The Bog of Eternal Stench, The Pit of Despair & The Nothing: How Man & Witch helped heal the lack of queer representation in my childhood

For this last day of Pride month 2024, Katie Bruce reflects on how a recent cinema experience showed her the power of queer representation in our fictional stories.

I went to a film premiere recently. Not something I’d ever expected to say but when the chance arose, I jumped at it. The film was Man & Witch and stars Tami Stronach, a name you’re probably not familiar with, but a face you just might be. Tami played the childlike empress in The Neverending Story, one of my absolute favourite movies. Like all good family fantasy films from the 80s it had adventure, magic, a luck dragon and, of course, a healthy dose of trauma, what more could you want from a film? 

Man and Witch promised to be all these things and more. A throwback to the films of our childhoods, laugh out loud comedy (did I mention it also stars Bill Bailey, Eddie Izzard and Jennifer Saunders), heartwarming romance (without too much kissing, of course), Spoons Of Unusual Power (pictured) and a host of familiar faces from that golden age of family films (Christopher Lloyd, Sean Astin, Tami Stronach).

But it had one thing I wasn’t expecting, one thing that set it apart from all that had gone before in a wonderful and joyous way: queer representation. 

Now, to be clear, the main storyline itself is not queer, but there is a queer plotline. And it’s not a throwaway moment, it’s not something that’s merely hinted at, it’s not hidden in the subtext, it’s there, it’s on screen, it’s cannon and it’s an important part of the story.

It’s true, honest, queer rep and it made me sob. Because right up until the moment I saw it there, on the big screen, in a film that has everything it needs to become this generation’s Labyrinth or Princess Bride, I hadn’t known just how much I needed it. 

How much I missed it in those films from my childhood that I have carried into adulthood and still love so very much. Those films that took me on adventures to other worlds and away from the horrible things in this one. That gave me escape and magic and wonder, time and time again but were all, to a one, so very straight.

And there I was, sat in a cinema, part of the very first audience in the world to watch this queer love story play itself out on screen and I sobbed. I sobbed for the queer child that I was that did not have that representation on screen growing up. I sobbed for the queer girl who took so long to find herself because she didn’t have any examples to find herself in. I sobbed as I felt seen for the very first time in this glorious, wondrous, hilarious, indie fantasy film that absolutely needs to find a distributor in the UK so that many, many queer folk around the country can have that same moment.

I was lucky enough after the screen to speak with Greg Steinbruner, the writer and also the ‘man’ of ‘Man and Witch’. Through tears I found the words to thank him, for writing that queer love, for putting it on the screen, for seeing me and so many others and showing the world that we exist and we are beautiful and we deserve to be part of these films that we love and treasure. And that wonderful, dear man took my hands and gently said “I made it for you”. If I was crying before, I was a mess after those words. Because he truly meant them. He made that film for me and every other child who didn’t see themselves on screen growing up and for every child going forwards who now would.

I’ve cried many times over that film (yes, I’m crying now), mostly tears of joy, but also some of grief. Grief at the thought of how different things could have been if only I’d had Man and Witch when I was a child and a teen trying to figure out who I was. I didn’t truly realise how much I had been missing it from my life until that moment when it suddenly wasn’t missing any more. 

Films like Man and Witch are so important. It wasn’t queerbaiting, it wasn’t shoehorned in, it wasn’t any kind of statement. It simply was. It was love and it was there and it was everything. I will forever be grateful to everyone involved in the making of Man and Witch, for the opportunity I had to see it on the big screen, and I will be shouting about that film for many, many years to come. Because it’s a wonderful film and queer representation is such an important thing. Seeing yourself in the things you love is such an important thing.

I’m going to go have another little cry now, you all head off to watch the Man and Witch trailer. Let’s see if we can get this film to every queer child (and adult) that needs, and deserves, to see themselves on the screen.

Christopher Lloyd, Tami Stronach, and Shohreh Aghdashloo in a still from Man & Witch: The Dance of a Thousand Steps (2024), taken from IMDb.

Meet the guest poster

Image for Katie Bruce
Katie Bruce is a writer and Virtual Assistant to authors, based in Yorkshire. Her writing is mostly fantasy based and often features the wonderful moors and hills that decorate her home county. Her Virtual Assistant work with Katie’s Author Assistance includes all the non-writing work that goes alongside being an author, leaving you time to do the important writing part. Outside of all that, Katie can usually be found baking up tasty treats – which she then shares around at FantasyCon, so keep an eye out for red hair and a tote bag full of treats. She’s pictured here at the premiere of Man & Witch.

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