When representatives from Reelout Queer Film Festival originally visited our class to show us trailers of all movies offered this year, The Way He Looks was one of the ones that really caught my eye. The trailer can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBlLAzamSa4
If I’m being honest though, it was not my first choice, but was instead within my top 3 or 4. Needless to say, when I found out that I was not able to view the ones that I would have preferred I was a little disappointed, though still excited in a sense as it seemed like a very intriguing movie nonetheless. The disappointment did not last long; it began to ebb the moment I walked into the room where it would be shown. The excitement mounted while I climbed the stairs, something that I had never done to see a movie before. It was the beginning of a very unique outing. Somehow, I knew it would be a great experience right from the start. Though not tiny, the room was still smaller than I had expected; for some reason, I was imagining a huge room. Still, the atmosphere was friendly and welcoming, and I instantly felt a sense of community, which only grew as anticipation for the film expanded.
The film itself was impressive, and certainly met my expectations and then some. The Way He Looks follows blind 15-year-old Leonardo and his best friend Giovanna as they deal with teenage angst, romance, and other typical teenage problems. When a new kid named Gabriel joins their class, Giovanna is thrilled at the prospect of finding her “prince”. Ironically, when first discussing him with Leonardo she mentions this and questions whether Leonardo is jealous. Shortly thereafter, Leonardo and Gabriel begin spending an increasing amount of time together, leading to Giovanna herself becoming jealous and feeling as if they are leaving her out and possibly leaving her behind as a friend.
The appeal that surrounds Gabriel is quite clear; in an ablest society, those who are differently-abled are often viewed as childlike, incapable of taking care of themselves, or as defects. As stated within Gender, Race, and Popular Culture, “We are the living proof that minds can and do go haywire and that it can happen at any time. Some people aren’t ready for that news, so they react to it with overt anxiety or hostility.” As such, Leonardo is often treated in an overprotective manner such as when his parents are reluctant to allow him to stay home alone, freak out when he doesn’t check in for an hour, or in their refusal to allow him to go abroad due to his lack of sight. His mother even asks who would take someone like him into their home. When treated any other way, it is most commonly in the form of bullying, such as the little quips that Fabio and his group of friends make. It is quite clear that those who are able-bodied hold the power, and seemingly look down on Gabriel or see him as incapable of caring for himself, such as when Fabio declares that if he must sit behind Leonardo in class, he would be forced to help him for the entirety of the day. Gabriel, however, does not view Leonardo as someone who is incapable of doing things viewed as regular, but instead takes him to the movies, asks him to watch a meteor shower with him, and even has him ride a bike at the end of the film.
It becomes increasingly clear that there are romantic feelings between Leonardo and Gabriel, but also apparent is their reluctance to admit these feelings. This us seemingly the first time they have been attracted to someone of the same sex, thus bringing up questions of sexual orientation for the two boys (Gender Spectrum), both for themselves as well as wondering about the sexuality of the other. Unfortunately, in a heteronormative society such as ours where the assumption is that a person is heterosexual unless told otherwise as that is considered the norm, heterosexuality is a large part of the cultural hegemony (Aulette &Wittner, 200). This is exemplified when Leonardo tells Giovanna that he is in love with Gabriel. At first she runs off, unable to discuss it with Leonardo before first processing this new piece of information. A few days later she visits him at his house to discuss it with him and says that she never saw him in that manner. Rather than imagining that he was homosexual, she automatically assumed that he was heterosexual.
After confronting their feelings for each other, the pair kiss and hug before the screen cuts to black and then begins a new scene. In this new scene, Fabio is once again tormenting Leonardo. He teases Leonardo on his close friendship with Gabriel, implying that they are more than friends. In response to this, Leonardo slides his hand down Gabriel’s arm and entwines hand with his new beau. Upon seeing this, Fabio’s friends begin chuckling not at Leonardo and Gabriel but at Fabio and his sudden lack of power over the pair. In a way, this new confidence on Leonardo’s part shows how this film was as much or more about discovering oneself as it was about discovering one’s sexuality. This is important as it shows that while sexuality is a very important part of ones’ identity, there is much more to a person than simply that. In each other, they find themselves.
In fact, the relationship between Fabio and Leonardo is an excellent example of two cases where an intersectional analysis is required when viewing their interactions, specifically in regards to the power structures in effect (Aulette & Wittner, 18). In Western countries, straight, able-bodied white men are generally viewed as those with the most power. In the case of Fabio and Leonardo, both are male but Fabio is both straight and able-bodied, therefore possessing more power than homosexual, differently-abled Leonardo.
While this film provides a fantastic look at homosexuality and differently-abled bodies and could play a large part in raising awareness for those who fit under either or both categories and could be argued as achieving greatness, there were some problematic scenes among those better ones. For one, there were multiple scenes where slut shaming was enforced, such as where Giovanna calls Karina a slut because of her interest in Gabriel, mostly simply because Giovanna herself was interested in Gabriel. Both Giovanna and Leonardo dislike her for this reason, and it is implied that they disliked her before primarily because she was a “slut” for flirting with many boys. It is Gabriel who says that he likes her because she is a nice person, leaving Leonardo hmming and haaaing in response.
Finally, Leonardo experiences relatively positive responses when coming out as homosexual. Giovanna accepts it, and even those who previously bullied him seemed mildly okay with the concept. While this is great and supportive communities such as that do exist, there are often individuals and even whole communities who outright reject those who are not heterosexual, shunning them and tormenting simply for being themselves. This was not exhibited within the film.
Ultimately, I found this to be a fantastic movie and would very much recommend it to anyone who is given the opportunity to see it. It is well worth it, and truly does bring up important topics.
Aulette, Judy Root, and Judith G. Wittner. Gendered Worlds. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. 18-120. Print.
Daniel Ribiero. The Way He Looks. Brazil, 2014.
“Disability and Ableism .” Gender, Race, and Popular Culture Book 2. Canada: Pearson Custom Library, 2013. Page 37. Print.
“Understanding Gender – Gender Spectrum.” Gender Spectrum. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. <https://www.genderspectrum.org/quick-links/understanding-gender/>.