When Edith Windsor sued the federal government for making her pay excess taxes on her deceased wife’s estate, she paved the way for the overturning DOMA (The Defense of Marriage Act). Her name and the name of her late partner, Thea Spyer, went down in history, but it
wasn’t until June 21, 2009 when the documentary Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement was released and the world
came to know the real life love story behind the landmark civil rights case.
The film opens with Edie and Thea combing through old photos
of themselves from their younger days. A photo of Edie in a pink swimsuit
flicks onto the wall and a wheelchair-bound Thea says “Yeah I love that girl…and
the person who took that picture also loves that girl” and my first thought is
“Oh no this is going to make me cry.” The rest of the film is much of the same –
old photos, cute banter, and me crying. Edie and Thea first met in 1963 at a
restaurant called Portofino in Greenwich Village, which was a popular hang out
spot for New York lesbians. From that night forward, the two kept running into
each other at various gay bars and clubs and always made a point to dance with
each other before the night was over. It wasn’t until a particular weekend trip
to the Hamptons where they “made love all afternoon and went dancing all night
and that was the beginning.”
Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer proudly hold up their marriage certificate (x).
Thea was a respected psychologist, Edie was a head manager
at IBM, and the year was 1967. In order to hide the true nature of their
relationship from their coworkers, Thea created a make-believe older brother
named Willy who was dating Edie, but in reality, the two were engaged and
living together in the gay haven of Greenwich Village; instead of a traditional
wedding ring, Edie wore a circular diamond pin on her shirt almost every day
for the next forty years. When New York City legalized domestic partnerships,
Edie and Thea went to city hall immediately and were one of the first 100
couples to be issued a certificate. Thea suffered a heart attack in 2002 and
when her health began to rapidly deteriorate in the following years, the two
decided to get married for real in Toronto, Canada on May 22, 2007. Although
Thea’s doctors had given her less than a year to live, they were able to be
each other’s wives for two years before Thea passed away on February 5, 2009. Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement captures a fleeting moment in time. The pure love and sweetness that radiates from the documentary is probably best summed up when Thea, clutching her
wife’s hand and sitting in their living room, says, “We have been dancing for
forty-two years. It’s slowed down a little now, but we still manage.”
Released on this day in 2016, Almost Adults is a movie about two girls in their last year of
college struggling with their fears of growing up and growing apart, but most
importantly, it’s a movie about a lesbian and straight girl figuring out how to
navigate their friendship.
The two main stars of Almost
Adults are Elise Bauman and Natasha Negovanlis of Carmilla fame, the
lesbian vampire webseries that if you’re a wlw on the internet you’ve probably
heard of by now. The story follows Mackenzie, played by Bauman, as she makes the
critical decision to come out as gay to her friends and family, but the person
she finds is the hardest to come out to is her lifelong best friend Cassie,
played by Negovanlis. Although there are moments in the first half of movie
when it looks like they might turn down the romcom road and set Mackenzie and
Cassie up as love interests, the story is ultimately about the two women’s
friendship and how a person’s sexuality can be inconsequential to who they really
are and yet simultaneously feel like the only important thing about someone.
Cassie accidentally finds Mackenzie’s Tumblr blog which she’s been using as a
stand-in dating app (the most realistic part of the whole movie tbh), the
friendship between the girls starts to splinter. The rest of the film follows
Mackenzie and Cassie as they embark on new relationships and try to find out
who they are without the other one in their life, ultimately reconciling in
that poignant yet expected way all indie films are somehow able to pull off. Lesbian
movies have an unfortunate reputation for being riddled with corny dialogue,
stale acting, and just an overall low-quality and Almost Adults does not completely shatter this stereotype. There
are a lot of jokes in the movie that simply just don’t land and there are
premises that feel like they’re trying so hard to be #relatable that they end
up alienating the movie’s core audience. However, there are worse
things to watch for a night in with Netflix besides a happy movie that
actually has a lesbian as a main character and has coming out of the closet as
its main conflict.
