On August 4, 1993, the documentary Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives was released
in the United States. Originally produced in Canada in 1992,
the film features interviews with lesbians who lived during the repressive
pre-Stonewall days and discussions about the phenomenon of lesbian pulp fiction
novels that became a staple of lesbian culture in the 1950s.
Advertised as “the movie that dares to tell the complete truth,” the original posters for Forbidden Love were drawn to mimic the art styles of the lesbian pulp novels of the 1950s (x).
The women interviewed in the film are Carol, Keely, Reva,
Nairobi, Ruth, Amanda, Stephanie, Jeanne, and Lois. All nine women discuss
their own personal “coming out” experience and how they navigated the
butch/femme dichotomy of the 1940s and 1950s, as well as the dismal state of
the lesbian bars in cities like Ontario and Vancouver. Dubbed by Ruth to be “dive
bars,” most of the lesbian establishments in Canada were shut down within a year or were constantly changing management every couple of months. This made
patrons wary of the safety of the establishments and unsure if they would be
ending the night in a jail cell or not; Nairobi – the only black lesbian in the
documentary – also discusses her experience of being involved in a police raid
of one such bar and how the Montreal police force treated her more harshly than
her fellow white patrons. Along with Nairobi, the documentary
also includes discussions with Amanda about her experiences as a Haida woman
and how she found a makeshift home in the black LGBT community. Anne Bannon,
the author of the famous Beebo Brinker
Chronicles and other lesbian pulp novels, is also interviewed and discusses
how she found the inspiration to write lesbian love stories in a world where
women who love women are invisible in most mainstream art. Derided as “campy”
by The Montreal Gazette, the movie
even included dramatizations of Anne’s novel Odd Girl Out.
Having won both a Genie Award in 1993 and a GLAAD Award in 1994,
Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of
Lesbian Lives is considered a classic of LGBT documentary work. It allows
its interviewees to give the audience an unflinching look at the reality of
their lives and does not attempt to soften or break-down the struggles,
joys, and in-jokes of lesbian identity for some non-existing straight audience. You can watch the entire film here on the National Film Board of Canada’s website!