The Portrayal of Homosexuality in London in “My Beautiful Laundrette”

by sbube1 on November 18, 2013 - 4:40pm

It’s no secret that the ethical dilemma of homosexuality is an ever-growing topic of debate across the country. The movie “My Beautiful Laundrette” portrays this struggle between a Pakistani teen, Omar, and an English teen, Johnny, in London in the early 1980’s (Frears 1985). Johnny and Omar are old friends from High School who seem to have fully realized their attraction for each other. Because homosexuality was frowned upon in the English and Pakistani cultures at that time, they had to keep the nature of their close relationship. Omar decides he would like to become a businessman like his uncle, and he takes over his uncle’s old laundrette. He employs Johnny on this endeavor, and together they make the fanciest laundrette in all of London, and contemplate opening up more.

Stephen Frears portrays their need for secrecy in a scene where Omar and Johnny are being intimate and their situation could be jeopardized. At the Grand Opening of the laundrette, Omar is waiting to cut the rope until his father shows up. He and Johnny go into the back room of the laundrette and become intimate. Omar’s uncle and mistress enter the laundrette looking for Omar at this time, and begin dancing in the front of the laundrette. The only thing separating the Uncle from discovering Omar and Johnny is a one way mirror, which allows those in the back room to monitor the goings-on in the storefront. Omar and Johnny quickly put themselves together and exit the back room to begin the Grand Opening ceremony, and have to act like nothing happened. Omar and Johnny’s need to keep people from guessing what happened between them in the back room left them barely talking to each other during the Grand Opening, and Johnny appeared to be flirting with Omar’s cousin. This scene is an example of the lengths homosexuals in London during this time, and even today across the world, would go to in order to keep their sexuality a secret; they would rather act distant from their loved one in public than risk their exposure.

Frears created Johnny as a character to show how deeply the social stigma against homosexuality could affect somebody. Johnny kept his feelings for Omar a secret for a long time, and he even tried to hide it from himself. He was desperate enough that he marched in a protest against Pakistanis living in England. Johnny’s gang of buddies always made fun of homosexuals, and therefore Johnny did as well to keep his secret safe. Throughout the movie, he seems to accept himself and his sexuality, maybe because he realizes just how adorable he and Omar are as a couple, although he continues to keep it a secret. I believe that Johnny was meant to characterize the standard white male in London, and around the world, at this time, struggling with coming to terms with his sexuality. I also believe he was meant to represent the beginnings or precursors to the national gay rights movement that started pretty much in the mid 1990’s.

Personally, I believe that “My Beautiful Laundrette” is a perfect movie to watch for those interested in the emergence and confrontation of homosexuals with mainstream English society before the 2000’s, and for those struggling with their sexuality as well. It represents the ethical dilemma and need for secrecy surrounding homosexuality very well. Not only is it a wonderful in itself, but I feel it was created to show the social interactions that surround this debatable topic at that exact moment (it was released in the mid-80’s and set in the 80’s). I suggest that everyone watch this movie, but if you are uncomfortable with male intimacy, that be advised; this movie is rated R for a reason.

Frears, S (Director). (1985). My beautiful laundrette. United Kingdom: Working Title Films.          

Comments

I enjoyed reading your post because I viewed this film as well and am familiar with what you are talking about. You did a nice job of describing how in that society and time period it is tough for not only two males to love each other but two people of different races. However, maybe you can add how Omar was already set up to marry his cousin, Tania, and explain how the marriage inside of families is a norm for the Pakistanis. Another thought you can maybe add is how Johnny helps Salim as he is getting beat up by Johnny's gang. Additionally, your post is relevant to present day society as well. People are still shy and struggle with displaying their homosexual relationships. However, society nowadays is not as harsh towards homosexuals and homosexual couples are more supported.

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