Tom of Finland is the Norman Rockwell of gay sex. His artwork—drawings worshipping the male physique in unabashedly exaggerated masculine and sexual form—has retained cultural gay prominence decades after the artist's death in 1991.
Tom (actual name: Touko Laaksonen) is an iconic enough figure that his birth country sold postage stamps in 2014 bearing his work. Now a new biopic aims to capture his life, and Finland has submitted it as its country's nomination to the Academy Awards for best foreign-language movie of 2017.
Appropriately named Tom of Finland, the film illustrates Laaksonen's life from his time as a military officer during the 1930s and '40s to his stretch as an advertising graphic designer to his eventual international fame as an erotic artist in the 1970s and beyond.
The movie also serves as a window into Western gay male culture throughout the second half of the 20th century. Shame and fear of prosecution slowly make way for liberation. Laaksonen's erotic art, once drawn and passed along surreptitiously, is eventually collected and published in a mass-produced retrospective in Los Angeles in his elder days, and the man himself is celebrated by fans in leather outfits inspired by his then-iconic work—outfits they're able to wear in public with neither fear nor shame.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Tom of Finland".