There is no substantive difference between New Queer and Gay and Lesbian Cinema, the two emanating from the same culture and displaying the same characteristics. Rather, Queer or Gay and Lesbian Cinema is usually discussed in an evolutionary framework. Depictions of homosexuals evolved over from a largely negative image to one considerably more mainstream consistent with the emergence of the Gay and Lesbian community as an identifiable and acceptable community. The intellectual genesis of the identification of the development of a “queer” cinema began with the publication in 1992 of an article by film scholar B. Ruby Rich, later adapted into a full-length study of the gay and lesbian film, New Queer Cinema: The Director’s Cut. Noting the negative portrayals that usually dominated the topic of homosexuality in film, to the extent it was discussed at all, Rich writes:
“Consider the state of “gay and lesbian” theatrical movies in the United States before 1969. Arguably there was no such thing, just a scattering of gay and lesbian directors, often closeted, making films that were masquerading as mass-market heterosexual fare, albeit with the occasional gay or lesbian actor or subtle wink. If characters were openly identified as gay or lesbian on screen, it was most often for a punch line or tragic demise.”
The development of New Queer Cinema, then marked a major transformation in how homosexuality is dealt with in film. Increasingly, characters were portrayed as openly gay.
A reflection of the movement among homosexuals to emerge from the shadows in which they lived within the film industry, homosexuality began during the 1980s to be depicted in more humane fashion with likeable supporting characters often portrayed as gay, such as was the case in the 1991 adaption of Pat Conroy’s novel The Prince of Tides. The depiction of the gay character Eddie Detreville in a particularly joyous and positive light contrasted sharply with director William Friedkin’s exceedingly negative portrayal of gays in his 1980 film “Cruising,” in which a police detective goes undercover inside the seediest element within the homosexual community.
It was growing anger with the perceived failure of the government to deal more proactively with the growing spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which mutates into the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), among the gay community, however, that propelled some of the greatest advances in how homosexuality is presented in film. Randy Shilts’ 1987 nonfiction book on the social and political dynamics that played out during the Reagan Administration, And The Band Played On, was adapted for film by HBO and depicted the travails of an entirely humane homosexual community struggling with the disease ravaging friends and relatives. It was the 1989 release, though, of the film “Longtime Companion” that represented a more significant transformation in the portrayal of gays and lesbians, also in the context of the spread of AIDS, as an unjustly victimized category of individual that propelled the issue into the mainstream. “Philadelphia,” released in 1993, with its positive critical and audience reception and Academy Award-winning portrayal of a gay lawyer suing his former law firm for prejudicial treatment cemented the transformation.
The phrases "New Queer Cinema" and "Gay and Lesbian Cinema" are used interchangeably because they reference the same transformation in film.