The Watermelon Woman,
which we talked about earlier on this blog, is often hailed as the movie that
provided indie filmmaker Cheryl Dunye the
recognition and attention she deserved. Today, on her 51st birthday,
we take a closer look at her life.
Born in Liberia, Dunye grew up in Philly, went to Temple for
college, and received her Master’s from Rutgers.
She made her debut with The
Watermelon Woman in 1996, and emerged during that decade as part of the “queer
new wave” of young filmmakers. Since then, she’s made a number of films that
explore the intersection of race, gender, sexuality, and class, with a
particular focus on queer women of color. She has a particular cinematographic
style, dubbed the “Dunyementary,” where she blurs the boundaries between “fiction”
and “real life,” between narrative and documentary styles of filming, notably
by having characters break the fourth wall and address directly the camera, or
making meta references to the film production itself. This allows her to
present political and politicized issues often within a personal or domestic
context. Her work and contributions to the world of film have been recognized
with many awards, such as the Guggenheim Fellowship last year (2016).
Dunye has taught at several universities, including UCLA,
and is currently teaching as a Professor in the School of Cinema at San
Francisco State University. Her latest project is Black is Blue, which came
out last year as a short and is being developed into a feature film. Find Cheryl
Dunye here on Twitter and Facebook!
Tired of seeing all your favorite lesbians die on TV? Looking for something absolutely cheesy and adorable that’ll make you go aaawww? Look no further and go watch D.E.B.S.
So, this is more or less the premise: lesbian spoof of Charlie’s Angels. The plot? College girls become top-class spies
a secret paramilitary academy
called D.E.B.S. (the acronym for Discipline, Energy, Beauty, and Strength); and the main goody-two-shoes character falls for the archvillainness. (Shocker, we know.) And! There’s an happy ending, if that’s an important criteria for you (it is for us).
Angela Robinson (to whom we dedicated an article previously!) wrote and directed the movie. Fun fact: the whole D.E.B.S. idea started as an idea Robinson had in college. Power Up gave her a $20000 grant to make a 10-minute short film about the D.E.B.S. – which was notably shown at Sundance. And from that the glorious masterpiece that we know as D.E.B.S. was born. It didn’t fare well with critics at first but quickly became a cult classic for all of us wlw.
If it isn’t clear by now, we love this movie and have a lot of feelings about it and we think you should watch it too, if you haven’t done so already (and if you have, then watch it again – won’t hurt).
On this day in 1999, the film Aimée & Jaguar was first released in its
home country of Germany. Set during World War II, the movie tells the true and
devastating love story of Lilly Wust and Felice Schragenheim, one the wife of a
respected Nazi soldier and the other a Jewish journalist hiding in plain sight at
a Nazi controlled newspaper.
The film begins in Berlin in the 1990s; two old women meet in a nursing
home, and when the narrator sweeps back in time to 1943, you know you are in
for a decades-long story that will stick with you long after the credits roll. The
foundation of Aimée & Jaguar is something we’ve all seen before:
bored housewife is swept off her feet by the charismatic and dangerous queer. However,
what makes Aimee & Jaguar stand out from the crowd of a dozen other lesbian
movies is the lingering knowledge that these were real women who actually lived
and loved in the city that was the heart of the Nazi empire; a gang of lesbian
friends all sitting around a table joking and playing cards, or a Jewish woman
in full suit and top hat waltzing around a ballroom with her lover are the type
of images that I never would have associated with 1940s Berlin before I saw
this movie. They are the type of lived experiences that have been buried under
the mythologizing of WWII-era Europe, and it is through Aimée & Jaguar that
you are able to see that, even though it was stifled under the rise of fascism,
Germany’s thriving gay culture of the 1920s and 1930s was still there, still dancing
and laughing and kissing no matter how many closed doors and curtains it was
forced to hide behind. At the beginning of the movie, I wondered why it wasn’t
titled Lily & Felice or something more obvious, but by the end I had
come to realize just how crucial Lily and Felice’s pet names were to their
relationship, and just how important sublimated identity was during this time
for lgbtq people, for Jewish people, and for any marginalized person living
under Hitler’s rule.
