” she said. “And the kind of resistance I saw in my workshops from adults was unsettling to say the least.”
In 2016, Shraya released a children’s book called The Boy and the Bindi. According to the Canadian writer, the children’s book opened up conversations about gender and culture amongst elementary school students that wouldn’t have emerged without art.
“I think art has such a rich history of being a political conduit,” she said. “And in the face of government resistance, we need to be creative about how to continue to introduce dense, vital topics around sexuality and gender into the classrooms.”
Thomlinson believes art can often cross boundaries that ordinary activism can’t. He cites the film Philadelphia (1993) as an example, one of the first mainstream movies to discuss the topics of HIV/AIDS and homosexuality.
“It had the desired effect because suddenly people who never really thought about it before could not only imagine it, but there it was in their living rooms or in the theatres,” he said.
A big ask for a short film produced by two Ryerson students hoping to produce art that imitated their life – and now hoping their art might play a small role in helping change someone else’s life.