Spider Lilies, from Taiwanese filmmaker Zero Chou, shared a great deal of its aesthetic with Love My Life — the music video sensibility, the bright visuals and even the promotional materials were similar. But the story line is much more serious and intense, focusing on the impact of an individual trauma on the lives of its two leads and their families.
The film centers on Jade (Rainie Yang), a webcam girl who decides that a sexy spider lily tattoo will help her drum up business. She meets Takeko (Isabella Leong), a forlorn tattoo artist, and insists on getting inked, though the tattoo brings up painful memories of a family death for Takeko. Though there are several subplots revolving around the incident that caused Takeko to shut herself off emotionally, as well as an undercover cop surveying Jade’s website, the core of the film is the powerful romance that develops between the two women.
The World Unseen, which screened in September at the Toronto Film Festival and was directed by Shamim Sarif (who also penned the eponymous novel and the film’s screenplay), presented a lesbian relationship between two Indian women within the highly codified society of South Africa in 1952.
Subservient housewife Miriam (Lisa Ray) falls for brazen, free-spirited Amina (Sheetal Sheth) when they meet at Amina’s café. Amid strict gender roles, cultural expectations and a famously racist society, the pair slowly fall for one another. The film shares a few curious parallels to the lesbian classic Fried Green Tomatoes, setting its action within dramatic domestic locales and a café in a sexist and racist society, but The World Unseen stands on its own with a unique aesthetic and some truly excellent performances.
Taken as a whole, 2007 was a year of quiet, subtle progress for lesbian/bi women in movies. There were no major crossover films that brought queer cinema to the American mainstream, such as Brokeback Mountain did in 2005. However, there was a growing sense of playfulness and creativity in independent films, as well as an increased normalization in the roles queer female characters played — albeit on the sidelines — in mainstream films.
This year there were fewer films made with stereotypical lesbian/bi characters or plotlines, and more films with positive, lighter approaches to familiar story lines. And the representation of Asian lesbians and bi women saw a genuine breakthrough this year with a small but solid group of excellent films featuring queer Asian women at front and center.
Baby steps in the right direction are all well and good, but they are just that: baby steps. While Asian women were better represented in this year’s films, other women of color were all but nowhere to be seen (aside from Smokin’ Aces). And while queer characters are seeing slightly more inclusion on the big screen, they’re only found in a tiny fraction of films produced.
The current Writers Guild strike puts the current situation into sharp focus. Since so few mainstream films are made with lesbian/bi characters, we have very little to lose. Many film critics have speculated on the possibility for a major breakthrough for independent film if the situation isn’t resolved quickly, which, at the very least, could foster diversity in American film. Until that day, it’s up to queer festivals and foreign films to carry the torch into 2008 and beyond.