‘Deadly Skies’ and the Value of Mediocre Gay Sci Fi

So, if you follow me on Twitter, you probably saw me flip my shit earlier today about Deadly Skies, a 2006 sci fi disaster movie about an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. Literally the only thing separating it from every other movie of its type is the fact that the main characters are a black woman and and a gay man.

It’s not super well-made, with some juvenile editing choices at times — and some shots that are framed the way a lot of my classmates in college would have framed them. The dialogue is often very bad. The first act moves too slowly; the third act, a little too fast.

But it’s comfortable. It takes the tropes of the genre and points directly at me and people like me, saying, “THESE ARE FOR YOU TOO.”

As an example, I spent a long time groaning at straight love scenes and rolling my eyes at straight sex scenes in movies. I didn’t enjoy them, didn’t feel anything about them except vague irritation. “The straights are back on their bullshit,” the cynical gay in me would say, picking out the way those films put no development into their romances, and expected that people would just buy it. Sex scenes were always gratuitous, and always boring, and never titillating.

But there’s a gratuitous gay sex scene in the first act of Deadly Skies that, for all its awkwardness, still made me blush while I was watching it all by myself.

And while the movie isn’t very good, it has its moments of engaging with nuances that I never thought I’d find in a movie of its type. In the second act, Dr. Madison Taylor asks Richard Donovan, a former military engineer, why he left. He explains to her that he couldn’t conscion the use of the laser he was building on a scale that could be used as a weapon of war, so he sabotaged the project until he got so tired of lying he left altogether.

The audience knows from the first act that part of what he was sick of lying about was his sexuality and his relationship with his partner, also a military man. But seeing that mix with an honest recognition of the devastating consequences of military science made for a moment of pathos that felt…surprisingly real, for this kind of story.

Donovan was relatable in a way that I’ve never felt an action hero be before. He’s tired, and sick of lying, and would rather hide from danger if he can. But when the time comes, he does what needs to be done.

In that way, he feels a little aspirational. He’s a gay Everyman figure, and it feels good to have one.

Now, the reason that all of this matters so much to me as a filmgoer is that it’s something we never get. I only know this movie exists because I desperately googled for gay science fiction movies and found this Wikipedia page, which contains links to a total of 30 movies. Two are by the Wachowski sisters, and most of the others are either horror, comedy, or highly indie stuff aimed at gay and lesbian film festivals. I even know someone personally who worked on one, Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same.

But, barring the gratuitous sex scene and brief bit of full-frontal nudity, Deadly Skies moves and breathes like your average TV sci fi disaster fare. It’s not trying to make a point about being gay — Donovan and Lewis just are gay. If the movie were a half hour longer, maybe, it could’ve explored their experiences in more depth, but it’s not; as it stands, the movie just doesn’t have time for gay angst. The gays involved are too busy saving the world to hate themselves, or hate the world or the society they live in.

And fuck if that doesn’t feel good.

There’s space, of course, for camp comedies like Vegas in Space, or actively political works like Born in Flames, or tragic subplots like in V for Vendetta. But Deadly Skies let me turn my brain off for an hour and a half and just enjoy myself.

I think we deserve that. Hell, that’s what I want to make.

My favorite movie genres have a huge problem with excluding queer folks. Wonder Woman and Deadpool are bi and pan respectively, but you wouldn’t know it from their movie versions. Mystique’s longest-running relationship in the comics is with a woman, and she spent part of that relationship in a male form; in the movies, she’s been linked romantically with between 1 and 3 men and 0 women, and is currently played by an actress who reduced Mystique’s wife to her ‘lesbian phase.’

I can name two big budget sci-fi films in the last decade that include gay themes, and I haven’t seen either of them because one includes an actor I avoid and the other includes at least one of the gay characters dying, which has always been a dealbreaker for me when it comes to watching movies with gay characters.

I have never seen a big-budget action flick with a gay male lead. Atomic Blonde had a bisexual female lead, yes, but it also falls into the “gay character gets fucking murdered for no reason” trope, so I haven’t seen it.

TV and comics are light years ahead of where movies are, and I don’t think that’s fair. I want to be able to get my fix of seeing myself without dedicating 18 hours to a season of TV, or trying to navigate the complicated world of indie comics and the occasional Big Two ish or soon-cancelled ongoing. I’m extremely, incandescently lucky that Lion Forge is doing Summit, a comic that pretty much takes me by the shoulders and shakes me with “this is for you!!!!!!” and that I know about it.

It hits where it hurts that my favorite genre in my favorite medium doesn’t give me what I need. In an era where Moonlight won Best Picture last year, and Call Me By Your Name won a screenplay Oscar this year, and I can throw a dart at a collage of DC TV characters and have a decent shot at hitting a gay character, I don’t think the occasional $1-2million cheesy gay action or science fiction movie with a happy ending is too much to ask for.

Anyway, if you have any recommendations for gay movies that are action/sci-fi and don’t include one or more gay/trans characters dying, please share. I’m desperate to feel like this again.

Also, uh, if anyone at SYFY is reading this…I am always willing to write you a disaster movie. Just call me, we’ll do lunch.

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