Felice Schragenheim and Lilly Wust as pictured in Erica Fischer’s novel. The text at the bottom reads: (Left) Felice, in a photo taken by Lilly, on the Havel River, August 21, 1944. (Right) Lilly, in a photo taken by Felice, during the summer of 1944 on the balcony of Lilly’s apartment at Friedrichshaller Strasse 23.
Before the film was released, Lilly and
Felice’s story was told in novel form by Erica Fischer in her bestselling book Aimée
& Jaguar: A
Love Story, Berlin 1943, which you can check out here! Or hear the story
told through Lily’s own words in this 2001 interview with The Guardian.
The classic lesbian film Pariah was first released in the United States on this day in 2011. Written and directed by
lesbian director Dee Rees, Pariah was
awarded the Excellence in Cinematography Award at the 2011 Sundance Film
Festival and also earned Adpero Oduye a nomination for the Independent Spirit Award
for Best Female Lead.
Pariah is a character study of a
17-year-old girl named Alike. The film follows her coming out journey as a
young black butch lesbian who is just beginning her process of self-discovery.
After becoming friends with an out lesbian named Laura and frequenting bars and
clubs with her, Alike begins exploring her own sexuality and dressing in men’s
clothing. Her mother, Audrey, becomes suspicious of her daughter’s nighttime whereabouts
and retaliates by forcing her to wear more feminine clothing and to attend
is through church that Alike meets another young girl named Bina and has her
first sexual experience. After spending the night with Bina, Alike returns home and
comes out to her family in the middle of an explosive argument. Although her
father and sister are restrained, her mother attacks her, resulting in Alike
fleeing to Laura’s house and swearing to never return home. Despite the gritty
realness of the film, Pariah ends with Alike off on a journey to California to
start college early. The thesis of the film is summed up in a line from one of
Alike’s poems: “I’m not running; I’m choosing.”
On this day in 2008, the lesbian
film I Can’t Think Straight finally received a wide release in the United
States after initially hitting select theater on November 21, 2008.
The British drama is based on the
book of the same name and was directed by Shamim Sarif, a notable writer and director
of South Asian and South African descent who is openly lesbian and has
extensively explored gender and sexuality in her work. I Can’t Think Straight
follows the story of a Palestinian woman named Tala who is living in London and
engaged to a man named Hani. While Tala’s wealthy family eagerly make
arrangements for her wedding to take place in their home country of Jordan,
Tala is slowly coming to the realization that she likes women. The object of
her affection is the girlfriend of her best friend, a British Indian Muslim
woman named Leyla. As Tala’s wedding day approached, both women struggle with
their family’s cultural expectations and their secret relationship.
Upon its release in 2008, I Can’t
Think Straight was awarded by many LGBT film festivals from around the world
such as the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, the Melbourne Queer Film
Festival, and the Vancouver Queer Film Festival. Lesbian publication sites such
as AfterEllen and Autostraddle delivered lackluster but ultimately endearing
reviews of the film. Autostraddle dubs it “another film that lesbians either
love or hate, but this is the film that opened our hearts forever to…Tala and
Leyla, two women from very different backgrounds that fall in love on accident.”
On this day in 2016, the film Baka Bukas was first released in the Philippines
at the Cinema One Originals Film Festival. Baka
Bukas was the directorial debut of lesbian filmmaker Samantha Lee, who says
that the film is “the story of what happens when you fall in love with your
For its English-language distribution, the title of the film was changed to Maybe Tomorrow (x).
Inspired by the director’s own
life experiences, Baka Bukas follows
two girls named Alex and Jess. Alex, played by Jasmine Curtis-Smith, is a semi-out
lesbian with a successful career as a social media manager. Despite having a
family who embraces her sexuality, the one person she has yet to come out
to is her best friend Jess – played by Louise delos Reyes. Things become
complicated when Jess learns that not only is she the only person who Alex is
not out of the closet to, but that Alex is also secretly in love with her.
