There are a ton of coming of age films out there, and, for the most part, they have been pretty heteronormative and featured plenty of heterosexual relationships. So, it’s safe to say that there hasn’t been a movie quite like Freak Show yet. The new film, which will be released on Jan. 12, follows the story of Billy Bloom, a teenager who loves to dress up and be himself while obliterating gender norms. But, is Freak Show based on a true story?
The narrative of Billy and his campaign to be homecoming queen definitely seems like something that could be based on real events, however it isn't based on a true story. Freak Show is actually based on the best-selling novel by of the same name by James St. James. A description of the book notes that Billy is gay “but it’s mostly theoretical,” considering he hasn’t had many romantic encounters. In the book, and movie, Billy moves to the south, and as someone in the trailer says, he’s "in a red state now." That brings about a whole bunch of cultural changes for Billy, and he's suddenly surrounded by a more stereotypical high school experienced filled with cliques and bullying.
Being different as a teen can be awful. Sticking out like a sore thumb is not really something you want when you have raging hormones, acne, and are trying to discover who you are. Unfortunately, not conforming to the gender binary and not being straight is a good way to stick out. It’s also attracts some of the worst bullying, which is seen in Freak Show’s trailer. In fact, one quote that sticks out in the two-minute trailer is “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”
Despite not being a true story, a lot of teens may see their story in Billy’s because of these very reasons, along with the fact that he feels the need to hide who he really is. That means no more bold outfits or makeup to school. In a scene with Flip, someone Billy befriends at his ultra-conservative high school, Billy says, “I’m compromising myself for reasons I don’t even understand." He starts dressing to fit in, no longer letting his inside shine outside, and you can see it taking a toll on him.
And while it’s not explicitly based off anything that actually happened to St. James, it is safe to say that he was probably inspired by his own life. St. James was known for his partying lifestyle as depicted in the movie Party Monster, which starred Seth Green and Macaulay Culkin, and was based on the memoir by St. James. It revolves around their club kid lifestyle in 1990s New York City and the murder of Andre "Angel" Melendez. The costumes and club attire worn in that movie look very similar to the ones worn by Billy in Freak Show.
Freak Show isn’t based on a real boy named Billy, who just wants to live in a world where he can be who he is and express himself through how he dresses and acts, but viewers can still see a little bit of themselves in his story. In a speech, Billy says, “You’re all freaks too. Isn’t that what being a teen is all about?” In our teenage years, we all may have felt a little freakish at some points, especially if we were hiding who we are because of fear of not being accepted, but having more positive LGBT stories like this one could help teens stop having to go through that phase of their lives in such an oppressive and difficult way.