(Mirror) Florida has long been a destination for vacationers and retirees alike. But a handful of directors have also chosen The Sunshine State as the setting for their gay and lesbian-tinged films.
It’s hardly surprising, given the state’s sultry climate, that many of these films revolve around passionate romances and murder. But each one also shows off unique aspects of the state, helping shape it in the gay cinematic imagination.
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Although this cross-dressing comedy classic takes place at the fictional Seminole Ritz Hotel in 1929 Miami, the film was actually shot at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, both for its proximity to Hollywood and its older architectural style. In fact, none of the film was actually shot in Florida.
In the film, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon masquerade as members of an all-female band after witnessing a mafia murder. But its main romance heats up on the beachside as Curtis pretends to be a yacht-owning oilman to woo Sugar, a chanteuse played by Marilyn Monroe.
The Motion Picture Production Code refused to approve the film’s depictions of drinking, criminal life and homoeroticism. But the film’s financial success helped end the restrictive code, ushering in a new era of more liberal cinema as well as the MPAA’s current rating system.
Revenge of the Nerds 2: Nerds in Paradise (1987)
While we can’t really call this film “a gay film,” this sequel to the 1984 comedy features the first film’s openly gay character, Lamar Latrell. Latrell is irrepressibly stylish and treated kindly by his fellow nerds, though the film tamely plays his effeminacy and sexuality for laughs.
“Nerds in Paradise”focuses on a national fraternity convention in Fort Lauderdale where the Alpha Betas, a group of competitive jocks, schemes to get the geeky Lambda Lambda Lambda fraternity disbanded forever.
The convention takes place at the fictional Royal Flamingo Hotel, but it was shot at the Galt Ocean Mile Hotel, a company that went bankrupt shortly after its filming. The film’s additional scenes played in front of the old Lauderdale Hotel (where producers emptied 72 truckloads of sand to shoot beach scenes on the street) and the John U. Lloyd Beach State Park, which served as a cannabis-filled desert island.
This 1996 remake of “La Cage aux Folles” features Robin Williams as the owner of a fictional Miami drag bar called The Birdcage. Openly gay actor Nathan Lane plays his irrepressibly flamboyant partner and star performer.
Eagle-eyed viewers will see some of South Beach’s pastel-colored Art Deco architecture (preserved largely during the ‘70s and ‘80s by gay industrial designer Leonard Horowitz). Viewers can also see Williams and Lane strolling around Fort Lauderdale and Miami Beach in several scenes.
However, the nightclub scenes were actually filmed at The Carlyle Hotel in South Beach. When Williams took his own life in August 2014, the hotel commemorated him with a portrait of his surprised expression taken from the film.
In this delightfully trashy and twisty erotic thriller, Denise Richards and Neve Campbell play two high school teens who accuse their hunky guidance counselor (Matt Dillon) of rape. Naturally, there’s more than meets the eye and the high-profile case eventually boils over into lesbian make-outs and murder.
The film’s opening shots pan over the Everglades, Coopertown and Brickell Key before settling on the fictional Blue Bay High School (shot at the Ransom Everglades School).
Richard’s mansion in the film sits in Star Island. Coral Gables City Hall appears as the police station, and the Dade County Courthouse and Coral Reef Yacht Club both show up too. One character also gets murdered at the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park.
Interestingly, the film’s financiers refused to include a make-out scene between Dillon and his co-star Kevin Bacon.
“Unfortunately, the financiers didn’t like the idea of men making out,” Bacon told Total Filmin 2005. “They felt it went too far.”
Not many people realize this film is based on the real-life 1993 murder of Bobby Kent in Weston. Kent, a 20-year-old, was accused of bullying the young friends who’d later kill him.
Though the sexuality of its characters remains ambiguous, in one of the film’s scenes, Kent pimps out his friend Marty to a couple at a gay bar before forcing him to dance in an amateur stripping competition. The film also stars gay actor Daniel Franzese of “Mean Girls” fame (though he wasn’t publicly out at the time).
To depict the murder without glamorizing or eroticizing it, the director primarily shot the film in the suburbs and strip malls of Florida: in southern cities like Lauderhill, Cooper City, Pembroke Pines, Miramar and Hollywood.
Unfortunately, “Bully”isn’t the only Florida-based film with gay content based on a real-life murder. Unlike “Bully,” “Monster“takes a more sympathetic look at its main subject, Aileen Wuornos, a lesbian-identified sex worker who killed seven men after a lifetime brutalized by rape and poverty.
Actress Charlize Theron portrayed Wuornos and won an Academy Award. In the film, Theron and her co-star Christina Ricci have a romantic date at the Semoran Skateway in Seminole County, and a depressing outing at Fun Spot America in Orlando (though the film calls it “Fun World”).
True to life, the film shows Wuornos killing men in central Florida’s rural outposts. The filmmakers also shot a scene in the Last Resort Bar in Port Orange, the place Wuornos spent her last free night before her arrest.
Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild(2008)
This raunchy parody of 1960s surf movies was shot almost entirely in Fort Lauderdale, a perfect setting for its hunky characters’ Spring Break sexcapades. It also boasted a very gay cast with bit roles by RuPaul, Lady Bunny, Amanda Lepore, Perez Hilton, Scott Thompson, Lypsinka, Willam Belli, Colton Ford and more.
With numerous scenes set on sunny beaches, a starlit bar and a retro-style hotel, the film has a decidedly Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello feel. At one point, two of its stars even waterski in front of an obviously fake green screen.
Magic Mike (2012)
Loosely based on the real-life experiences of actor Channing Tatum, “Magic Mike”follows a fledgling male stripper as he and his muscular co-workers strut their stuff at the fictional Xquisite Strip Club in Tampa. The film is more homoerotic than explicitly gay, but gay fans helped make it a financial success.
Xquisite’s exterior is actually Wilson's Sports Lounge in St. Petersburg. The scenes inside of the club were shot in Los Angeles. However, the rest of the film was shot almost entirely in Florida.
If you watch closely, you’ll see a restaurant in Ybor City, a nightclub scene in Tampa’s Amphitheatre Event Facility, a Fourth of July “sandbar party” on Three Rooker Island in Anclote Key Preserve State Park and a final conversation between the male leads at Caddy's On The Beach bar in Treasure Island.
The winner of the 2017 Academy Award for Best Picture showed parts of Miami that movie-goers rarely see as it follows Chiron, a young gay black man coming to terms with his sexuality at three different points in his life.
The young Chiron, known as “Little,” learns to swim at Virginia Key beach. His adult self, called “Black,” reconnects with a childhood friend at Jimmy's East-Side Diner, a real eatery on Biscayne Boulevard.
But it’s during Chiron’s adolescent years that viewers see the most of Miami. Chiron shares a sexual moment with his friend at Miami Beach, attends school at Miramar High and lives with his drug-addicted mother at the Liberty Square Public housing complex. Both “Moonlight’s” screenwriter and director grew up around the complex.