Life comes at you fast. One minute you’re the demonic representation of mental illness in adults and children, the next you’re a gay icon who vogues down the main drag of the LA Pride Parade. When you think about widely celebrated Patronus’ in the queer community George Michael, RuPaul, Cher, Bowie, Diana Ross and Judy Garland are a few of the names that spring to mind. Yet now the most unlikely of LBGTQI+ heroes has joined their ranks in the Babadook. What started as an internet in-joke has quickly spiralled into the mainstream, with the story of the horror movie baddie’s journey to this newfound status not that dissimilar to the Aussie film where it got its start. Like an urban legend whispered quietly among friends in the dark, fan theories about whether the Babadook was actually gay began circulating on Tumblr last year before spreading rapidly enough that someone – likely with a twinkle in their eye – slid the film into the LBGT category on Netflix. The rest, as they say, is Babadiscourse as memes were created, fan art was drawn and cosplay was manufactured in earnest.
When the world feels about five minutes away from descending into a trash heap, there has been a delighted and surprised response from the wider public about the Babadook’s second life following the release of Jennifer Kent’s movie back in 2014. As an openly gay man and lifelong horror fan, Kieran Odinson found a beauty in something that “started as a joke” being embraced by the queer community at large. “That’s the thing, at first it seems like a real odd juxtaposition having this terrifying figure being co-opted as a symbol of gay pride and fabulousness,” he says. “But as queer people, many of us have felt ostracised or shunned or like we didn’t fit in at some point in our lives. So, when you think about it, it oddly fits, right?” We’ve spoken in this column before about horror as a genre sometimes being a difficult thing to love coming from a minority background. Yet Odinson, who also runs horror movie YouTube channel All The Gory Details TV, says it has been great to watch inclusion elbow its way in through the cult horror character.
“I’m sure you can read into queerness in a lot of horror icons: the trope of the mummy’s boy slasher (Jason Voorhees, Norman Bates), the trans serial killer (Sleepaway Camp, Dressed to Kill) and let’s not forget that Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is one of the gayest horror movies of all time,” he says. “There’s plenty of fodder there over the years if you read into it, but quite often it’s a negative portrayal of queerness too. I’m sure it wasn’t the director’s intent to have the Babadook as a queer character, but personally I feel like the community seem to have grabbed a hold of the Babadook because it’s not the same old tired trope of the self loathing gay/trans killer. There’s something joyous about this meme.” So joyous, in fact, that the film has managed to get a second wind long after it first appeared in select cinemas around the world thanks to being embraced by the community. LA Pride this year was swamped with Babadook shirts, Babadook posters and Babadook slogans: right through to the aforementioned Babadook vogue. Even at gay Christmas – the season finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race – Miles Jai donned a ‘Babalewk’ (as he’s calling it) to walk the red carpet. Babadook make-up tutorials are now an ever-growing trend on YouTube, because that’s the world we live in.
Creating an enduring and iconic horror movie villain is a thing that happens – at most – once every decade. Kent’s Babadook not only managed that through the source material but also through a je ne sais quoi that has seen queer communities globally connecting with the monster that just wants to come out of the closet. “The Babadook is a big scary monster that lurks in your basement,” says Odinson. “But wears the fuck out of a jaunty hat, carries a rainbow flag and marches for your rights.” While there have been criticisms of the trend, saying that it continues bi-erasure by overshadowing the fact B in LBGTQI+ stands for bisexual and not Babadook, others are still taking to it with love and lightheartedness. With Australia’s biggest pop culture convention, Supanova, happening now it’s significant that a recent queer symbol will have a very visible presence there. “Why not embrace the Babadook as a gay icon?” says Odinson, who will be one of dozens of Babadook cosplayers this weekend. “Let him take his place alongside Judy Garland and RuPaul in the pantheon of gay icons.”
Maria Lewis is a journalist and author previously seen on SBS Viceland’s The Feed. She’s the presenter and producer of the Eff Yeah Film & Feminism podcast. Her debut novel Who’s Afraid? was released in 2016 with the sequel – Who’s Afraid Too? – out now. You can find her on Twitter @MovieMazz.