The Babadook, the first film from Australian director Jennifer Kent, was released in 2014 and became a popular underground horror movie. This year, it took on a new meaning. The movie’s namesake, a monster that lives in the dark corners of the main characters’ home, unexpectedly became a gay icon.

The Origins

So, how did the monster in an underground psychological horror film became a symbol of the LGBTI+ community during this year’s pride month? It has little to do with the content of the movie and everything to do with the power of the Internet to make anything it sees fit into a cultural phenomenon.

It all began when a Tumblr user posted an image showing The Babadook in the Gay & Lesbian category on Netflix. “So proud that Netflix recognizes the Babadook as gay representation,” the user said. Whether it was a simple clerical error or a photo shopped image, it quickly took off.

It wasn’t long before the Internet began making jokes on Tumblr, and eventually Twitter, insisting that the Babadook is gay. People began to create images showing the monster waving a rainbow flag and dressed in flamboyant attire. The meme became an Internet sensation.

Who is the Babadook?

Although it started as a joke, academics, journalists, authors and members of the gay community began to say that the Babadook might really make sense as a gay icon.

The Babadook, while frightening, has more to it than jump scares. It serves as a metaphor for the importance of accepting the things we may not want to. The film follows Amelia and her son Sam who are dealing with the death of their husband and father. They find a strange pop-up book in their home about a frightening creature that dresses in all black – including a top hat – called the Babadook.

They read the book, and the creature then begins to terrorize them, eventually possessing Amelia. The encounters get worse and worse until Amelia finally confronts the demon and relegates it to a dark corner of the basement. The end of the movie shows Amelia and Sam living a much happier life than before, while still occasionally feeding the Babadook worms from the backyard.

The Babadook as a Queer Allegory

Once the Babadook became associated with the LGBTI+ movement, it wasn’t difficult to identify ways the movie’s storyline and message could actually be relevant to LGBTI+ individuals.

One interpretation has the creature representing queerness itself. Sexuality and gender expressions that vary from the norm have historically been suppressed and seen as a threat to society. Queerness is often pushed into the shadows of society but can never be gotten rid of – just like the Babadook. It’s not until queerness is brought into the light instead of hidden away that it will cease to be seen as a problem for some in society.

This mirrors the experiences of many queer individuals. They may feel afraid to face their queerness and some of the people around them may view them as a threat to the life they know. As hard as these people may try to repress their sexuality and gender identities, they keep coming back to the surface, often stronger and stronger each time, until they can’t be ignored.

According to Michael Bronski, an author who writes about LGBTI+ culture and history as well as a professor at Harvard in in the studies of women, gender and sexuality department, connections have been made between queerness and the horror genre before.

Frankenstein, Bronski says, can be seen as a metaphor for a queer man who is shunned by his community for his identity. In The Phantom of the Opera, the phantom hides both himself and his love.

The Babadook is just the latest film to join these classics in having a link to the LGBTI+ community.

Although The Babadook has since been removed from the LGBT category on Netflix, the top hat-wearing creature will probably never cease to be an offbeat gay icon, especially after its prominent role in this year’s pride month.

Kate Harveston
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