Category: lesbian movies

SEPTEMBER 20: Mädchen in Uniform is released (…


On this day in 1931, the film Mädchen in Uniform (Girls in Uniform)
was released in the United States. Directed by the out lesbian director
Leontine Sagan, Mädchen in Uniform is
an lesbian cult classic.

An original poster for the film as it was displayed in 1931 shows Manuela (center)  gazing longingly at her teacher,

Fräulein von Bernburg (left) (x). 

The film follows a 14-year-old girl named Manuela
von Meinhardis, whose mother and father have both died and whose aunt has stuffed her away in an all-girls boarding school. The conditions at the
school are brutal and the headmistress forbids any kindness or leisure be allowed to the students. Manuela’s only brightness in life is Fräulein von Bernburg, the only compassionate teacher at the school. One day when Manuela arrives to
class in old, torn clothes, von Bernburg pulls her aside  and offers
to let her borrow some of her own clothes. In a narrative turn that changed the history of film, Manuela bursts into tears and admits
that she is in love with her, to which von Bernburg replies that they can never
be. The rest of the film follows Manuela as she deals with the secrecy of her
love for von Bernburg coupled with her classmates’ secret plot to report their
headmistress’s brutal behavior to the authorities.

Mädchen in Uniform’s love plot between two women is not told
through code or subtext, but is an essential part of the film’s story, and for
this reason the film has often been dubbed the very first lesbian movie of the
western world. Berlin, Germany of the 1930s was thriving with an LGBT nightclub
scene, where the film made a huge splash. Although it was almost banned in the
United States for a goodnight kissing scene between the two protagonists, First
Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s highly positive review of the film was able to turn the
public opinion (#lesbiansolidarity). Later on when the Nazis began to rise to
power, instead of destroying the film as they did to many LGBT-themed
works of art, the ending of the film was rather altered to seem like a pro-Nazi
production. In 1958,when  the film was re-made under the same title, the plot followed the
ending of the original 1931 production.


SEPTEMBER 5: All Cheerleaders Die is released …


Looking for a corny, gay horror movie to start you Halloween
season off early? The recent remake of the 2001 film All
Cheerleaders Die
, which was premiered at the Toronto International
Film Festival on this day in 2013, is exactly what you’ve been searching for.

Like Jennifer’s Body
before it, All Cheerleaders Die
is not exactly a lesbian cinematic classic, but we the wlw community have claimed it for our own anyways. Played by Caitlin Stasy, the story follows a young girl
named Maddie who is making a documentary about high school hierarchy. Her favorite
subject to follow around is head cheerleader and prettiest girl in the school,
Alexis, but what you might think is going to be your standard loner pines after
the Queen Bee type situation is quickly halted when Alexis is killed in a
cheerleading stunt gone wrong. With the first death of the movie down, what
follows is more death, witchcraft, a zombie-like resurrection, and a singular
sex scene between Maddie and cheerleader Tracy that makes the whole thing

With a 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, All Cheerleaders Die has its merits. In a genre entirely
centered on male audiences, the movie refreshingly focuses on an all-female cast
of characters and refuses to play the sex scene between Maddie and Tracy as nothing
more than fetishistic eye-candy as one might expect. With so little LGBT
representation t in the horror genre at all, All Cheerleaders Must Die is a fun, honest push in the right direction.


AUGUST 16: Reaching for the Moon is released (…


Based on the book Rare
and Commonplace Flowers
(Flores Raras e Banalíssimas) by Carmem Lucia de
Oliveira, the biopic Reaching for the
(Flores Raras) was first released in its home country of Brazil on
this day in 2013.

Set in the city of Petrópolis and spanning throughout the
1950s and 1960s, the film tells the real life love story of American poet
Elizabeth Bishop (who we wished a happy birthday back in February!) and a
Brazilian architect named Lota de Macedo Soares. The story starts off with Elizabeth Bishop, a once great
poet in a creative slump, arriving in Brazil in 1951. Played by Miranda Otto, she
is hoping that a retreat into nature will not only revive her writing ability
but will also save her from an increasing dependence on alcohol. Surprising to anyone but the audience, it’s actually a friend of a friend named Lota, played by Glória Pires, who
truly pulls Elizabeth back into the world of the living. 


Instead of the
intended stay of three weeks, Elizabeth ends up staying, loving, and living
with Lota for 15 years. The film itself is sprawling and extends beyond the
easy label of “lesbian romance movie;” from dealing with the trappings of
literary stardom, to internalized homophobia, to both women’s experience of the
1964 Brazilian military coup, by the end of the movie the audience
has truly witnessed the scope of Elizabeth and Lota’s 16 year long relationship and has seen their lives and identities been woven together. With the infamously dismal and amateur-ish
reputation of most lesbian films, the beautiful cinematography, score, and
tight writing of Reaching for the Moon
is something to be cherished.


