Category: movies

DECEMBER 28: Pariah is released (2011)

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
church services.

Ironically, it
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.”


DECEMBER 26: Queen Christina is released (1933…

Based on the
real life lesbian queen of Sweden and starring lesbian starlet Greta Garbo, the
film Queen Christina was first released on this day in 1933.

Despite the
actual documented history of Queen Christina’s life, the story of the Queen
film follows the queen as she falls in love with a fictional male
Spanish envoy. Stressed out by the demands of the throne and the continued insistence
that she marry her cousin, Karl Gustav, this fictionalized version of Christina
disguises herself in men’s clothing and sneaks out of her castle to enjoy life
as an everyday commoner. When an unexpected snow storm leaves her stranded at
an inn, she is forced to share a bed with an occupant of the inn, a diplomat
sent from Spain named Antonio. Christina eventually reveals herself to be a
woman and the two fall in love.

Despite the
erasure of Christina’s lesbianism, the 1933 film became a touchstone for
lesbian culture for its depiction of a masculine woman protagonist and the
iconic scene where Christina shares a “friendly kiss” with her lady in waiting
and real life lover, Ebba Sparre. The film The Girl King that was released in 2015 recently restored the lesbian aspects of Queen Christina’s true story.


DECEMBER 19: The Children’s Hour is released (…

The film The Children’s Hour was released on this day in 1961. Adapted from
the Lillian Hellman play of the same name, The Children’s Hour was revolutionary
in its depiction of lesbian schoolteachers and the social stigma of


When writing the original play,
Lillian Hellman was inspired by the 1809 true story of two Scottish teachers
whose lives and careers were tarnished when a student  accused them of
being in a lesbian relationship. Hollywood attempted to adapt The Children’s
first in 1936, but due to the Hays Code of the time which prevented any
overt mention of LGBT existence, These Three – as it was titled – became the
story of a schoolteacher who was exposed for sleeping with her colleague’s fiancé. 

In 1961, the story was restored to
its original roots. Starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine, the film
follows two old college buddies, Martha and Karen, who operate a private girls’
school together. After Karen punishes a particularly conniving student named Mary,
the student decides to get retribution by spinning a story to her wealthy and
influential grandmother about how her teachers Martha and Karen are secret
lovers. The result of Mary’s story is catastrophic; the two women file a libel
suit, the reputation of their school is ruined, and most destructive of all,
Martha realizes that she has in fact been in love with Karen ever
since the day they met.

The concluding scene of Karen
breaking open the door to Martha’s bedroom and finding herself hanging from the
ceiling having committed suicide after her love confession, has gone down in
history as an iconic moment in LGBT cinema.


NOVEMBER 30: I Can’t Think Straight premieres …

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.”


NOVEMBER 15: Baka Bukas is released (2016)

On this day in 2016, the film Baka Bukas was first released in the Philippines
at the Cinema One Originals Film Festival. Baka
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
best friend.”

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.”


NOVEMBER 7: Blue is the Warmest Colour is released (2013)

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
the years.

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
. 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


NOVEMBER 5: Fire is released (1998)

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
catches fire.

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.


OCTOBER 29: The Journey is released (2004)

On this day in 2004, the Malayalam
film The Journey (സഞ്ചാരം/Sancharram) was first released in the United States. The Journey was the first film about
lesbian identity to come out of India since the 1996’s Fire.  

Written and directed by Ligy J.
Pullappally, the film follows the story of two girls falling in love in the
South Indian state of Kerala. Kiran and Delilah come from a Hindu family and a
Catholic family, respectively, but their friendship has managed to last them
from childhood into teenage-hood despite the stigma of their rural hometown. When
a boy named Rajan realizes he has a crush on Delilah, he asks Kiran to help him
write love letters to her. In the process of writing sweet nothings to her
closest friend, Kiran discovers that she too has a crush on Delilah.

Although The Journey is often compared to Fire, Pullappally  has spoken
at length about how important it was for her to depict lesbians living in rural
India rather than in the urban centers and how the lack of resources and
isolation that comes along with rural living can impact LGBT youth. Upon its
release across the American festival circuit, The Journey was awarded several awards and even the Chicago Award for best film. It continues to be praised and replayed today in 2017 for its subtle handling of adolescent sexuality and lesbian identity
within Keralan culture.  


OCTOBER 21: The Handmaiden is released (2016)

Happy one year anniversary of the release of the film The Handmaiden, which first premiered in the U.S. on this day in 2016. Based
on Sarah Waters’s iconic lesbian novel Fingersmith,
the film adapts the story of a pickpocket falling in love with an heiress in
Victorian England into Victorian-era South Korea.

Similar to other iconic LGBT films such as Carol or Moonlight, The Handmaiden has grown its very own pocket of devoted lesbian fandom ever since its release last year (x).

In the film, Kim Min-hee and Kim
Tae-ri star as the protagonists, the wealthy Lady Izumi Hideko and trained pickpocket Sook-hee.
Sook-hee comes from a long line of con artists and the tale picks up with her in the midst of her latest project working for a man named Count Fujiwara. With Sook-hee posing as a maid,
Fujiwara invades the home of the single and rich Lady Izumi with the intent of
marrying her, committing her to an asylum, and then divvying up what’s left of
her fortune between himself and Sook-hee. The plan seems airtight until
Sook-hee and Izumi sleep together one night and begin to feel themselves
falling in love.

The Handmaiden made its first big splash after premiering at the
2016 Cannes Film Festival and making headlines as the new thrilling South
Korean lesbian drama that everyone couldn’t wait to get their hands on. At
Cannes, Ryu Seong-hee won the Vulcan Award of the Technical Artist for her art
direction. It was also shown at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival and
was lauded as one of the top 15 best films to be shown there. To date, it is
the highest grossing film director Park Chan-wook has ever released in the
United States.


SEPTEMBER 20: Mädchen in Uniform is released (1931)

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.