Welcome to the second article of our 2021 Pride Month Series! Each day in the month of June, we will be highlighting a different member of the LGBTQ+ community who we think is a great example of representation and dynamic characterization. We will focus on fictional characters, celebrities, and activists alike — the positive voices within the LGBTQ+ community and in mainstream media.
The Boys in the Band was one of the first American theater productions to solely focus on the lives of the LGBTQ+ community, with all but one of its core cast being a gay man. Michael is the closest thing to a main character in this production, and his experiences over the course of the story is a unique one. The Boys in the Band premiered off Broadway for the first time in 1968 and saw a poorly received 1970 film adaptation. However, the 2020 Netflix film adaptation featuring an all-star cast of openly-gay men, including Jim Parsons as Michael, has been met with a great deal of success, as was the 2018 Broadway revival featuring the same cast.
We first meet Michael in the opening sequence of the film as we seem him shopping for supplies for Harold’s (Zachary Quinto) birthday party that he’s hosting that evening. He instantly becomes a relatable character as he returns to his apartment and cant get the door open because his arms are full, then he can’t get to the phone in time (it was 1968 there were no cell phones), and when he does get to the phone he tells his friend Donald (Matt Bomer) that he is welcome to come early if he brings ice, since what Michael bought is now on the floor. In case that wasn’t enough for you to relate to him, we then see Michael lusting over his friend and semi-neurotically preparing for the party guests to arrive, which lasts until he gets another phone call.
The second call is from Michael’s college roommate Alan, who calls in tears claiming he needs to talk to Michael immediately. So Michael hesitantly invites Alan to the party, and Alan accepts. When the other guests begin arriving, Michael warns them that Alan may stop by, and if he does they need to be aware that Alan is a bit of a homophobe who doesn’t know that Michael is gay — and Michael would like to keep it that way. Luckily Alan later calls to say he can’t make it, and the party goes forward with everyone having a good time dancing and generally celebrating. Until Alan actually does show up.
With Alan’s arrival Michael immediately begins to backtrack and make up explanations for anything happening that might be perceived as gay behavior, from the dancing to Emory’s (Robin de Jesús) flamboyant behavior, in an attempt to hide the truth. Everyone there is visibly uncomfortable with this, ultimately leading Michael to take Alan upstairs to talk, but when the conversation goes nowhere, Michael returns to the party and Alan prepares to leave. That is until Emory makes a comment about Alan being closeted, and Alan physically and verbally assaults him. This turns out to be too much for Michael, as he begins drinking and smoking despite having quit just over a month earlier.
As it turns out, Michael is not a particularly nice drunk, and he begins to spew insults before informing everyone that they will be playing a party game. The game is simple: call the one person you truly loved on the phone and you are awarded points based on what happens during the call. Simple though it may be, everyone seems reluctant to play, but Michael is insistent ultimately leading to everyone but Michael, Donald, Harold, and Harold’s birthday gift from Emory (Charlie Carver) to make a call. The ensuing drama includes Michael making the observation that Larry (Andrew Rannells) and Donald had sex in the past. An observation he then uses as a weapon against both Donald and Larry, as well as Larry’s partner Hank (Tuc Watkins) leading to even more drama. Then because he simply cannot help himself, Michael confronts Alan about a potential closeted relationship that occurred in college.
Alan defies Michael’s expectation that he will call said closeted partner, instead calling his wife for his turn during the game. Michael ends up upset, and the party breaks up fairly quickly after that. Alan leaves without ever telling Michael what was so urgent, and Harold leaves with his gift, but not before reminding Michael that no matter what he does Michael will always be homosexual just like the rest of them. This is the final straw for Michael as in his empty living room he breaks down in Donald’s arms, before heading out to a midnight mass. The film ultimately ends with Michael walking home from church in tears.
The reason Michael is a part of this series is not because he is a particularly likeable character — because to be honest he’s not — but because his story is one that many can relate to. Over the course of the film Michael goes from a seemingly confident, if not a bit neurotic, gay man to a nervous partially closeted gay man to a man who is bitter and frustrated about the way his sexuality defines him to both himself and others. Moments like Michael crying on Donald’s shoulder saying, “If we could just not hate ourselves so much,” are why he is on this list. Because while there have been a lot of positive changes in the way society views and treats the LGBTQ+ community, many people still push the view that anything not heteronormative is wrong, and it can be difficult to love who you are when everyone tells you that who you are is wrong. To see a character struggle with this onscreen is so relatable and represents a side of pride that, even if we wish it didn’t exist, is still an important part of the story.
Stay tuned for our next Pride spotlight, coming tomorrow!