Unlike other films which deal with friendships between lesbians and straight
girls, such as Almost Adults, Baka Bukas follows Jess on her own journey
of sexual self-discovery as she realizes that she too may have been in love
with Alex this whole time.
The film became a finalist at the
Cinema One Originals Film Festival and won the overall awards for Audience
Choice, Best Actress for Jasmine Curtis-Smith, and Best Sound. It eventually
got a wide release in March on 2017. In an interview with CNN Philippines, director
Samantha Lee said, “I conceptualized the film because I wanted to see a
representation of the LGBT community that went beyond the portrayals that are
shown in mainstream media. The characters in this film are fully flawed
functional human beings. They are more than just an accessory to the plot, they
are the plot.”
The film Blue is the Warmest Colour was first released in the United Kingdom
on this day in 2013. After becoming the breakout film of the 2013 Cannes Film
Festival, lesbians everywhere waited with baited breath for the roll out of Blue is the Warmest Colour into theaters.
Blue is the Warmest Colour was first released in its home country of France on October 9, 2013 (x).
Based on Julie Maroh’s 2010
graphic novel of the same name, Blue is the Warmest Colour tells the story of a
15-year-old girl named Adèle whose life gets turned upside down when she meets
and falls in love with a blue-haired girl named Emma. After bumping into Emma
on the street one day, Adèle becomes fixated on her and daydreams of her at school, home, and even during sex with her boyfriend. While partying at a gay club with her friends, Adèle
wanders off and finds herself at a lesbian bar and in the presence of the
mysterious blue-haired girl once again. The two enter
into an exciting new relationship, but one that eventually becomes a rocky adult
relationship as Adèle and Emma struggle with keeping the spark between them throughout
In May of 2013, Blue is the Warmest Colour unanimously
won the Palme d’Or and the FIPRESCI
Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It also made history by its two lead
actresses – Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos – being just the second and
third actresses to ever be awarded the Palme
d’Or. Although the film came into great controversy for its use of the
straight male gaze and the sexually exploitative working conditions established
by director Abdellatif Kechiche, it still placed at the top of many
publications “Best of 2013” lists and was even nominated for a BAFTA and Golden
Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In spite of its flaws both in front
of and behind the camera, the success of Blue
is the Warmest Colour has afforded it a place in lesbian culture and film
On this day in 1998, the movie Fire was first released in India. The
first of Deepa Mehta’s Elements
trilogy and loosely based on Ismat Chughtai’s 1942 story, The Quilt, it was one of the very first mainstream Bollywood movies
to feature a same-gender love story.
Although it first premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September of 1996, Fire was not shown in India until November 5, 1998 (x).
Starring Nandita Das and Shabana
Azmi, the movie features two young women named Radha and Sita who fall into a
relationship with each other after becoming dissatisfied with their husbands.
The two women are sisters-in-laws who live together in a traditional joint-living
situation. Sita’s husband feels no love for her and constantly leaves her alone while he is out with his younger girlfriend, while Radha’s husband
has come under the influence of a local preacher who has convinced him that
sexual desire should be suppressed. Continually abandoned sexually and
emotionally by their husbands, Radha and Sita begin an affair. The titular
scene of the film is shown in the climax of the story when Radha announces to
her husband that she plans to move out and start a home with Sita and her sari
Fire became a controversial film upon its release. Although it
passed India’s censorship laws, more than 200 people stormed a theater in
suburban Mumbai in a December 2nd riot and burned Fire movie posters. Multiple
protests of the film rippled out from that and other theaters were forced to
cancel their showing of the film. However, despite the riots and protests, many
Indian film critics and gay activists praised the film for its “gutsy”
portrayal of love between two women. Today in 2017, Fire is seen as one of the tenets of lesbian culture in India and
remains a mainstay in the hearts of Indian women who love women.