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The Babadook is a gay icon because of a Netflix clerical error

Celebrating the rise of one of internet culture’s favorite queer in-jokes

Harried single mother Amelia (Essie Davis) reads a Three Little Pigs picture book to her young son Noah (Noah Wiseman) as they lie in bed together in a dark room in a scene from The Babadook Photo: IFC Films

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This investigation into how The Babadook became a gay icon was originally published in 2017. It has been updated throughout and republished for Pride Month.

The 2014 horror movie The Babadook follows a monster, simply called the Babadook, as it terrorizes a single mother and her son in their new house. The movie brought writer-director Jennifer Kent a new wave of success and acclaim, but it had another, odder effect on the culture, when an apparent clerical error turned its central monster into a defining figure in queer online culture.

Why is The Babadook a gay icon?

Like many good memes, it all started with an innocent Tumblr post. Tumblr user Taco-bell-rey uploaded a screenshot showing The Babadook listed as one of the films available in the LGBTQ section of Netflix. It was reblogged thousands of times. The caption on that post — a one-line sentence about what this could possibly mean — cemented the Babadook’s fate.

“So proud that Netflix recognizes the Babadook as gay representation.”

The post quickly gained attention in the Tumblr community, but when the post found its way to Twitter, it began picking up even more steam. Buzzfeed’s Ryan Broderick, who co-hosted the Internet Explorer podcast, tweeted about how it was his favorite trend on Tumblr. Through his post, the Babadook debate took off, with writers suggesting the Babadook is gay because the movie deals with themes of isolation, depression, and an inability to be oneself.

Like another Tumblr-to-Twitter story of the same era — a Tumblr request to have Rihanna and Lupita Nyong’o star in their own heist movie based on a photo taken of the pair at Paris Fashion Week got Nyongo, Rihanna, Issa Rae, and Ava DuVernay all agreeing to make that movie together — The Babadook meme quickly found an entirely new audience.

The trend of people discovering and celebrating the Babadook’s newly found sexuality continued for months, but it wasn’t until June 1 that those not paying attention to Tumblr or certain sections of Twitter finally learned about it. What followed was a number of Twitter users joining in on the joke, stretching it as far as they possibly could.

Part of the reason June became the time to celebrate the Babadook’s chosen sexuality is because the month is dedicated to Pride, an ongoing celebration of the queer community. The Babadook meme was just big enough — and strange enough — that the joke caught on with people right away.

It doesn’t stop there, though. When Taco-bell-rey posted the photo, the result was an ongoing debate about whether or not the Babadook actually was gay. A debate, it should be noted, that continues today.

The arguments for The Babadook’s queerness

While the original Tumblr post was intended to be funny, many writers and professors have pointed out that The Babadook’s underlying themes could be seen as resonating with the gay community.

Dean Eastwood, founder of the men’s gay lifestyle magazine HISKIND, wrote about the similarities between the Babadook’s troubling history and what many men go through when they’re dealing with coming to terms with their own sexuality, eventually coming out. In a piece about the Babadook meme, he wrote:

The Babadook ultimately tells an LGBT narrative of being cast to the shadows, manifesting identities in closets and, to live up to modern stereotypes, wearing all black. In the end, the creature’s monster-like identity and traits are subdued when *spoiler alert* he comes out of his shadows and shares his truth with those he loves. Sound familiar? Despite the meme merely picking fun in the internet’s reaction to nearly anything LGBT related, despite how trivial or serious, there are arguably parallels that follow the Babadook — a lonely, confused and misunderstood creature often depicted as a monster — and the LGBT community. In an age where coming out is still tough and the notion of suppressed identities and mental health issues are still strife within the community, the brief skeleton of the Babadook story — like many a ‘tortured soul’ storyline — may be considered a little too close to home for a community where more than half of LGBT pupils have experienced direct bullying and where gay men are three times more likely than heterosexual men to suffer from depression.

Eastwood isn’t the only person to focus on the similarities as a takeaway from the movie. Michael Varrati, the organizer of San Diego Comic Con’s queer horror panel, told Mic that by the modern definition of the term, the Babadook is a perfect example of a gay icon.

“This creature is trying to come out and be seen. By internet culture standards, it's a gay hero,” Varrati said. “The Babadook just wants to step out of the dark and into the light.”

The Babadook isn’t the first “monster” to be considered a gay icon, either. When A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge was released in 1985, people were quick to point out that the film’s main character, Jesse Walsh, was a teen struggling with his sexuality. Some of those fears found a physical presence in Freddy Krueger, the franchise’s iconic villain.

One particular scene has Jesse watching his male gym teacher get attacked by Krueger in a way that played into the fears both Jesse and society had at the time. As director Tyler Jensen describes in the documentary Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street, this was during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, at a time when mainstream society felt queerness was a public threat.

The Babadook, which director Jennifer Kent has specifically said is about grief and dealing with depression brought on by personal loss, resonated with fans in a similar way.

What does this all mean?

The Babadook wasn’t conceived as a movie about the struggles the LGBTQ community deals with, as far as anyone knows. But the fact that people can resonate with the story and the theme of the film’s mysterious monster isn’t a bad thing. The best part about cinema is that it’s subjective, and viewers can see different aspects of their own lives in the story reflected back at them.

It started as a meme — one that’s still alive and well in 2023. But the fact that it’s resonated a little more deeply with people is pretty great.

The Babadook is streaming free with ads on Tubi, and Pluto TV, and is available on Kanopy and Shudder. It’s available for rental or purchase on Vudu, Amazon, and other digital platforms. It is not currently streaming on American Netflix, either under the horror category or the LBGTQ category.

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