AUGUST 11: But I’m A Cheerleader is released (…


On this day in 2000, the movie But I’m A Cheerleader was first released in the United States. Now
a cult classic, the movie tells the story of a young lesbian named Megan who is
sent off to a gay rehabilitation camp – or “homosexuals anonymous” as her
mother puts it. Despite the seemingly heavy subject material, But I’m A Cheerleader pokes fun at the concept of “praying the gay away” and is more therapeutic than any ex-gay camp could ever hope to be. 

The first film from director Jamie Babbit, But I’m A Cheerleader is most remembered
for its genuine humor, John Waters camp-style sets, and the unforgettable chemistry between
its two leads – Clea Duvall and faux-lesbian icon Natasha Lyonne. Played by
Lyonne, the movie starts off by following Megan through her daily routine of
gazing longingly at the cut-out photos of models in her locker, cringing
through makeout sessions with her boyfriend, and, of course, attending
cheerleading practice. The movie’s titular line is spoken when Megan is
bombarded one day by her friends and family in a pseudo-intervention/reverse
coming out; to the accusation that she’s a lesbian, she can only respond “…but
I’m a cheerleader!” However, despite the obvious oxymoron of a lesbian cheerleader,
Megan’s parents insist that she drop everything and pack her bags for the
ex-gay camp called True Directions.

At True Directions, the boys fix cars, play football, and
chop firewood while the girls swaddle baby dolls, wear skirts, and
vacuum monochrome carpets in hopes to become True Men™

and True Women™

. Amongst all the madness, Megan finally
realizes that not only is she in fact a lesbian, but that she also kind of has
a thing for Graham, the only other girl at camp who is unconvinced by the
ridiculousness of these activities. With the stage set and the characters
positioned exactly how you want them to be, the story plays out in a perfectly
fluffy, romcom rhythm. The two girls fall in love by sneaking out late at night
to nearby gay bars and rolling their eyes at various True Directions tasks,
only to ditch the camp’s “graduation ceremony” and officially run off
into the sunset together at the movie’s climax. It’s not in spite of, but rather, because of this expected story line that LGBT folk have kept this movie on repeat well into the
21st century; rarely are lesbians given the type of aesthetically
pleasing, teeny-bopper story that But I’m
a Cheerleader
has to offer, and much less one that continues to make you laugh
with each and every re-watch.


AUGUST 4: Forbidden Love is released (1993)


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
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! 


AUGUST 3: Mosquita y Mari is released (2012)


Written and directed by Aurora Guerrero, the film Mosquita y Mari was first released in
the United States on this day in 2012. The indie film follows the story of two
Chicana teen girls as they form an unlikely friendship only to realize their feelings for each other might be a little more than friendship.

The film starts off focusing on a 15-year-old girl named Yolanda. The
daughter of Mexican-American immigrants, she centers her life on pleasing her
parents with straight A’s in school while living out the rest of her life on autopilot.
It’s only when a new family moves in across the street that she
is shaken out of her daze by their daughter, Mari, who is in Yolanda’s class at school. At the beginning,
Yolanda and Mari are set on completely opposite ends of the teen social
spectrum; Yolanda is quiet, reserved, and the eternal nerd while Mari is a
picture perfect Cool Girl. Their two worlds collide when Yolanda saves Mari
from getting caught smoking up in the school bathroom and a friendship under
the guise of “study partners” is struck up. What was once an insult Mari called
Yolanda in class – “Mosquita” – becomes an intimate nickname, an abandoned
garage becomes their secret hide away spot, and over time, their two worlds
become one.

Between Mosquita y Mari and The Way He Looks, romantic bike rides down empty streets is now officially a staple of gay culture (x). 

Mosquita y Mari is
a subtle movie; the words “gay” or “lesbian” are never said aloud and there is
no dialogue that shows the girls pondering their sexual orientation, but
rather, the film gives us lingering shots of Yolanda watching Mari undress and moments
of physical affection that asks both the characters and the audience, “Is this
how all girl friends interact or is this something more?” As the film
progresses, it becomes obvious that Yolanda and Mari have feelings for
each other, but even the the realism of the story is unrelenting – Mari’s
economic worries for her family, Yolanda’s parents’ expectations of perfection,
the general kaleidoscope of identity issues a teen girl faces, are all still
there. Having rightfully won major buzz at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Mosquita y Mari is a down to earth
coming-of-age movie and offers a sweet and true depiction of Aurora Guerrero’s real life experience growing up as a young lesbian in the tight-knit neighborhood of Huntington
Park, L.A.  


JUNE 21: Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement (…


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.”


MAY 28: Almost Adults (2016)


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
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. 


MAY 13: Cheryl Dunye (1966-)


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!


MARCH 25: D.E.B.S. (2004)


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).

– AK