As for mainstream “playing at the local Cineplex” fare, the
perennial lesbian “sidekick” is still alive and well. But she’s inching towards
the limelight, slowly but surely, as evidenced by lesbian characters who were
stronger, more important, and more out than in earlier films.
The recently released biopic Milk (another of the year’s best-reviewed films, queer or not)
featured Allison Pill as Harvey Milk’s fiery young campaign manager, Anne Kronenberg. The film focused on the life
of the titular Harvey Milk, one of
officials, and an instrumental force in the GLBT rights movement.
Alison Pill as Anne Kronenberg in Milk
Photo credit: Phil Bray/Focus Features
Writer Christie Keith described the real-life Anne in an interview with Pill, Kronenberg, and the
film’s director, Gus Van Sant: “Strong, confrontational, and passionate, Anne rode a
motorcycle and wore leather jackets. She took on the cautious gay male
establishment of the times and helped
kick down some of the social and political walls between lesbians and gay men.”
It doesn’t get much more mainstream than The Women, in which Jada Pinkett Smith
played Alex, an accomplished lesbian novelist.
In the film, Meg Ryan and Annette Bening played wealthy,
powerful women entrenched in the fashion industry. When Mary (Meg Ryan’s
character) finds out that her husband is cheating on her with a steamy mistress
(Eva Mendes), her best friends, including Alex and Edie (Debra Messing) rally
around her and mess with the other woman.
Jada Pinkett Smith (center) with Annette Bening and
Debra Messing in The Women
While it’s true that Alex wasn’t the lead, she was a very
central part of the film, as one of the core group of four friends. For a
“sidekick,” she’s refreshingly important to the story and as out as can be,
bringing hot ex-model dates to events, checking out the ladies behind the
perfume counter at Saks, and bringing the group to a lesbian bar for a night
out. Pinkett-Smith was also fantastic in the role, stealing every scene –
especially the hilarious birthing sequence towards the film’s end.
In fact, there was even a tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss it
lesbian reference in the smash hit Sex and the City movie, when Miranda (out actress Cynthia Nixon) and Carrie (Sarah
Jessica Parker) sit down to dinner on Valentine’s day. An overzealous waitress
presumes that the friends are a romantic couple, and gleefully runs to get a
bottle of wine for “you and your girlfriend”. It’s a minuscule moment, sure,
but when a film as mammoth and successful as SATC can put a (positive) lesbian spin on a comical moment,
progress is in the air.
Cynthia Nixon (left) and Sarah Jessica Parker in SATC: The Movie
Compared to the lesbian characters of 2007’s wide release
movies, which famously included a very peripheral character (Allegra from The Jane Austen Book Club), a de-gayed
criminal (Smokin’ Aces) and a few
horror film victims, 2008’s smaller but stronger crop offered much more positive
visibility for queer women.
If only we could count them on more than one hand.