This has been a huge year for bromance on screen, especially for genre films and TV. Totally platonic love between two bros is so mainstream that studios are using it as a selling point for new shows. But even when the romantic overtones are totally unintentional, there’s a good chance that relationship will get more love from fans than the couple the writer originally intended to promote.
The reason, unfortunately, is pretty obvious: there just aren’t enough female characters on screen, and the few who do make it are all too often than not poorly written, relegated to background characters, killed off to maximize man-pain, or missing for huge chunks of the script. A lot of recent films have chosen to focus on a rocky friendship between two leads where the conflict isn’t based on romantic rivalry (a positive development overall, but one that pushes women even further out of the spotlight since those leads are almost always male). We’re also at a cultural crossroads where some fans want to see queer relationships, other fans refuse to see queer relationships, and studios need to avoid pissing anyone off since their profit margins are already slim on big budget sci fi and fantasy.
This got me thinking about how writers deal with a fan base that’s willing to accept, and sometimes actively looking for, a romantic relationship that can’t be acknowledged on screen.
I’d like to find some examples with women as well, but there just isn’t that much out there where two women have a relationship that’s central to the story and they aren’t 1) sisters or 2) competing over a man.
The Unintentional Bromance
The writer genuinely did not realize that they were creating a relationship between two men that was more interesting than the intended romance. Common culprits: male-heavy casts, ham-handed writing of female characters, poor chemistry between romantic leads, poor acting or directing in general. In older cases, the original author may have been recording contemporary attitudes towards friendship and relationships, and modern audiences are seeing a subtext that just wasn’t supposed to be there. In recent examples, it’s all too often the result of systemic sexism that reduces the number of interesting female characters or encourages directors to cast women for their looks and men for their acting ability.
Star Trek (original)
The Intentional Bromance
This usually happens when a writer is adapting an old story, one written in a less tolerant age, for a modern audience. The writer and the audience both know that the relationship between two men was intended to be non-sexual by its original author, but the passage of time has changed social mores or a fandom of the two as a couple has developed. The new writer isn’t allowed or doesn’t want to make this couple canon, but is allowed to drop some sly references for fans.
For original properties, the writer doesn’t want to make a queer romance central to the story but is self-aware enough to acknowledge that a certain portion of the audience will see one anyway.
Star Trek: Into Darkness
Brian Singer’s X-Men
The Disputed Bromance
The writer did not intend to imply a relationship, but someone else involved with the process did. Since actors and directors have some agency in how they interpret a script, the final result intentionally doesn’t match up with the writer’s vision, or actors elaborate on their characters in interviews without getting permission from the writing team first. All too often, the original author doth protest too much when audiences just won’t shut up about the gay subtext.
Ender’s Game (General audience consensus is that the books are super gay, even though the author vehemently denies it. The filmmakers actually had to remove most of the overtly sexual content.)