Back in the Day: “Personal Best” Broke Bisexual Ground

 
 

In effect, Personal Best was among the first of a rising
tide of gay and lesbian films with relatively positive messages. For the first
time, gays and lesbians began to find love in the movies, and though they still
struggled with coming-out issues and homophobia, happy endings began to be seen.

Lianna was released in 1983,
and Desert Hearts in 1986,
marking a high point in independent lesbian filmmaking and setting the stage
for more diverse representations of lesbianism, as in Go
Fish
(1994) and The Incredibly True
Adventures of Two Girls in Love
(1995).

But while lesbians began seeing
themselves in a more positive light on the big screen, representations of bisexuality
remained problematic and varied.

In Basic Instinct (1992),
Sharon Stone played a vicious, psychopathic and bisexual murderer — a
role that dismayed many in the lesbian and bisexual community. In Chasing
Amy
(1994), Joey Lauren Adams played a lesbian who fell for a man, then
returned to a lesbian relationship without ever acknowledging the idea of bisexuality.
In Bound (1996), Jennifer Tilly ‘s
character left her man for Gina Gershon, but while the movie was undeniably
positive in its representation of lesbian sexuality, it once again never mentioned
the concept of bisexuality.

More recent films have continued
to be uneven in their engagement with bisexuality. Though Frida
(2002) made the artist’s bisexuality a matter-of-fact part of the film, it focused
more on Kahlo’s heterosexual relationships.

Meanwhile, in the box-office bomb
Gigli (2003), Jennifer Lopez ‘s lesbian
character slept with a man (Ben Affleck), but again did not acknowledge the
possibility of bisexuality.

Despite the lack of consistent progress in representations of bisexual women in film, Hollywood has certainly changed since 1982 with regard to its representation of lesbians. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the career of Mariel Hemingway herself, who was only 19 when Personal Best was released.

Since then she
kissed Roseanne Barr on Roseanne in 1994, thus firmly cementing her
status as a lesbian icon, and she has recently signed on to play a lesbian secret
service agent in the upcoming movie Her Line of Fire for here! TV.
The film, which is slated to air in early 2006, is an action movie that follows
a U.S. president whose plane is shot down on a remote island populated by anti-American
guerillas.

Hemingway plays Secret Service Agent Lynn Delaney, who in the midst of the action falls for the president ‘s press secretary, Sharon Serano, played by out lesbian actress Jill Bennett.

When announcing the film, Meredith
Kadlec, vice president of here! TV ‘s original programming, noted, "A lesbian
action hero who kicks ass, saves the day and gets the girl is not only empowering,
but an image our audience is starved to see."

The fact that the secret service
agent is played by Mariel Hemingway, who has long been known for her work in
Personal Best, is both exciting for her longtime lesbian fans and supremely
satisfying — because this time, her character isn ‘t going to end up with
a man.

Read our review of Personal Best

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