Writing by Samrit Mathur
Art by Jamie Liu
As queer narratives play an increasingly central role in popular film and media, it is important to pay a wary eye to how “the queer experience” is portrayed and who is portraying it. In Billy Eichner’s 2022 film Bros, Eichner simultaneously challenges the sanitization of queer narratives in film through sex positivity and rounded characters, while also engaging in that sanitization by centering white cisgender gay men who face a set of queer obstacles that are more relatable to popular audiences of heteronormative romantic comedy films. I seek to explore the importance of intersectionality within popular queer films and introspect on the challenges of issuing cultural criticism at a historical moment when diversity is at the forefront of media discourse.
Bros follows Bobby Leiber, a curator at an LGBTQ+ history museum, as he navigates hookup culture, conflicts at work, and falling in love with a man who is just as afraid of commitment as he is. In an interview with Buzzfeed, Eichner explains that the film’s goals were to challenge the “monolithic vision” of the queer community, step away from traditional tragic depictions of queer narratives through comedy, and ultimately reach a much larger audience than previous movies starring queer couples. Because Bros presents Bobby as a rounded main character with commitment issues, a somewhat arrogant flair, and a penchant for awkward gay sex, Eichner belives that the film is a breakthrough for queer cinematography.
It is first important to acknowledge that Bros is a breakthrough film in having an all-LGBTQ+ cast and achieving a higher level of commercial success than previous films within the genre, grossing $4.8 million at the box office. The film’s unfiltered presentation of the queer experience is melded beautifully with the classic elements of romantic comedy. However, Bros is both directed by and stars white cisgender gay men and therefore reflects only a very specific tranche of obstacles. In the pursuit of commercial success, Eichner chooses to place queer people with multiple marginalized identities in the periphery, rendering a reductive vision of queer obstacles to viewers. For example, in one particular scene, Bobby sits around a dinner table of his friends with a myriad of identities, from polyamorous couples to transgender people of color. These characters listen passively to Bobby complain about his challenges at work and the difficulties of dating as a white gay man. This scene stood out to me because it perfectly captures how Bros peripheralizes the struggles of people with multiple marginalized identities. Struggles with finding love on Grindr, hookup culture, and gay stereotyping are portrayed as universal queer challenges. This fails to address the physical and mental violence that queer people of color disproportionately experience. There will always be a balance between achieving mass commercial success and authentically presenting the intricacies of queer narratives.
Bros lacks intersectionality and therefore fails to critically uplift the most vulnerable members of the queer community. Eichner’s unitary focus on the love and commitment struggles of white cis gay men is more palatable to a broader audience interested in romantic comedy than a more critical exploration of queer-of-color experiences. While Bros may be a breakthrough film in complexifying monolithic visions of queer identity and achieving widespread commercial success, there are many underrecognized films that center intersectionality such as Tangerine (2015) that features the experiences of a transgender woman of color or The Third Party (2016) which explores lesbianism within Filipino culture. In spotlighting the obstacles and lived realities of queer people with multiple marginalized identities, these intersectional films are just as, if not more deserving, of popular attention and project funding.
I find it guilt-inducing to issue cultural critiques on films that center marginalized identities, especially those that I belong to. While I volley against the lack of intersectionality in Bros, I am ultimately happy to see queerness embraced so unabashedly on screen. Eichner is right that the constant association of queer identity and tragedy is difficult to endure and that it is refreshing to see queer love, humor, and self-discovery. Growing up ashamed of my queer identity and today saddened to be a witness of perpetual anti-queer violence, I am unable to be critical of films that bring queerness or South Asian identity to the forefront of popular media without feeling an immense wave of guilt. Shouldn’t I be grateful for all the progress that has been made? Do I have a right to demand something more from these filmmakers who, perhaps blindsided by their own self-centered identities, fail to reflect intersectionality as well as I would like them to? As of today, I don’t have the answers to these questions. I can only hope that our cultural critiques do not discourage marginalized filmmakers but rather encourage a collective re-centering of the people who are most oppressed by our social structures in popular media and beyond.
 Zack Sharf, “Why Did Billy Eichner's 'Bros' Bomb at the Box Office? Straight People Aren't Entirely to Blame,” Variety, October 3, 2022, https://variety.com/2022/film/box-office/bros-box-office-bomb-why-billy-eichner-comedy-flopped-1235391341/.
 Keaton Bell. “How Billy Eichner Made the Best ROM-Com of the Year,” Vogue, October 3, 2022. https://www.vogue.com/article/billy-eichner-bros-movie-interview.