In 1985, most gay films were documentaries, foreign dramas involving secret love affairs in repressive societies, lesbian romances or art flicks where queerness added a bizarre touch. But among those films was an understated British gem called My Beautiful Laundrette, a film about a romance between a London street punk and a British-Pakistani entrepreneur. The film is reportedly getting a 10-episode American TV remake with a straight actor playing the lead. But we’re still excited, and here’s why.
1. It’s a story led by a queer person of color (QPOC)
My Beautiful Laundrette follows Omar Ali, a young British-Pakistani man whose uncle gives him a run-down laundromat (a “laundrette”) to turn into a profitable business. He enlists the help of his childhood friend, Johnny Burfoot, a guy who has since started hanging with fascist street thugs. Although the story is about both of them, it’s mostly about Omar.
At a time when NBC’s Rise is busy straightwashing its main character, its nice that we’ll finally get a QPOC in the lead role, even if it’s only for 10 episodes and even if it’s played by a straight actor (Kumail Nanjiani from HBO’s Silicon Valley and the rom-com film The Big Sick). We would have preferred that a queer Pakistani actor played the role, but the film could still help more QPOC stories come to the small screen.
Considering that Kumail is Pakistani-American, we wonder if he’ll try a British accent or if the miniseries will take place in America.
2. The film is a lost classic
Although the film was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award in 1987, it’s mostly known amongst older gay men and art film lovers. Expanding the film into a miniseries will introduce it to a whole new generation of LGBTQ and straight viewers.
3. It’s a modern gay story that’s not just focused on homophobia
My Beautiful Laundrette focuses mostly on racism and class rather than homophobia which is refreshing. Sure, Omar’s family expects him to marry a woman, a young lass pines for his affections and he and Johnny have discreet sex in the Laundrette’s backroom, but the real drama comes from Johnny’s fascist gangbangers rubbing up against Omar’s higher class family.
It’s somewhat passé for contemporary gay films solely to focus on HIV, gaybashings and the closet. We’ve heard those stories. A queer exploration of racial and class tensions speaks much more to our modern age.